If there was one criticism of the concert pairing of Paul Simon and Sting in Adelaide last night, it was that they were having so much damn fun that it drained the melancholy right out of some of the more poignant songs.
“The Boxer” – with its central image of the battered and isolated figure – became a joyful singalong on the famous “Lie, lie, lie” chorus, with Sting – a grin plastered on his face – underpinning Simon’s lead vocals with bass and harmonies.
It also helped that there was an incredible – and huge – backing band which made this song, and numerous others, charge along with a range of flavours, from rootsy country licks to foot-stomping beats from Simon’s famous African phase, to Sting’s sophisticated grab-bag of global influences which traverse territory from the Caribbean to Spain to the bazaars of the Middle East.
Adelaide jazz singer Jo Lawry, who has been touring with Sting for five years, had as triumphant a homecoming as a backing singer can, cutting loose with a searing vocal solo on “The Hounds of Winter” and receiving a warm reception from the crowd and the stars of the show (she was introduced by Sting as “Jo Lawry from Willunga”).
It was the third major concert to be held on the manicured grass at the Coopers Brewery in Regency Park and thousands made the trip to the city’s industrial inner-west on a beautiful night.
Simon, still in fine voice at 73, and Sting, looking just about half of his 63 years, are a surprisingly good pairing.
While they played excellent sets solo, it was when they came together that the concert took off. And, like Neil Finn and Paul Kelly’s concert tour a year ago, it was most interesting when they took the lead on each other’s songs – Sting taking the ache of Simon’s “America” into new territory as a hopeful anthem, and Simon adding certainty and gravitas to Sting’s “Fragile”.
“Bridge over Troubled Water” saw Sting taking Art Garfunkel’s fragility on the first verse into more muscular territory, with Simon taking care of the high notes on the subsequent verses without any troubles. Age hasn’t yet troubled the vocal pipes of these two.
Earlier, Sting was generous with his back catalogue, offering a good number of Police tunes (including a version of “Roxanne” that segued into Bill Withers’ “Ain’t no Sunshine” and back without missing a beat).
Most of the eras of Simon’s huge songwriting output were well represented, including “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and a heavy concentration on his landmark Graceland album. “You Can Call Me Al” is still as full as joy as it always was, replicated on Sunday in its full swaying glory with slap bass, tin whistle solo, and tight-as-a-drum horn section blasts.
My favourite moments came at the end, with Simon and Sting clearly loving a rambunctious version of “Cecilia” and rolling straight into “Every Breath You Take”. Perhaps the smiling pair were both taken by their shared memories of obsessive young love – or perhaps they were just enjoying the enduring power of their songwriting on such a perfect night in front of such a happy crowd.
Paul Simon and Sting performed one concert in Adelaide as part of their On Stage Together international tour.
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