Crowded could be one way to describe the Pepsi Center on Tuesday as the star-power of Paul Simon and Sting descended on the Denver arena simultaneously. Together on stage with their own bands — for a total of 16 musicians — and solo, Simon and Sting gave fans a three-hour retrospective that focused mainly on solo hits and tracks from the Police and Simon and Garfunkel.
Simon and Sting started the evening playing together, opening with “Brand New Day” and moving into “The Boy in the Bubble.” Both suffered a bit in translation, whether it was the altitude or the presence of so many musicians trying to find space, the songs sounded bland. The harmonies on “Bubble” were on the low end, most likely due to age and altitude, and that detracted from the song’s punch.
Sting picked the evening up on a soulful “Fields of Gold,” then delved into his Police back catalog for “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” performed almost album worthy. Giving a nod to Johnny Cash, Sting performed an upbeat version of “I Hung My Head.”
Even coming from two musicians as renowned as Sting and Simon, a few of their cuts from the night fell flat. Sting’s version of “Driven to Tears,” which had a lot of layered keyboards, lacked the edgy desperation of the original version with the Police. Sting and Simon’s version of “The Boxer” felt like viewing a painting from a great distance, as it never drew you into the emotional complexity of the narrator surrendering.
Despite these occasional missteps, the duo fired on all cylinders more often than not, impressive given that the Pepsi Center is only the third date in a 21-city tour. Sting got great laughs from the crowd when introducing Simon’s classic “America,” talking about his first tour of the U.S. with the Police in a station wagon and playing in small clubs to no people. The crowd roared in approval when Sting said they’d played The Rainbow Hall in Denver on that run, and he retorted, “None of you were there; there were three people there, and two were roadies!” Simon didn’t address the crowd so much, except to indicate when he was playing a cover, such as a rave on Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing.”
The large band also seemed to get tighter as the evening went on. Backing singer Jo Lawry tore into a vocal solo on Sting’s brilliant “The Hounds of Winter,” winding through a multi-octave range and making her voice sound like a wind instrument. After a delay to find his guitar from the multitude of instruments at the side of the stage, Mark Stewart brilliantly backed Simon on a haunting “Hearts and Bones.”
Simon ended the set with two songs off his seminal “Graceland,” and the three-song encore included the definitive songs from The Police and Simon and Garfunkel, “Every Breath You Take” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” On the latter, Simon and Sting both took turns on Art Garfunkel’s soaring vocals, and though neither reached his heights, both found ways to personalize the iconic tune.
Brand New Day*, The Boy in the Bubble*, Fields of Gold*, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic^, Englishman in New York^, I Hung My Head^, Driven to Tears^-> Love is the Seventh Wave*, Mother and Child Reunion*, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard#, Dazzling Blue#, 50 Ways to Leave Your Love#, Graceland#, Pretty Thing#, Fragile*, America^, Message in a Bottle^, The Hounds of Winter^, They Dance Alone^, Roxanne^, Desert Rose^, The Boxer*, That Was Your Mother#, Hearts and Bones#-> Mystery Train#, The Obvious Child#, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes#, You Can Call Me Al#, E: Every Breath You Take*, Late in the Evening*, Bridge Over Troubled Water*
* – Sting and Simon together
^ – Sting solo
# – Simon solo
Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder based photographer of everything, a self-professed music junkie and regular contributor to Reverb. Check his photos out on Facebook or his website.