Photos: Paul Simon and Sting at the Pepsi Center in Denver (review) - Reverb

Paul Simon and Sting at Pepsi Center, 2-11-14 (photos, review)

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.

Setlist

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

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Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band Black Postcards.

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.

  • kmh

    I disagree with most negative comments. It was purely an amazing night. I’d forgotten how powerful music can be. I was worshipping (God) thro the sheer beauty of musicians at their peak. Sure, it wasn’t perfection, but they came closer than most. Rhythms were so tight they made me move in ways i didn’t know i could. Cannot even begin to imagine heaven.
    -long time musician, music educator, worship leader

  • Jkl

    The sound was horrible. No speakers in the ceiling were on. Just the speakers on and above the stage. Being in the upper deck you could barely hear the music, especially when Simon sang. Very disappointing show.

    • subframer

      no disrespect, but no one in the professional assembly can possibly tell how it sounds in the third deck. the soundman is on floor level. unfortunate truth of that ticket type.

  • jbley

    Thanks for the set list! One slight update is in order as the two stars ended the evening by appropriately honoring the recently departed Don Everly with acoustic performance of “When Will I Be Loved.”

    • kjh

      Phil Everly passed away earlier in the year, Don is still kicking around.

      • jbley

        My bad! Out too late last night. :-)

  • subframer

    this is an unintelligent review from someone that doesn’t know (apparently) much about music. the boxer was a highlight, and driven to tears sounded incredible. as for art garfunkel, he’s hardly the point. sting sounded fantastic on america and bridge over troubled water, and everything else he sang….

  • sru

    I also disagree with most of the criticisms in the POST review. The charm of a live show includes the momentary stumbles and watching how the artists recover. I’ve seen both artists several times and thought they both sounded BETTER THAN EVER. The backup bands were incredible. And the duets brought new life to their old classics. The sound and music quality consistently got better through the show, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, they would achieve new highs. The crowd’s energy and love for both artists made it a special and magical night. As much as I love Sting and his catalog, Paul Simon stole the show, in my opinion. What a performer.

  • Greg

    Was there an opening act?

  • http://diplomaticat.wordpress.com/ advocatus leonibus

    Very excited for this weekend, as I will get to see this concert on Saturday at the Forum and again in Anaheim on Sunday. I absolutely love Sting and his live performances are always something special if only to see someone who obviously LOVES what they do (Never seen anyone so ridiculously HAPPY in my life … I get so JEALOUS sometimes, wishing I could be doing that for a living!) It is such a big deal for me that I get to see HIM, that I actually forget about the fact that Paul Simon is actually going to be there too! He is also very high on my list of favorites, so I can’t imagine that I will end up disappointed in an evening with BOTH of them.

    I am curious to see how the new Forum will compare with the Honda Center (and how both will measure up against the Hollywood Bowl, which at this time is my favorite venue). It may be an unfair judgement though, since the Forum tickets were purchased by my mother to help me ease the anxiety that I might not get to go if the tickets kept getting more expensive. Consequently, she got the first set of cheapest tix available and they are way on the top at side stage. On the other hand, I managed to wrangle floor seats in the 13 row near center aisle for Anaheim, so it probably is going to be an altogether different experience, These are easily the best seats I’ve ever had for a concert… and for it to be Sting and Simon together, well, pretty much can’t imagine it gets much better than that unless they want to personally give me a ride home afterwards or something….

    =)

  • stgrlee14

    you forgot the last encore “When Will I Be Loved?” by the Everley Bros.