Wednesday, March 19, 2014

CONCERT REVIEW: Sting / Paul Simon (3.16.14)

Amway Center
Orlando, FL (3.16.14)  

Two iconic artists.
Dozens of timeless
pop treasures.
15,000 ecstatic fans.
One enormous
basketball arena.

From my perspective, it was a logical and promising union — two of the most prolific and celebrated singer / songwriters of the last half century, brought together onstage for an evening of iconic music. My expectation was very high — and so was my seat.

Projecting a seemingly genuine friendship, the two pop legends — Sting and Paul Simon, took center stage together — nearly 30 minutes late. And with their arms draped around each other, they offered fans an immediate and rather engaging explanation for the show's lengthy delay. However, despite the noticeable piece of toilet tissue planted on Sting's chin, I wasn't buying the story that he'd cut himself shaving — five minutes prior to show time. This is a MAJOR concert tour, and as such, there always are "Rock Docs" standing by — ready to patch boo-boos, prescribe feel-goods, or even perform last minute brain surgery if necessary in order to ensure that the show goes off on time. A more likely scenario would have revealed an agitated British superstar informing the production manager that, "I'm NOT going on that bloody stage in front of a bloody half-full venue. We'll just stand behind this bloody curtain until every last one of those bloody Yanks are in their bloody seats." A declaration to which the elder American co-headliner replied, "Yeah, what he said!" But as they say, "the show must go on" — sooner or later. And by 8:30, it was "on," indeed.

"Welcome to the last night of the tour," Simon announced in short order, as he further speculated that it also likely would be, "the best one." And the crowd goes wild! 

"This was an experiment," Sting offered, regarding the two-month U.S. jaunt. "It's a combination of catalogues and bands." And with the obligatory mutual "warm and fuzzies" out of the way, the two-hour cavalcade of classics ensued.

The production played out with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine — a show in which the music never stopped. Multiple mini solo sets from each artist, as well as segments that brought the two together, all segued seamlessly from one into the other — a big plus for ADHD-types like me.

Following the first fistful of fan faves, the audio mix finally was dialed in — or a least as dialed in as one could expect, given that tonight's concert venue was a glass and steel-framed basketball arena. And boasting seemingly countless sparkling stage lights, beaming and twirling, the show also was visually spectacular.

But tonight was all about the music. The songs were of course primarily all from the "A-list." The  musicianship — superb. And the highlights were many.

The pairing of The Police frontman and the songwriting genius behind Simon and Garfunkel on many of their most-loved classics worked well, as "Brand New Day," "Boy in the Bubble" and "Walking on the Moon" were among some of the show's stand-outs.

On his own, Sting connected easily with the Orlando crowd — evoking thunderous approval of such Police standards as "Message in a Bottle," "Roxanne" and "Driven to Tears" — a bona fide show-stopper, featuring the masterful violin work of Peter Tickell. The 62-year-old musician / actor also delighted his faithful with a slew of solo hits, including  "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," "Desert Rose" and "Hounds of Winter" — another highlight, featuring the impeccable vocal accompaniment of Jo Lawry. Sting further engaged the audience with personal stories of first coming to the U.S. while on tour with The Police, some 35 years ago. "I remember seeing my first alligator, crossing the highway in South Florida," he mused, leading into Simon and Garfunkel's "America."

As for Simon, the 72-year-old music vet was charming and personable, as he pointed out one of his youngest fans, a little girl named Grace, who was seated VIP-style near the front of the stage. Among his many must-play solo hits were, "Mother and Child Reunion," "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Graceland," "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and "You Can Call Me Al" — as well as such selected Simon and Garfunkel favorites as "The Boxer."

With the two legends onstage together again, the marathon concert wrapped up with an amazing multi-hit encore that included a gospel-flavored rendition of "Bridge over Troubled Water" and spirited versions of "Every Breath You Take" and "Late in the Evening." By 11PM, the 35-song performance came to a rousing conclusion with a remake of the Everly Brothers classic, "When Will I Be Loved."

I enjoy listening in on the post-concert commentary of fans as I make my way to the parking lot following a show — it often  puts a more honest and passionate perspective on the performance. As I walked along Church Street, amid the procession of luxury tour buses and stretch limos, I could hear two female early 20-somethings discussing how much they had enjoyed the show. "It was everything I hoped for — and more," the girl with long brown hair and the short green skirt commented to her BFF. Hmm, out of the mouths of babes.

But for my money, the concert's true payoff was finally seeing one of my all-time greatest drum heroes, Vinnie Colaiuta, perform live all night with Sting. "Everything I hoped for — and more," indeed!

-Christopher Long
(March 2014)

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  1. Saw the show here in Detroit, was exactly as you described (including starting late). Definitely worth it. Also, thanks for dropping the drummers name. Didn't realize it at the time but I was watching one of folks immortalized in Catholic Girls by Frank Zappa; ups the cool factor just that much more :)

  2. Hey Adam,

    Great to hear from you again. Yes, Vinnie Colaiuta "ups the cool factor," indeed!

    Keep in touch.