Marry Our Fortunes Together: Sting and Paul Simon in Concert
I have had the good fortune of seeing several living legends in concert. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Peter, Paul & Mary, David Bowie--some lived up to their legendary status, others have not. How they do isn't entirely the point; the point is to participate, to have a point of contact with someone who in small and big ways marks our cultural history for us. But most of them were awesome anyway. Last night I got to kill two old birds, Sting and Paul Simon, with one rock show at Chicago's United Center. Sting--the lead singer, bassist and main songwriter from one of my favorite bands, the Police, whose solo work was always in the background of my late adolescence and early adulthood, eluded me for years before I finally first saw him perform in the late 1990s. He's a true artist, regularly reinventing his songs and reconstructing his band accordingly--as a saxophonist, for example, I was sad when he parted ways with Branford Marsalis and started favoring the trumpet in his arrangements. The trumpet! I suppose I'll still listen ... Paul Simon is, it turns out, one of Sting's "mentors," an idol even to other idols. His music didn't just shape me, it shaped a generation--two generations, actually, as his constructive engagement of African musicians in the 1980s was as influential as his New York folk standards from the 1960s and 1970s. I sat next to a woman probably ten to fifteen years older than I am; we sang along to many different songs, but we sang along together to even more. I like the premise of a show like this. It requires a level of musical maturity and mutuality; Simon must appreciate Sting as much as Sting appreciates Simon; Sting must take ownership of Simon's songs as freely as Simon does his. And then, of course, they have to blend with one another. In this case, that's no mean feat: far beyond the typical pop orchestration--drums, bass, guitar, keyboard--each artist's repertoire required a wide range of additional instrumentation. Their bands had to learn one another's songs, had to gel with one another, the musical equivalent of Simon's lyric from "America": "Let us be lovers; we'll marry our fortunes together." Two bands become one band, never losing their own identities, creating something new and dynamic and meaningful.
It's everybody jump start It's every generation throws a hero up the pop charts Medicine is magical and magical is art The Boy in the Bubble and the baby with the baboon heart And I believe these are the days of lasers in the jungle-- Lasers in the jungle somewhere Staccato signals of constant information A loose affiliation of millionaires and billionairesIn contrast to Sting's radio-friendly list, Simon went for a few deep tracks. I took notes for each tune, but what I wrote down for a whole set from him was not song titles but phrases like "Some zydeco song" and "Some song about wandering in Mexico." He has enough gravitas that he could get away with it; we followed him wherever he took us. (It's probably worth noting that I'm much more familiar with Sting's discography than Simon's, so what counts as a deep track to me might be very familiar to Simon diehards, and similarly, I might be misremembering a few Sting songs as chart-topping that were, in reality, B-sides or even more arcane.) Anyway, here are some of my highlights: * Paul Simon, dancing wildly backstage as Sting performed "Walking on the Moon. * Sting performing a tender version of Simon's "America," which suddenly exploded into a raucous rendition of "Message in a Bottle." * Simon pivoting from a Chet Atkins instrumental ("Wheels") into the Latin-flavored, drum-heavy groove "The Obvious Child." * Simon and Sting wrapping "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and moving straight into "Every Breath You Take." * Simon and Sting closing the night with a tribute to the late Phil Everly, "When Will I Be Loved."