Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lest We Forget How Fragile We Are: Sting and Peter Gabriel in Concert

The inner life of every person is a secret world. We can speculate, even intelligently, about why people do what they do, but we can do no more than that. So our speculation is informed as much by our own secret worlds as it is by those we're observing.

I enter into this reflection on the concert my wife and I went to last summer with this in mind mainly because of the responses I've gotten from people when I've talked about it. It was a shared performance by two rock music legends--Sting, who fronted The Police at Shea Stadium in New York (the first to do so since the Beatles) and whose music I have been known to require interns to listen to; and Peter Gabriel, who led the band Genesis before they became crossover sensations/pop sellouts and who, more successfully than pretty much anyone, made art-rock commercially viable, not to mention morally relevant. Some of the people I've talked about the concert with have rolled their eyes and complained about washed up has-beens coasting on their aging reputations. Others had no idea who I was talking about. Their reactions, frankly, probably explain why I left this post in draft for nine months.

But for me, Sting and Peter Gabriel have nothing to prove, and the fact that they're still willing in their sixties to subject themselves to the gruel of a massive tour is simply a gift that I gladly accept. Regardless of how long its been since they charted a single, their music is still relevant, made weightier by the passage of time and the unrelenting stream of ephemera that claims chart status. There are charting artists today who will still be performing their songs forty years from now, but they are few; time will reveal which of them measures up to these two guys in the harsh light of history. In the meantime, I respect history, so I made my wife buy us tickets for my birthday, and off we went.

Sting is a jazz guy--he likes to improvise, to play with the basic structure of his own music. I've seen him live three times and he's never performed "Roxanne" the same way. (Props for segueing into "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," thid time around. although I don't think it really worked.)

Peter Gabriel, by contrast, is a performance artist disguised as a pop star. I remember as a kid struggling to understand him pulling a costume over his head and saying into the microphone, "A flower." He's not singing or playing so much as he is performing. So every move he makes, every step he takes, is tightly choreographed (see what I did there?). If Sting likes to be in the moment, Peter Gabriel likes to make a moment. So if you've ever trolled the Internet looking for video of him performing your favorite song live, it probably looked and sounded pretty similar to what I heard and saw on this tour.

This contrast in styles and even philosophies of performance had an impact on the show. On balance, I think Peter Gabriel won the night--his performances were more memorable because he set out to make them so. Only someone as naturally melancholy as Peter Gabriel could write a song as resilient as "Don't Give Up" or as joyous as "In Your Eyes." Sting's performances, though, were less predictable and more fun. The transitions between the two were awesome, even if the on-stage banter between them got a little awkward.

Anyway, here's the set list:

Zaar (recording)
The Rhythm of the Heat
If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
Digging in the Dirt
Invisible Sun
Games without Frontiers
Shock the Monkey (Sting)
Secret World (Peter Gabriel)
Driven to Tears (Sting)
Red Rain (Peter Gabriel)
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight ("They're selling England by the Pound"), leading into Message in a Bottle (Sting; Peter Gabriel sang background)
Don't Give Up (Peter Gabriel)
Mercury Falling (Sting)
Big Time (Peter Gabriel; Sting sang background)
Englishman in New York (sung together)

Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel)
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (Sting)
If you Love Somebody Set Them Free slow jam (Peter Gabriel)
Roxanne/Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone (Sting)
Love Can Heal (Peter Gabriel, dedicated to Jill Cox)
Desert Rose (Sting)
In Your Eyes (Peter Gabriel; Sting on backup vocals)

Every Breath You Take

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