The Rock, Paper, Scissors Tour – July 9 – United Center – Chicago, IL
Concert review by Frank Lucas
They may be both in their mid-60’s but Sting (still svelte, muscular and ever so handsome) and Peter Gabriel (much wiser but looking more his age) still have that youthful schoolboy humor, especially when it comes to partnering up on the road for the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” tour which came to Chicago’s sold-out United Center. After two songs into their set with both men arm-in-arm addressing the audience, Peter Gabriel joked that Sting encouraged him to take up yoga and miraculously, after only three lessons, you could hardly tell them apart. With a friendship spanning several decades, they made it clear that the show was all about working together to take a look back through an incredibly deep catalog of sophisticated, eclectic music. All 14 members of their respective bands shared the stage and were categorized into two teams; team “Red” for Gabriel and team “Blue” for Sting. The sole purpose of the labeling was to give the audience an easy way to decide who the better band was. It’s nice to see that after all these years they still haven’t really grown up. What’s also nice to see is when two of the most brilliant solo artists in rock history reunite, collaborate and perform at a high level almost 30 years later (the last time the two performed together onstage was in 1988 for the Amnesty International Human Rights NOW! Tour).
Opening the show was the thunderous, Ged Lynch-driven percussion of Peter Gabriel’s dark and brooding “The Rhythm of the Heat,” followed by Sting’s lively and spirited “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” Although the two songs contrasted in both emotion and style it set the tone for the mockingly self-titled “Peter and Gordon” show. It was a 2 hour and 45-minute tour de force featuring a comprehensive retrospective of each artist’s brilliant solo career including their most popular singles with The Police and Genesis interspersed throughout the set. A greatest hits concert never sounded so good and was never so fun to watch as both men took the lead while the other performed in a supporting role, and vice versa. Superior lighting, video support and powerful sound did not hinder or overpower but rather supported and enhanced the audience’s connection to their storytelling with a visceral viewing experience.
Central to the theme of the tour is musical experimentation and the results were very interesting. Peter Gabriel sang a very emotional rendition of Sting’s “Fragile” evoking the memory of the victims of a gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, calling for peace, empathy and solidarity. Sting found much success covering “Shock the Monkey” to a very funky and organic guitar-piano-drum groove. With no massive wall of synths present, it made for a less in-your-face (less “shocking” if you will) and more laid back version. They often played around with arrangements and mixed things up with different instrumentation on tunes such as “Driven to Tears,” in which it’s calypso stylings are replaced in favor of a more straight-ahead, high energy rock groove featuring an absolutely ripped-to-shreds solo by virtuoso violinist Peter Tickell to close the song. Peter Gabriel covered Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” about 20 beats per minute slower and created a very sparse but yet another very cool guitar, bass, drum, piano/organ blues groove backing to his gravelly lead vocal.
It wouldn’t be a complete Sting/Peter Gabriel show without all the great crowd pleasers like the powerful “Red Rain,” “Secret World,” (complete with dance choreography among all the musicians)“In Your Eyes,” (featuring a really nice back and forth improvisation between keyboardists David Sancious and Angie Pollock) and “Don’t Give Up,” (featuring a beautiful, tear inducing duet between Gabriel and the fabulous Jennie Abrahamson) the jovial Gabriel numbers “Big Time” and “Solsbury Hill,” as well as Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” “The Hounds of Winter,” (featuring ‘the greatest drummer in the world, Vinnie Colaiuta on the snare drum solo”) and “Message in a Bottle” by the Police. The final two songs, making up the encore, sent an already electrified audience into a frenzy. The monster hit of the 80’s, “Every Breath You Take” was followed by “Sledgehammer,” another mega hit from the same era. The latter featured even more fancy footwork and dancing in funky synchronization among all the vocalists.
Post-concert, I found several of my press corp. associates had taken umbrage with, what they had found to be, a few stumbles and a certain unevenness in the flow of the set. However, I feel that instances such as the Sting-led Genesis cover of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” segueing into “Message in a Bottle” by the Police and Gabriel’s “Love Can Heal” (a tribute to Member of Parliament and Brexit opponent, Jo Cox, who was brutally murdered in a hate crime) transitioning into Sting’s Middle-Eastern inflected “Desert Rose” merely celebrated just how near and far apart the two artists are in terms of musical identity. This was not lost on the audience since the central message of the event was to rejoice in our differences as well as our similarities.
Living in the present where musical acts are prefabricated creations of producers and outsourced songwriting teams, Peter Gabriel and Sting delivered honest songwriting, sharing their own personal messages and stories that once permeated the radio airwaves in a most personal manner that once was common practice. Wow, imagine that? Actual musicians constantly honing their craft, writing and performing their own music on real musical instruments seems like a novelty nowadays. This night in present day 2016 gave everyone in the audience a much needed breath of fresh air.
Photos © 2016 by: Frank Lucas