Saturday, March 8, 2014
Paul Simon & Sting: On Stage Together - 03/06/14
This is not the kind of entry I had ever thought I would post, mostly because I had never thought I would have the opportunity for it, but the fact is, on Thursday night, I was unexpectedly paying my very first visit to the Madison Square Garden for the second and last stop of Paul Simon and Sting's current tour in New York's famous arena. Although I had never formally sworn off rock concerts and large venues, these days I tend to limit myself to small venues and artists who can actually perform sans microphones or back-up recordings.
But Paul Simon and Sting are still two of our most valuable and enduring music artists whose paths I had never crossed before, and having a chance to hear them live is not to be missed, even when it means sacrificing (Yikes!) Beethoven's magnificent and rarely performed Missa Solemnis at Carnegie Hall. So when two tickets for this concert fell on my lap a couple of weeks ago, I could not but gratefully accept, spontaneously invite my friend Amy and eagerly look forward to it.
My main qualm about the Madison Square Garden is that the allegedly beautiful Pennsylvania Station had to be torn down to make room for it. Once inside though, I had to admire the smart design of the structure and agree that the location is darn convenient, but I still wish it had been built somewhere else. The biggest surprise, however, was the surprisingly good quality of the sound. Since these two musicians actually play live, it was nice to be able to hear them not overly loud and remarkably clear.
Although I had never gotten around to attending any of their respective concerts, their music steadily accompanied me as I was growing up, and I was amazed at how many songs were still so familiar to me, even after all these years. As the concert went on, the music brought back many memories from when the miracle and wonder was in fact a long-distance call, The Police's Outlandos d'Amour was my first record purchase ever from a school friend as its innovative rock-reggae-punk combination was casting a powerful spell on me and, many years later, Paul Simon's Graceland was on permanent rotation on my record player for quite a few months as it expanded my knowledge of musical styles even further.
Singing alone or together, trading popular songs and friendly barbs, sharing short anecdotes and personal comments, keeping things intriguing while relying on their extensive catalogs and a few oddities, the buff English rock star and the unassuming American troubadour formed a pair that was at the same time unlikely - Their backgrounds and styles are to some degree different - and obvious - Their talent to write catchy and meaningful songs, as well as their willingness to explore other cultures, are definitely comparable.
Assertively kicking off the concert together with Sting's "Brand New Day", they treated the packed and ecstatic Madison Square Garden to almost three hours of downright energetic rock'n'roll, poignant introspective musings, infectious dance tunes, exotically flavored songs, exciting boundaries-pushing experiments and freshened-up old classics. Both artists being consummate professionals used to all kinds of environments, they clearly know how to make it work regardless of the venue. Surrounded by 14 highly capable musicians, they gave a performance as good as it could get, and then some. All we would have needed to reach complete bliss was for the guy behind us to stop his sporadic but dreadfully out-of-tune singing, but that was not meant to be. Even the whiff of marijuana we briefly caught unfortunately did not help ease our pain.
The evening ended with a couple of crowd pleasing encores, such as Sting demonstrating his still considerable lung power for "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and both men singing in perfect sync for "Every Breath You Take", which has to be one of my favorite songs ever. They came back one more time, without orchestra, but each sporting an acoustic guitar because, as Paul Simon rightfully pointed out, that's how it all started. A pared-down but still impactful version of The Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved" concluded this memorable first (and last?) rock concert at the Madison Square Garden. I like to think that Beethoven would have approved.