Paul Simon and Sting in Boston

Matthew Shelter on March 5, 2014

Paul Simon and Sting

TD Garden

Boston, Mass.

March 3

It was a pairing that at first blush might seem odd – Paul Simon and Sting, sharing the stage together. These are two artists who are not often thought of in the same breath, and there seems little overlap between the classic 1960s-era folk songs of Simon and Garfunkel and the New Wave sound of The Police from the late 70s and early 80s. But that’s the wrong comparison. It is in the solo careers of these two veteran musicians and songwriters – particularly the world music each has explored in depth in recent years – where one can find myriad common threads. And by the close of a two-and-a-half-hour set at Boston’s TD Garden, comprising some 30 songs spread across both artists’ careers, the collaboration made perfect sense.

The show began with Simon and Sting strolling on stage together, supported by the full complement of their respective backing bands, for an opening suite of “Brand New Day,” “Boy in the Bubble” and “Fields of Gold.” The two were dressed casually – jeans, t-shirts, loose jackets were the order of the day – and displayed what appeared to be genuine rapport with each other. Simon said the idea was to try merging “two bands, two different repertoires and two different singers” to see what could be produced.

Boston was the 14th stop on a 20-city tour of the U.S. and Canada, and Simon noted that as the tour has been progressing his and Sting’s styles have increasingly melded together. Alluding to the latter’s interest in all things tantric, the 72-year-old Simon joked, “I even think I’m becoming more Adonis-like, and anticipate being able to have sex for days on end soon.”

After the opening trio of songs, the two took turns alternating sets, with Sting mixing Police tracks (“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” “Walking on the Moon,” “Message in a Bottle”) with his solo work (“Englishman in New York,” “They Dance Alone”), and Simon picking and choosing from throughout his extensive songbook. The sets – two by each artist – segued into one another seamlessly, with either Sting or Simon returning to the stage to rejoin his compatriot for the final song of a set before switching places.

There were the obligatory hits – will Sting ever be able to not play “Roxanne” – but also unexpected treats throughout: Simon’s beautiful vocals on “Dazzling Blue,” the only “new” song on the setlist, from 2011’s So Beautiful or So What; a searing violin solo by Sting’s bandmate Mark Tickell during “Driven To Tears” that brought the crowd leaping to its feet for a standing ovation; Sting alone at center stage covering Simon and Garfunkel’s classic “America”and a riveting version of Sting’s “Desert Rose” that provided a rhythmic link to Simon’s stellar second set, which wove together “That Was Your Mother,” “Hearts and Bones,” “The Obvious Child,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al.”

The Simon-Sting pairing produced beautiful music on two other classics: “The Boxer” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Sting had earlier offered high praise to his stage partner, noting that “as a writer of literate and literary songs, Paul Simon has no equal.” Watching them trade verses on these majestic songs, it was easy to see the appeal for both–Sting being able to share the stage with a singer and songwriter he clearly admires, and Simon seeing some of his old songs given new life in the hands of a collaborator and friend.