Friday, July 15, 2016

Sting and Peter Gabriel on Tour – A Concert Review

     We sometimes venture out of the Indie comfort zone, catching a performance by a high profile artist who left the ranks of Indie artists during some past decade. The typical outcome is that the experience is a good one, but the preference for Indie concerts is strengthened. The experience of seeing Sting and Peter Gabriel at one stop of their "Rock Paper Scissors Tour" did not yield the typical outcome. Unexpectedly, there were moments that shook the gravitational force that Indie has on our listening world.
     The concerts of arena-ready artists tend to be polished and “performance tight.” And the musicians tend to be accomplished. The tradeoff is that the concerts almost unavoidably lack the intimacy of performances by up-and-coming bands (how can an event with 19,000 attendees at the SAP Center in San Jose compete with the environment in venues that hold less than 1,000?). So, it was surprising that the Sting and Peter Gabriel concert could be justifiably described as "intimate." The respect, friendship and appreciation that they showed for each other and for the other twelve musicians on the stage sent an invitation to create a connection to break the usual barrier between performers and viewers. The vast majority of people accepted the invitation.
     The format of the event was interesting. Unlike the conventional approach of one band (or more) opening for the headliner, there was a rotation of hands on deck. For any song, Sting, Gabriel or both might be on stage. And it didn’t seem to matter who wrote the song, since Gabriel sang “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” during Sting’s absence. Additionally, for any one song, the supporting band was “Blue,” “Red” or “Purple.” Sting’s band was identified as “Blue” and Gabriel’s was “Red” on the basis of the two drum sets. But they often played together to blend into purple. For example, Sting wasn’t on stage for Gabriel’s “Red Rain,” but his violin virtuoso, Peter Tickell, made a major contribution to the enjoyment of the song.

      The high points of the evening were many. Sometimes they were politically driven, The Brexit decision in their homeland was criticized in song with the back-to-back performances of The Genesis song “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” (with its lyric “Selling England by the Pound”) and “Message in a Bottle.” Another example was the song “Love Can Heal,” which was dedicated to an assassinated member of Parliament (Jo Cox), who was a friend of Gabriel.

     At other times, the high points were vocally driven, usually but not exclusively, from the two frontmen. The duet of Gabriel and Jennie Abramson during “Don’t Give Up” (Kate Bush cover) was the favorite of one person in our party and was well received by everyone. Interestingly, that same person was far less enthusiastic about Jo Lawry’s ability to create and maintain a vocal storm with a style that seemingly includes aspects of jazz and opera.
     Another high point was the song structure of “Secret World” (the seventh song in a setlist of about 25 songs). The song seamlessly transitioned among energies, from a reflective state to a rabble rousing, guitar-attack state. And if transitions are appreciated, “Roxanne” should be mentioned. The song began in alignment of its “hit” version, but had a jazz-infused segment and a trip into Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” before returning to its “Roxanne” roots.

     The setlist also included “Darkness” by Gabriel. Some have held (OK, it’s me) that Blue October bares many resemblances to Peter Gabriel in terms of song structure and vocal characteristics. The main difference is that while Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October writes his best material (“Hate Me!”) when he’s in his troubled dark space, Gabriel can write lyrics that are positive and encouraging (“Solsbury Hill” ends “You can keep my things, they’ve come to take me home.”). Well, the song “Darkness” made it clear that Gabriel does not lost when he is in world of Blue October.
     The final song of the evening was “Sledehammer.” A video uploaded by another attendee is embedded below. It’s interesting to watch Sting’s lower enthusiasm toward the synchronized steps. He seems a good sport about it, but it’s definitely more Gabriel’s ‘thing’ than it is Sting’s.

     Sjon (guest contributor) adds his insights:
The Peter Gabriel and Sting performance at SAP Center on July 14 had what fans would expect at this point in both musicians’ storied careers:  crowd pleasing hits, tight and accomplished backing bands, some commentary on the state of the world, artful production values, and good rapport with the crowd.  What elevated this show to another level, even after having seen both artists previously, was their decision to play in each other’s respective playgrounds.  This was one 3-hour collaborative set with both bands and their front men on stage most of the time!  Hearing Sting sing “Shock the Monkey” and Peter Gabriel sing a reimagined “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” were just two of many moments of collaboration that injected into the proceedings creativity, surprise and, most of all, fun!  Sting, Peter Gabriel and their veteran backing bands felt like they were at play and their clear enjoyment and mutual respect on stage were reflected by the reaction of the audience.  Highly recommended!

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