Among Friends

Paul Simon and Sting kick off their European tour in Berlin

By Sascha Krieger

When, in 2004, Simon and Garfunkel reunited for what was likely to be one last tour., they called it „Old Friends“. It made sense: not only do they have a song of that title, they met in childhood and turned their friendship into an iconic collaboration that has not only sold uncountable numbers of records but continues to influence musicians all over the world to this very day. Now Paul Simon has teamed up with another iconic musical and song writer: Gordon Sumner, much better known as sting. And again, the title would fit: Having lived in the same New York City apartment building for over two decades, theirs is one of the stronger friendships in what we so often like to call the music industry. So it feels quite natural to team up in the format that is not very usual even for double bill tours: Apart from playing their own songs with their respective bands, they also unite and play each others music together – with a combined band that easily swells up to about 15 members and includes a variety of instruments that can easily match any orchestra: there is an African guitar, a tuba, a violin, various saxophones, trombone and trumpet, a dulcimer, a cello, a mouth harmonica. Among many others. Both artists have been explorers of music far beyond their initial genres and they present an exciting round-up of this here. For Simon, there is jazz, New-Orleans-style zydeco, African influences, folk and blues, Sting brings in punk-informed rock, should, Oriental elements and pop of many varieties. It is an exciting mix that makes for a breath-taking and thoroughly enjoyable musical journey.

Paul Simon and Sting opened their European tour at Berlin's O2 World (Image: Sascha Krieger)

Paul Simon and Sting opened their European tour at Berlin’s O2 World (Image: Sascha Krieger)

And a discovery: while sting is no Art Garfunkel, his voice harmonizes well with Simon’s which shows on the Simon and Garfunkel tracks they do together („Mrs. Robinson“, „The Boxer“, „Cecilia“) and even has him take the lead in „Bridge over Troubled Water“. Simon, on the other hand, adds a somewhat stubborn, rhythmically pronounced, freely floating voice on tracks such as „Fragile“, „Fields of Gold“ and „Every Breath You Take“ that keep any danger of these favorites becoming stale at bay. Here are two people nearing or way past retirement age whose shared love of music and mutual sympathy make them appear as if they’re just getting together for the fun of it – Paul Simon hasn’t seemed so relaxed in a long time and Sting sometimes seems like a kid in a candy store. Which certainly helps the energy: especially The Police numbers like „So Lonely“ and „Roxanne“ which Sting interrupts for a fine version of Bill Withers‘ „Ain’t No Sunshine“ have regained their throbbing power they had when first released, particularly because he has developed them over the years. The oriental feel of „Dester Rose“ has nothing artificial and matches well with its power pop surroundings. Simon adds a more subtle element, croons through „Still Crazy after All These Years“, swings along the „50 Years to Leave Your Lover“, leads a relaxed party in „Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard“. The driving „Graceland“, the complex „The Cool, Cool River“, the thriving „That Was Your Mother“: where Simon displays more variety, Sting provides a lot of the power.

The result is stunning: the combined, wildly ranging musical roots of their incredibly skilled bands re-create the music as if it were re-written at this very moment. While the tuba isn’t an instrument anyone ever expected to hear on a song like „The Boxer“, it merges well into a soundscape that encompasses a musical world that is as wide and varied as the real one. 1960s folk pop or 1980s post-punk, Africa or Egypt: it all fits well and makes of as exciting a concert journey as any to be had these days. Or any, for that matter. And so the evening fittingly ends with a song by the Everly Brothers, a key influence on Simon and a sign that even pre-Beatles and non-rock’n roll traditions are part of the fabric that weaves a musical quilt that has room for many, no matter where they’re wrong. This tour is little more than a celebration of music, its energy, variety, liveliness. How could it even be anything more?

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