By Brian Ives
“I thought, ‘S—. After fourteen years, maybe its time to get back on the yoga mat.'”
Peter Gabriel was talking to the packed house at Madison Square Garden last night (June 27), explaining his reaction after he was presented with the idea of going on a co-headlining tour with Sting. But after a few yoga classes, he joked, “No one backstage can tell us apart. We’re known as ‘The Tantric Twins.'”
The truth is, no one would actually mix up the singers; their respective bodies of work are as distinct as their iconic faces, which have glared at us from album covers, music videos and magazines for decades now. But the two do have quite a bit in common: they both left Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands when it would have been easier to stay; they both consistently push the boundaries of popular music, and they both have immediately identifiable voices, and catalogs that could easily fill a three hour set. They both generally avoid nostalgia (although Sting did reunite with the Police a few years ago, and Gabriel did a tour where he revisited his classic 1986 album, So, in its entirety). They both care deeply about human rights and environmental causes, and toured together in 1988 on the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour. (They also both employ keyboardist David Sancious.) Putting the two together for a tour was a slam-dunk of an idea, and it would have been easy, and predictable, for each to do a truncated version of their usual set, and perhaps sing together for a song or two.
To their credit, Sting and Gabriel took a much more difficult route; they put together a show that combines both of their formidable bands doing one long set together, switching between both catalogs. At times, all the members of both bands, along with Gabriel and Sting, were on the stage. But they never seemed to force the point: there never seemed to be more musicians than needed; at some points, it was just Sting and his band, or Gabriel and his, sometimes with one or two expats from the other group.
Sometimes, the show worked best that way: Peter Gabriel’s group didn’t need any extra help on “Secret World”; Sting’s band, meanwhile, is almost too big to play the Police’s “Driven To Tears,” and no extra musicians were required. It was fun to see the frontmen trade songs: Sting sang Gabriel’s Genesis classic “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” before “Message in a Bottle” (the lyrics “Can you tell me where my country lies?” and “Selling England by the pound” are somewhat haunting following the country’s Brexit vote). Gabriel, meanwhile, did an eerie take on “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.” Those moments had a bit of a novelty quality to them.
Where the show really transcended though, was the collaborations. “No Self Control,” “Invisible Sun,” “Games Without Frontiers” and “Shock the Monkey” (sung entirely by Sting) were early highlights. Even on songs that weren’t duets, saw both singers sharing the stage: Sting played second bass (cough) during “Big Time,” along with Gabriel’s long time bassist, the mighty Tony Levin. Other times, he stood with the backing singers, singing along and even joining in their dance moves (like on “In Your Eyes). Gabriel, meanwhile, was seen on keyboards and backing vocals during Sting’s segments.
Both men addressed recent events during the show, Sting mentioning that “Since the tour started, we’ve been wondering what the f— happened to our country,” a reference to Brexit. He also spoke about the Orlando shooting, calling for “empathy and solidarity.” Fittingly, he then played “Fragile” with the timeless lyric “Nothing comes from violence, nothing ever could.”
Gabriel, meanwhile, mourned the murder of British politician Jo Cox before playing a brand new song, “Love Can Heal.”
Sting and Gabriel have seemed ambivalent, at times, about being arena performers. But neither of them wanted to be shown up by the other, and so they saved the biggest crowd pleasers for last: “Desert Rose,” “In Your Eyes,” “Every Breath You Take” and “Sledgehammer”; they split the lead vocals again on the latter.
Throughout the show, the mutual respect and admiration from both singers, and their bands, was apparent (Gabriel’s bassist Levin was seen sitting on stage singing and clapping along during a number of Sting songs). It had the air of something special, more than just a packaging of two icons with (perhaps) similar audiences. This was two icons, both with nothing to prove, stretching out (insert obligatory yoga joke here) and trying something new. That’s something you don’t often see or hear, and hopefully it won’t be the only time Sting and Gabriel hit the road together.
Peter Gabriel – “The Rhythm of the Heat”
Sting – “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “No Self Control”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Invisible Sun”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Games Without Frontiers”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Shock the Monkey”
Peter Gabriel – “Secret World”
Sting – “Driven To Tears”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Fragile”
Peter Gabriel – “Red Rain”
Sting – “Dancing With the Moonlit Night”/”Message in a Bottle”
Peter Gabriel – “Darkness”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Walking in Your Footsteps”/”Kiss That Frog”
Peter Gabriel – “Don’t Give Up”
Sting -“The Hounds of Winter”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Big Time”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Englishman in New York”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill”
Sting – “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”
Peter Gabriel – “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free”
Sting – “Roxanne”/”Ain’t No Sunshine”
Peter Gabriel – “Love Can Heal”
Sting – “Desert Rose”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “In Your Eyes”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Every Breath You Take”
Sting and Peter Gabriel – “Sledgehammer”