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Review: Paul Simon and Sting at American Airlines Center

Posted 10:01am on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014

On paper, the pairing perplexed.

Paul Simon, one of pop music’s pre-eminent craftsmen, joining forces with Sting, a polished, multi-platinum superstar at the other end of the sonic spectrum.

Once the shock receded a bit, similarities emerged — each embraces a polyrhythmic songwriting style, both are intimately familiar with world music and, if nothing else, Simon and Sting could commiserate about leaving high-profile bands and striking out on their own.

So, it was with guarded optimism a sizable crowd poured into the American Airlines Center Sunday night (about 25 percent of the upper deck was curtained off), for only the second performance of the “On Stage Together” tour.

In practice, the pairing pleased — and surprisingly so.

Over the course of 30 songs and nearly three hours, the two men swapped verses on well-known hits and established an ebb-and-flow rhythm that made the evening seem like a particularly well-sequenced iTunes playlist. After a few songs together, one or the other would exit, leaving whoever was left to perform a mini solo set.

“So, we’ve entered into an adventure,” Simon said, not long after taking the stage. “How will we blend two extraordinary bands and two different styles?”

The night was devoted to finding out.

Split down the middle, song-wise, each man got about 15 songs to showcase, with the highlights being the 11 tunes they performed, well, “On Stage Together.” Hearing Simon sing verses of Sting’s Fields of Gold was discombobulating, just as it was hearing Sting’s spin on The Boxer.

Their voices didn’t always blend seamlessly — Sting’s husky tenor occasionally overpowered Simon’s thin baritone — but there were a few moments, particularly during The Boxer, which were absolutely breathtaking (the pair’s harmonizing on the indelible line “I am leaving, I am leaving/But the fighter still remains” raised goosebumps).

Backed by both of their own touring bands, which crammed the stage full of more than a dozen musicians, Sting and Simon displayed a laid-back chemistry, although Sting’s tendency to playfully dismiss Simon during his own solo portions (“Bye, Paul!”) seemed a little snarky. (He made up for it with a masterful, moving reading of Simon & Garfunkel’s America.)

The contrast between them — Sting’s jazz-inflected austerity and Simon’s earthy ebullience — helped sustain the show during some of its duller stretches, particularly as it ticked past the two-hour mark.

However odd the union seemed, its benefits were evident. Sting seemed far less willing to coast than on his 2011 “Back to Bass” tour, and Simon redoubled his efforts to shake up his back catalog (for instance: all but scatting You Can Call Me Al).

That sort of creative competition is healthy, especially for two artists who could easily skate by on a greatest hits tour, which “On Stage Together” avoids being simply because of its novelty.

Hopefully, the marketplace isn’t flooded with knock-offs (“Jackson Browne and Elton John: On Stage Together!”), but if more puzzling pairings pop up in the near future, it won’t be a mystery as to why.

Simon and Sting:

1. Brand New Day

2. Boy in the Bubble

3. Fields of Gold

Sting:

4. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic

5. Englishman in New York

6. I Hung My Head

7. Driven To Tears

Simon and Sting:

8. Love is the Seventh Wave

9. Mother and Child Reunion

Simon:

10. Gumboots

11. Dazzling Blue

12. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

13. Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard

14. That Was Your Mother

Simon and Sting:

15. Fragile

Sting:

16. America

17. Message in a Bottle

18. The Hounds of Winter

19. They Dance Alone

20. Roxanne

21. Desert Rose

Simon and Sting:

22. The Boxer

Simon:

23. Kodachrome/Gone At Last

24. Hearts and Bones/Mystery Train/Wheels

25. The Obvious Child

26. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

27. You Can Call Me Al

(Encore)

Simon and Sting:

28. Every Breath You Take

29. Late in the Evening

30. Bridge Over Troubled Water

31. When Will I Be Loved

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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