We’re all winners in Sting and Peter Gabriel’s musical version of Rock Paper Scissors.
It’s the name of their tour, though the two British icons didn’t actually play the game during Sunday’s stop at Rexall Place. They did, however, share the stage for almost three hours - taking turns playing songs from their catalogues, sometimes even covering each other’s tunes - with the help of their respective bands.
What a fabulous and refreshing way to shake up the usual concert routine. Can more musicians please follow suit? Just think of some of the possibilities, including Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell or Kanye West and Taylor Swift? Ooh.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, mind you.
Gabriel, who is easily the more mysterious (and fatalistic) of the two, opened Sunday’s show with The Rhythm of the Heat, an atmospheric number which culminated in three drummers attacking their kits as smoke billowed around them. Drenched in red lights and clad in a black jacket, pants and trainers, the former Genesis frontman looked a lot like the High Sparrow from Game of Thrones - if he had been an aging punk musician.
Sting, in tight jeans and a leather jacket, then bounded on stage - the sunshine to Gabriel’s darkness - and played his funky pop hit, If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, leading to the first standing ovation of the evening.
“This is the last night of the Rock Paper Scissors tour, but we intend to make it a really good one,” Gabriel announced, then made a few jokes about his physique and the pressure to measure up to Sting. “After a 15-year absence, I got back on the yoga mat,” said Gabriel. “After only three lessons, no one could tell us apart.”
To soak in his presence, no matter his weight, was long overdue — Gabriel hasn’t played Edmonton since he opened for David Bowie at Commonwealth Stadium in 1983. We totally missed out on his biggest album - 1986’s So - so it was a thrill to finally hear hits such as Big Time and Sledgehammer reverberate around Edmonton’s ol’ arena. He also nailed Digging in the Dirt, a spine-tingling warning; Games Without Frontiers, a chilling synth-pop number; Don’t Give Up, a tender duet performed with backup singer Jennie Abrahamson; Solsbury Hill, a wistful ditty which had the arena on its feet; and In Your Eyes, a love song which will haunt John Cusack to his dying days.
Back to Bowie for a moment. Did Gabriel happen to perform his cover of the late, great Starman’s Heroes, which recently appeared in Netflix’s Stranger Things? Unfortunately, no - perhaps the only thing lacking from Sunday’s show. Make it two things: Gabriel didn’t sing the lead on his 1982 hit, Shock The Monkey, he let his tour mate do the honours.
Sting did a respectable job with the anxious synth-pop tune, but it wasn’t the same. His pipes are warm and raspy while Gabriel’s are sharper and tangier, adding a sense of paranoia to his songs. Both vocalists sounded in top form, by the way. As did their backup singers - Abrahamson and Jo Lawry, who added some eerie wails to The Hounds of Winter.
Sting’s last visit to Rexall Place came in 2004 with Eurythmics’ queen Annie Lennox as his opening act. She stole the show, mesmerizing the crowd with her powerhouse vocals and incandescent stage presence.
He obviously didn’t want to be upstaged by Gabriel. Sting matched his friend’s intensity - performing virtuoso renditions of his own hits and those of his old band, The Police. Standouts included Invisible Sun, a dystopian number; Roxanne, which veered into a jazzy call-and-response and a cover of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine; Message In a Bottle, appropriately dedicated to a post-Brexit England; and An Englishman in New York.
“Be yourself, no matter what they say,” he sang, as the crowd of 10,000 fans joined in. Superb.
(c) Edmonton Journal by Sandra Sperounes