June 29, 2016 Sting & Peter Gabriel Create Magic Nikon at Jones Beach Theater Wantagh, NY 6-24-16
The name Sting evokes such strong images: Punk bass player, devoted humanitarian, even Yoga Master. As this Rock Star ages, he shows no signs of slowing down, and in fact, could teach the next generation of eager musicians a thing or two. A gorgeous summer evening is inspiration enough for people to head over to Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, New York. But the balmy twilight of Friday, June 24th, drew out concert goers in full force to a sold-out show as Sting and Peter Gabriel brought their Rock Paper Scissors Tour to Long Island.
With credentials and accolades that are as plentiful as their catalogs are deep, these 60+ year old Rockers are still early into their 21 city, 2 country tour, with many dates already filled to capacity. Fans who grew up listening to both these musical icons tailgated in the parking lot, milling about with glasses of wine and makeshift tables of appetizers with no need to rush inside, as there was no opening act. The festivities were slated to start at 8 PM and the jovial mood held a palpable sense of electricity. Snippets of conversations cut through the din, people saying it was the first time they ever saw Peter Gabriel or regaling friends with the number of times they had seen The Police in concert.
An exciting pairing for a tour, one that caused quite a clamor when it was announced, one can only imagine that the only problem Sting and Gabriel had was trying to whittle down their extensive history of work to come up with a reasonably length set. At 64, Sting, who was born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, has worn the hats of musician, singer-songwriter, actor, and human rights activist. Creating The Police in 1977 and staying on as lead singer, main songwriter, and bassist, he eventually left in 1984 to kick off a successful solo career. The man is a machine, amassing 16 Grammy awards, 3 Brit Awards, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and 3 Academy Award nominations, as well as being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and even having a CBE or Commander of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, something he does not call attention to.
He was perfectly matched with Peter Brian Gabriel, 66, who was the original lead singer and flautist of Prog Rock band Genesis. Gabriel struck out on his solo career in 1975. A staunch supporter of World music, Gabriel co-founded the WOMAD festival in 1982 as well as produces and promotes the genre through his Real World Records label. The man has gathered 3 Brit Awards, 6 Grammy Awards, 13 MTV Video Music Awards, Q Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award, and The Man of Peace Award from the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates for his human rights activism as well as being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Genesis in 2010 and as a solo artist in 2014.
Signaling audience members to head to their seats, the fourteen displays hung like flags over the stage sprang alive with color, each sporting the signature of a tour musician as the stage turned a blue hue, while smoke spilled onto the stage and music poured from the speakers. Up first was Gabriel, perched far to the left of the stage upon a keyboard station like the captain of a fanciful spaceship. As he broke into “The Rhythm of the Heat,” the audience showed their enthusiasm. Each musician, including Gabriel, dressed all in black, including the sound men, crew, and videographer. Some wore jumpsuits with either a red or a blue stripe down the back. The next song brought forth Sting at center stage, resplendent as well in black and bringing the crowd to its knees with a rocking version of “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.”
Gabriel and Sting joined up together to address the crowd, laughing and bantering as they stood together, a united force of entertainment. “Welcome to karaoke night at Jones Beach,” began Gabriel among shouts by the enthusiastic crowd. Smiling, he said, “We have the red team and the blue team.” Sting explained,” What we’re gonna do is not leave the stage very much. Peter will play a song, then I’ll respond with one of mine, then one of his, we’ll trade some songs, we’ll help each other out, and we’ll make it up as we go along. We’ll follow that process.” Gabriel jumped in with, “And you can score the blue team,” he nodded toward Sting, “or the red team and hold up your numbers so we can see them.” Sting grinned broadly and reminded the crowd, “Have a good time everybody!”
The three hour show felt effortless and their material could have easily lasted a few more hours. The last time Sting graced the stage of Nikon at Jones Beach Theater was with The Police on August 5, 2008. Gabriel’s last time on the stage at the beach amphitheater was on September 23, 2012. In attendance on this very special night, among the legions of fans was Sting’s wife Trudie Styler as well as legendary promoter Ron Delsner. Three nights into the Rock Paper Scissors Tour, the energy was high and both sounded in fine voice.
Highlights include Sting’s version of The Police’s “Invisible Sun” as he opened the song and counted so quietly, you can practically feel the audience lean in to listen. Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” was another standout. Sting added his distinctive vocals to the intro and Gabriel left the keyboards to whistle and march around the stage, with Sting joining back in for the chorus. The audience could not help but join in and sing along with the music, putting their seal of approval on the songs that were the soundtrack to many life events.
Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” started out with a haunting dark melody. When he walked the stage in a black jacket with a hood on the back, Gabriel sported a monk-like vibe. As the song shifted into a more traditional version that carried a slight Calypso feel, the blue lights of the stage stayed dark and it was not until the chorus that the backdrop changed and the musicians came out of the shadows. The video portion of the show was fantastic and well-synched to steer emotions and work with the music. Gabriel very elaborately handed Sting the microphone in a symbolic gesture of welcoming him into the moment. Jennie Abramson, Gabriel’s house singer, and Sting riffed with each other playfully on the vocal outro freestyling joyfully, with Gabriel standing behind them. When Gabriel raised his hand, they trilled off and the song ended, sending goosebumps through the crowd.
The jazzier arrangement on Sting’s “Driven to Tears” was memorable, especially Violinist Peter Tickell’s incredible performance. On a night when banter was kept to a minimum and the music took the spotlight, Sting addressed the crowd, gazing down with his hands on his bass. “’Driven to Tears’ was my emotional reaction to what happened in Orlando a week ago, the mass murder,” he explained. “And I came to the conclusion that the only way we can counter unspeakable cruelty and hatred is through empathy and solidarity. In that spirit, I want to sing this song,” and with that Sting launched into a flawless and often times whispery and beautiful version of “Fragile.”
Dancing and singing loudly to fan favorites like “Red Rain,” “Walking In Your Footsteps,” “Don’t Give Up,” “Big Time,” “Englishman in New York,” “Solsbury Hill,” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” the crowd was on their feet for the duration. Twenty six songs into the set, the encores brought down the show with “Every Breath You Take” and “Sledgehammer.”
As the masses headed to the merchandise stands and through the gates, singing and compliments could be heard from every direction, excitement in the air at having witnessed truly musical magic. With the opportunity for such unique and impressive pairings on stage, such as Sting and Peter Gabriel in the Rock Paper Scissors Tour, fans can only dream of the future fascinating options that are possible.