“Two Englishmen in Toronto. Sting and Peter Gabriel in concert at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto on 29th June 2016. Review by Clark Abrahams.
When I first heard about these gigs by Peter and Sting I wasn’t sure about going. After all, Sting may be a fine artist, and I enjoyed his work with The Police but it was Peter’s stuff I really wanted to hear. Curiosity eventually got the better of me and I purchased a ticket which gave me a good if not spectacular view of the show.
Peter and his band were first on stage and things got under way with a mesmerising Rhythm of The Heat, which lost nothing of its raw power even in the enormous space of the Air Canada centre, in fact if anything, the echoey effect added to the drama of it all. Sting took over next with a slick If I Ever Lose My Faith In You and this was to be the recurring theme of the night, both artists were to swap places giving the audience effectively the best of their respective back catalogues.
Both artists looked composed and relaxed and were evidently having the time of their lives, as were the audience. Backed by two of the best groups of musicians you could wish for the result was a supremely enjoyable set. Reaching back slightly further in time, Peter gave us several classic cuts from his third album including a truly awesome No Self Control which still manages to send shivers up and down my spine even after all these years. The Police’s Invisible Sun got a cheer of recognition from the crowd too and it has to be said, of the two, Sting’s voice has stood the test of time better than Peter’s but Peter has that magic spark that more than makes up for that.
Games Without Frontiers too, has still got the magic and manages to impart its message without coming across as preachy. Here, Gabriel’s hoarse and rasping vocal added considerably to the emotional appeal of the song. They even managed to take us by surprise as Sting sang Shock The Monkey with Peter backing him and it was given a much more jazzy treatment than usual and it worked incredibly well.
Secret World too was a magical performance with Peter’s vocal sounding much more potent here, always a great song live it reached new heights tonight. Trading this for the almost funky and spiky Driven To Tears was inspired and it was the contrasts between the musical styles of both artists that made the evening such a memorable one.
Fragile was a truly beautiful moment in the evening. Acoustic guitar accompanying a truly plaintive vocal from Sting, this was another highlight of the show and contrasting that with the raw power of Red Rain, accompanied by suitably effective lighting, only served to emphasise the beauty of both songs.
A violin introduction brought the biggest gasp of the evening as Sting uttered the immortal words… “Can you tell me where my country lies…?” Yes, after 42 years, a Genesis song featured in a Gabriel set. Why Peter chose not to sing it is anyone’s guess but Sting managed it admirably and it segued into Message In A Bottle very well.
Darkness, one of Peter’s most dramatic songs was next, and evening the enormity of the arena, it lost none of its power to shock. Deeply dramatic and almost sinister this one had the audience on the edge of their seats! While Walking In Your Footsteps and Don’t Give Up made a wonderful contrast between the cheerful up beat message of Sting’s classic and the much more emphatic message of Peter’s and Linnea Olson’s vocal added a real touch of emotion here.
Vinnie Colaiuta was introduced next to lead the intro to Hounds Of Winter from Sting’s Mercury Falling album, another superbly dramatic performance which in turn was followed by Big Time, not my favourite song of Peter’s but there is no doubting its effect in an arena such as this one and the audience responded by going nuts!
An Englishman In New York and this was another unexpected highlight for me and the celebratory mood continued with a truly sublime Solsbury Hill which never fails to give me goosebumps even after all these years! While Every Little Thing She Does is Magic had the entire arena singing along and why not, it’s a great song and this was a celebration!
If You Need Somebody Set Them Free, was given a slow night club jazz feel which made it an entirely different animal to its usual incarnation especially with Peter taking the lead vocal! Roxanne has lost none of its impact and Sting’s raw almost hoarse vocal gave it just the right amount of passion.
Peter introduced the only new song of the evening next with the story of how he encountered the MP Jo Cox whose tragic recent assassination in the UK shocked everyone. Love Can Heal had everyone listening in almost total silence, as only Peter’s music can do, a fine indicator that the man still has magic and the ability to weave it into words and music.
The mood was lifted again by the oriental tinged Desert Rose and it was definitely party time as the now familiar rhythm of In Your Eyes wove its magic through the arena with audience and band united as one entity in a truly awesome moment. Band and crew introductions follow bringing the show itself to an end but we all know that we are going to get an encore or two and they are not long in coming as Every Breath You Take gets an enormous (and deserved) cheer from the crowd but the final word is Peter’s as the unmistakable intro to Sledgehammer gets everyone off their feet for one last time and brings the show to a memorable.
Peter’s shows are always memorable but this one was perhaps even more so for the combination of not only the musical talent of Peter and Sting but the strength of the music which they opted to play. There simply wasn’t a bad track in this set and although I .like many Peter fans, would have loved to hear him singing Dancing With The Moonlit Knight rather than Sting, who knows, this might be the beginning of a change of heart for Pete. I guess we shall have to wait and see. One thing is for sure, if this show came to Toronto again, I would be there in a heartbeat!