Friday, September 22

Peter Gabriel and Sting Throw Rock Paper Scissors in San Jose

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Peter Gabriel and Sting
SAP Center, San Jose
July 14, 2016

Throwing conventional concert presentation out the window, Peter Gabriel and Sting brought their Rock Paper Scissors Tour to the jam-packed SAP Center in San Jose. This unique tour breaks the mold of typical concerts. There is no opener or headliner, only a fabulous rock show put on by two true innovators of rock music.

For Rock Paper Scissors, Gabriel and Sting share the stage simultaneously, trading off songs and bands. Logistically it is a deft demonstration of stage management and it went largely un-noticed by the capacity crowd Thursday (which is a kudos to the organizers). This is an extremely creative way to take any ego out of a bill of rock and roll hall of famers. It also provided a fantastic setting for two solid hours (28 songs) of music.

The stage was as crowded as the venue, packed with enough drums, sound gear and instruments to accommodate two bands. There was no indication of an elaborate stage show, as only a modest background of video screens hung over the stage, resembling picture frames. This seemingly simple stage set belied the elaborate effects that would be displayed during the show.

Soon the stage lights sparked and a series of images came to life on the previously dormant screens, staring in at the crowd as the thunderous tribal beat of ‘The Rhythm of the Heat’ pulsated the room. Fans reveled in the powerful haunting voice of Peter Gabriel as he belted out the lead track from his 1982 album “Peter Gabriel – Security.”

The stage went momentarily dark and then re-ignited as the drummer counted off the next song. Like some great magic trick, it was now Sting and his band that was apparent on stage, immediately jumping into ‘If I Ever Lose My Faith in You’ (“Ten Summoner’s Tales” – 1993) to the surprise and amazement of the audience.

In typical shows, where one band plays straight through an entire set, it is easy to try to predict what will come next. In this evening’s setting, there was no guessing, only anticipation of what treat was to be unwrapped next.

If folks thought the first two songs gave an indication of how the evening would unfold, the reality was it was just a hint. ‘Twister’ (as in the game) would have also been an appropriate name for this tour as the remainder of the evening would be a delightful series of twists, mixing and matching the singers and the bands from one song to the next.

There were instances in which both singers were onstage simultaneously with both bands…a full house of sorts. For instance the combined ensemble performed a brilliant rendition of ‘Invisible Sun’ (“Ghost in the Machine” – 1981) reaching back to Sting’s tenure front man of The Police. That immediately dovetailed into the pair of Brit rock icons taking on ‘Games Without Frontiers’ (“Peter Gabriel – Melt”), which featured Gabriel in a slow stepping strut across the stage as he harmonized with Sting and the crowd of 20,000 to belt out the chorus.

There were occasions where each singer performed with the other’s band. Sting performed with Gabriel’s band, including a spirited version of Gabriel’s smash ‘Shock the Monkey’ with a drum and bass rhythm backbeat stretching the pace of the song and changing its complexion so that it was recognizable but still very different.

Gabriel later took the cue to re-configure a song from his counterpart by churning out a spooky version of Sting’s ‘If You Love Somebody Set them Free’ (“The Dream of the Blue Turtles” – 1985). It even started with a quick bite of Beck’s ‘Where It’s At,’ then spun itself into a dark, desperate interpretation of the Sting hit. Gabriel performed it as if it had been his song the entire time, in a way only he could deliver it….making it sound dangerous and alluring as he stalked around the stage.

There were also bits where things returned to some semblance of order with each legendary front man leading his own band. Mid-set, Sting aligned with his band and reflected on some of the recent tragedies that have infected our beleaguered planet, taking on a more serious and somber tone. He implored the crowd not to accept these events as being the new normal, and the band then leapt into ‘Driven to Tears’ (Police – “Zenyatta Mondatta” 1980) which was highlighted by an absolutely on-fire fiddle performance by Peter Tickell, who dropped the collective jaw of everyone in the building….it was really something else.

When Gabriel and his band locked in there was a different type of magic in the air, but it was equally as remarkable. In addition to looking like they could moonlight as the Blue Man Group band (all sporting bald heads), Gabriel’s band is top notch. The rhythm section of Ged Lynch (drums) and Tony Levin of King Crimson fame (bass, synth) particularly jumps out.

On ‘Red Rain’ (“So” – 1986) Levin donned his famous creation, ‘funk fingers’ – small drum type mallets attached to finger extensions – to syncopate his bass hits in coordination with drummer Ged Lynch’s rock steady beat. The feeling of cohesiveness in Gabriel’s band and how they layered instruments and voice on ‘Red Rain’ was particularly reminiscent of Pink Floyd….lush, and epic. And the fact that the song was played amidst a cascade of fractals shooting off of the graphics of the band made the experience all the more fantastic.

The set came to a close with a tandem performance of Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ (“So”) which was a sample of what was to come in the encore. The two bands re-emerged for the final two songs, the Police mega smash ‘Every Breath You Take’ (“Synchronicity” – 1983) and Gabriel’s MTV breakthrough hit ‘Sledgehammer’ (“So”). As the last song ended it was like a great DJ mix coming perfectly to an end. Unfortunately for the crowd you can’t put a live performance on repeat.

SETLIST: Rhythm of the Heat (Gabriel) | If I Ever Lose my Faith in You (Sting) | No Self Control (Gabriel) | Invisible Sun (Police) | Games Without Frontiers (Gabriel) | Shock the Monkey (Gabriel) | Secret World (Gabriel) | Driven to Tears (Police) | Fragile (Sting) | Red Rain (Gabriel) | Dancing With the Moonlit Knight (Genesis) | Message In a Bottle (Police) | Darkness (Gabriel) | Walking In Your Footsteps (Police) | Kiss That Frog (Gabriel) | Don’t Give Up (Gabriel) | The Hounds of Winter (Sting) | Big time (Gabriel) | Englishman in New York (Sting) | Solsbury Hill (Gabriel) | Every Little Thing She Does is magic (Police) | If You Love Somebody Set Them Free (Sting) | Roxanne (Sting) | Love Can heal (Gabriel) | Desert Rose (Sting) | In Your Eyes (Gabriel) || Every Breath You Take (Police) | Sledgehammer (Gabriel)

For more information on Peter Gabriel, check out his website.

Find out more about Sting here.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Mazur.

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About Author

Mark Paniagua is a bay area native who grew up on the SF music scene as a musician and sound engineer. Playing local clubs since the late 80's in bands such as Ringchildren, Sorrow Town Choir, and Fuzzbucket, Mark is an accomplished bassist and vocalist. He has also played and performed in a number of rock musical productions with Buzz Skycastle crew, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Pink Floyd's The Wall, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Abigail the Rock Opera.

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