Early in Sting and Peter Gabriel’s Pepsi Center show, which was part of their Rock Paper Scissors tour, Gabriel told the audience that the set would be “a little like karaoke night in Denver.” Gabriel’s band, dressed in black with red stripes on parts of their clothing, was the red team while Sting’s band was the blue team.
“You can hold out your scores, but we’re going to ignore them, because we’re going to carry on anyway,” Gabriel said.
Over the next two and half hours, the pair carried on beautifully, having fun along the way, but it never seemed like a competition. If anything, there seemed to be a friendly camaraderie between two old buddies whose friendship goes back three decades and who toured together in the ’80s, even if, as Sting (or “Mr. Sting,” as Gabriel referred to him a few times) said, the two groups tried to up the ante in the early stages of planning this tour.
“We weren’t quite sure how we would do it, so we all got into a big room with two bands and we faced each other,” Sting said. “And we played a song, and he would respond with another and then another and up the ante every time. Every time, we responded to each other.”
Gabriel responded, “He said when it got too high we had to stop.”
The ante was high from the get-go, with Gabriel opening with the dark and tribal “The Rhythm of the Heat,” while Sting followed with the rather lively “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” which got some cheers from the audience when he sang the line, “You could say I'd lost my belief in our politicians.”
While the opening two songs were quite different in feel, there was similarity in Sting and Gabriel’s vocal tonality, since both singers have that slight rasp, almost like very fine grit on sandpaper. They both harmonize particularly well, so it wasn’t a huge shock when they sang each other’s songs — Sting sang Gabriel’s iconic “Shock the Monkey” and Genesis’s “Dancing With the Moonlit Kilt,” and Gabriel sang Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” which started off sounding similar to the opening electric piano riff of Beck’s “Where It’s At.”
Their voices also blended well when trading verses on each other’s songs, as they did during Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt,” which sounded massive with both bands playing together, including two drummers and a percussionist, as well as Gabriel’s bassist Tony Levin and Sting on bass making the sound bottom-heavy yet expansive.
A few times during the show, Sting and Gabriel seemed to display pure admiration for each other, as when Sting and his band went through a fervent take on the Police’s “Driven to Tears” with Gabriel smiling, tapping his feet and nodding his head while sitting in a lounge chair at the side of the stage. Sting seemed equally enthusiastic while sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the stage during Gabriel’s take on “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.”
There were moments during the show that the energy swelled and swirled on stage, such as during Gabriel’s “Red Rain” and “Solsbury Hill,” or the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” and “Driven to Tears,” (which featured an exceptional violin solo by Peter Tickell). Equally compelling were the ballads, especially Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up" (with Gabriel backup singer Jennie Abrahamson singing the part that Kate Bush sang on the 1986 album So) and “Love Can Heal,” which the singer dedicated to slain Parliament member Jo Cox, and Sting’s “Fragile,” which Sting preceded by mentioning the recent shootings in Dallas, Orlando, St. Paul and Baton Rouge.
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“The only way we can counter unspeakable cruelty and hatred is through empathy and solidarity, and in that, spirit,” Sting said.
Sting and Peter Gabriel took the capacity crowd on an epic ride, touching on the highlights of their respective careers along the way. And in epic fashion, they ended the show with some of their biggest hits, with both bands teaming up for Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and on the encores, the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.”
1. Peter Gabriel: The Rhythm of the Heat
2. Sting: If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
3. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Digging in the Dirt
4. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Invisible Sun
5. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Games Without Frontiers
6. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Shock the Monkey
7. Peter Gabriel: Secret World
8. Sting: Driven to Tears
9. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Fragile
10. Peter Gabriel: Red Rain
11. Sting: Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
12. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Message in a Bottle
13. Peter Gabriel: Don’t Give Up
14. Sting & Peter Gabriel: The Hounds of Winter
15. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Big Time
16. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Englishman in New York
17. Sting & Peter Gabriel: Solsbury Hill
18. Sting: Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
19. Peter Gabriel: If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
20. Sting: Roxanne/Ain’t No Sunshine
21. Peter Gabriel: Love Can Heal
22. Sting: Desert Rose
23. Sting & Peter Gabriel: In Your Eyes
24: Sting & Peter Gabriel: Every Breath You Take
25 Sting & Peter Gabriel: Sledgehammer