July 12, 2016
The field of mergers and acquisitions has been a profitable one for many capitalists over the last few decades. Indeed, profit is the driving force behind these transactions. Occasionally you'll hear some mumbling about economic efficiencies and synergies, but mainly it's about profits. Especially for the consultants reaping handsome fees from these endeavors.
But a merger for art's sake? That doesn't seem very Wall Street. In fact, it's not. This particular plot was hatched in England and imported to the United States. And although economics most likely played some role in this particular union, the music was obviously a primary consideration.
Tuesday night, the two Englishmen brought their new enterprise to Denver's largest indoor venue. And, while this is a conglomeration destined for eventual dismemberment, the immediate and short term returns seem quite bullish.
This wasn't a show where one act opened and the other finished up. This was a true merger with both Peter Gabriel and Sting on the stage for almost the entire 2 ½ hour show. The basic business plan was that one guy would sing one of his hits, the other guy would sing one of his, then the first guy would sing another of his hits. And so on. It was the twists and the different arrangements that kept things interesting throughout the evening.
One of the most obvious ramifications of the merger was the literal integration of two bands on one stage. Gabriel and Sting each brought their own full band resulting in a group that numbered up to 14 players. Often, the entire ensemble would play at once, but mixing and matching was the order of the evening. Players came and went with each song yielding ensembles ranging from 4 or 5 players, up to the full complement with, seemingly, every permutation in between.
The instrumental distribution included 3 drummers, a couple guitars; besides Gabriel (who played keys), a couple keyboard players (one of whom sang), a couple backing singers, a cellist (who also sang) a violinist and a bassist (besides Sting). A few of the band members were semi-famous in their own right. For instance, Tony Levin
played bass and some synthesizers. One of the drummers was Vinnie Colaiuta
whom Sting introduced as the best drummer in the world, a designation for which he is definitely in the running. Another name band member was long-time studio keyboard player David Sancious.
The big band allowed the front men wide flexibility in presenting their well-known songs. Sting pulled a number of Police hits out of the bag and these, in particular, seemed to benefit from the plus-sized ensemble. Going from arrangements for a trio to a group three or four times that size filled out these songs nicely.
More often than not, each star sang his own songs, but they didn't slavishly stick to that script. Sting sang nearly all of "Shock the Monkey" and a clear highlight of the evening was Gabriel's rendition of "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free." He turned what is usually a bouncy little pop song into something much more bluesy and soulful. One common practice was trading verses. And, of course, they sang together, their distinctive voices blending to create a third sonic variation.
Listening to Gabriel and then Sting songs back to back clearly highlighted some of the differences between the two artists with Gabriel's tunes often coming off as rhythmically complex and Sting's...sometimes not so much. The juxtaposition of the first two songs was a good example. Gabriel kicked off the show with "The Rhythm of the Heat," a creepy song about Carl Jung's encounter with a group of African drummers which turned into a metaphysical experience for him. "The rhythm is around me/The rhythm has control/The rhythm is inside me/The rhythm has my soul!" Of course, as the name and subject matter imply, the rhythm was the focus of the song with the three drummers in overdrive.
In contrast, the next song, "If I Ever Lose My Faith" was underpinned by a steady thump, thump, thump, thump of quarter notes. The song did have a big applause line, "You could say I lost my belief in our politicians/They all seemed like game show hosts to me." Some other Sting songs displayed a similar lack of syncopation, but that's not to say they were all like that, "Desert Rose," "Fragile" and "Englishman in New York" (pizzicato off beats!) were tasty exceptions.
After the first couple of songs, the band leaders came to the front of the stage to explain their concept. They talked about how they had worked together in the '80s and had wanted to do so again. For this project, they each brought their bands into a studio and set up facing each other. Sting: "One of us played a song and the other answered, raising the bar, then the other band played and raised the bar even higher, and so on." Gabriel, "Until it got too high, then we had to start over."