Sting and Shaggy @ O2 Academy 24 May 2019

There has been a wave of reviews for this tour, which on the face of it showcases pop’s most unlikely collaboration, absolutely slamming the two artists for daring to do something they enjoy, as if all artists must only do what an audience wants and what is deemed ‘right’. 

I admit I did come tonight expecting to witness some strange Victorian circus freak show and my expectations were pretty low, however, the thought of seeing one of our most successful artists ever perform on a small stage like the Academy could also not be missed… I mean, come on.. Sting, he is an institution, and like him or hate him you cannot deny his credentials.  He has been at the top of his game for over forty years and written some of the best pop songs ever; the thought of hearing them live up close and personal is mouth watering.

What is immediately obvious when the band comes on stage to a packed Academy is how great musically they are.  Sting plays bass throughout except on ‘Crooked Tree’ when he acts out the condemned man while Shaggy plays the judge (complete with wig and gown).. yes, you did just read that sentence.  Sting’s P-Bass is almost as recognisable as the man playing it, yet it looks more beat up than its 68 year old owner: Sting is in incredible shape.  Vocally he is note perfect across the whole range of his songs covering his entire career… and if there are any doubters in the audience who think Sting doesn’t want to please his fans, song 3 and 4 put that thought to rest with ‘Englishman in New York’ followed by ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’, although all this is interspersed with Shaggy’s inimitable contributions.. inimitable, uncontrollable, seemingly inexhaustible.. bordering on just the right side of irritating.  So ‘Englishman’ turns into ‘Jamaican in New York’.  Yeah pretty obvious stuff, but you know what, the heart of this performance is in the right place and I am smiling throughout.  Sometimes laughing admittedly but music doesn’t always have to be deadly serious surely?  And I am laughing with, not at this show.

Both artists have their fans firmly in mind when choosing the songs in the set, it is one hit after another.  Obviously there is plenty to highlight their own album from last year “44/876” and Shaggy also plays his song ‘You’ from this month’s album release “Wah Gwaan” featuring the frighteningly young and talented Alexander Stewart on vocals.

Sting draws from his solo career and his time with The Police, and these are my highlights: ‘So Lonely’ and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ are still as powerful and depressing as they were when I first bought them in the late 70’s (I still treasure the blue vinyl 7” single with Peter Gravelle’s cover showing Sting in a noose holding a photo, standing on a slowly melting block of ice by a heater, and the back cover image showing the electric heater has melted the ice to a puddle and the photo has been dropped – chilling stuff).  The performances are so good and so exact that they immediately transport me back to when I was ten, but this time the melancholy and sentimental nostalgia are refracted through the lens that is Shaggy and any wistful contemplation is shattered by the site of a full grown man stomping around a stage blurting out the odd word to toast the singer.  It is a strange but glorious juxtaposition and thoroughly entertaining.

Shaggy takes the spotlight on fewer occasions than his co-host and surprisingly these moments receive greater cheers from the crowd, and no, they are not ironic cheers.  Even for the phenomenally stupid and cartoonish ‘Boombastic’.  Yes Mr Lubber Lubber, segued with ‘Roxanne’ just seems the most ill-thought out transition, but after the initial shock you have to just stand back and enjoy the show.

The most unexpected highlight comes from the vocal acrobatics of backing vocalist Gene Noble, who takes a solo in ‘Shape of My Heart’ and blows the other singers off the stage – check this out on Youtube – his 90 seconds will send shivers down your back.  It is generous of the two superstars to share the spotlight this way, knowing full well Gene is a better singer by a country mile.

The set, including two encores, lasts about two hours and is fantastic value for money as the momentum never slows.  There is not a great deal of introductions, just hit after hit after hit.  The joy in the room, from both performer and audience is palpable – it is very different from the snooty serious journalist set who for some reason have an agenda that includes battering anything that tries to be pure entertainment… and Sting is such an easy target for them.

I saw Stewart Copeland play his pieces with orchestra a few months ago and feel less criticism was levelled at him doing serious music than Sting with his watered down reggae for the middle classes.  This stinks of musical snobbery, something I am normally guilty of, but at least I know I’m wrong.  Anyone who walks away from this gig not being entertained is lying, and good or bad, naff or not, Sting and Shaggy nailed it.  They chose the right venue, the right size tour and had the best time ever doing it. 

I for one had a blast witnessing this, and okay there are times in the show when Shaggy’s grinding and groin thrusting seemed at odds with the lyrical intensity of some of Sting’s work, but I know for a fact that the contrast in performances gave much needed light and shade, and ultimately the show delivers with both band and audience enjoying the moment.  Sting and Shaggy are an easy target for lazy reviewers, but they still do their own thing and that is the right thing for any artist to do.

Set:

44/876

Morning Is Coming

Englishman in New York

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

Oh Carolina / We’ll Be Together

If You Can’t Find Love

Love Is the Seventh Wave

To Love and Be Loved

Message in a Bottle

You (with Alexander Stewart)

Brand New Day

Waiting for the Break of Day

Gotta Get Back My Baby

If You Love Somebody Set Them Free

Don’t Make Me Wait

Angel

Dreaming in the U.S.A.

Crooked Tree

Shape of My Heart

Walking on the Moon (with “Get Up, Stand Up”)

So Lonely / Strength of a Woman

Hey Sexy Lady

Roxanne / Boombastic

Encore:

Can’t Stand Losing You

Desert Rose

It Wasn’t Me

Every Breath You Take

Encore 2:

Next to You

 

Reviewer: Alan Neilson

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