SAN JOSE — The level of integration English rockers Peter Gabriel and Sting showed Thursday at the SAP Center in San Jose was unorthodox.
During the 2.5-hour show, the two musicians and their combined 12-member backing crew ping-ponged between original songs recorded from their combined 80-plus years of material. The level of synthesis was impressive given that the two do not have a history of recording together or that “Rock Paper Scissors” is the name of the tour instead of a forthcoming side project between them.
They should think about doing more together, though. Thursday’s gig was a well-rehearsed love fest, with the former lead singers of Genesis and The Police trading lines in each other’s songs and tag-teaming others. It showed respect for each other’s careers as Englishman and musicians, but also made for a joyous celebration of each other’s impressive song catalogs.
They found common ground, too, in their political perspectives. Hours after a brutal Bastille Day massacre in Nice, France, that left 84 dead, Sting referenced it and other recent tragedies in Orlando and Dallas in the lead up to his anti-violence ballad “Fragile.”
“Any reasonable person would be driven to tears,” he said, wanting to remind the crowd of “our common humanity” and trading his customary bass for acoustic guitar. British politics and tragedy were referenced, too, as last month’s Brexit vote inspired Sting to mine a deep cut from Gabriel’s past, Genesis’ “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” as an intro to “Message in a Bottle.” Both got the crowd clapping and singing along.
Late in the show, Gabriel uncorked a new song, “Love Can Heal,” which he penned in memory of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament who was shot and stabbed to death last month. Gabriel befriended Cox in the years prior to her political career, he said. Though “Love Can Heal,” which came near the end of the night, was touching, it also highlighted the contrasting styles of its headlining duo.
That juxtaposition appeared several times, as Sting’s driving, crowd-pleasing pop rockers buttressed against Gabriel’s theatrical, introspective pieces. After “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” lifted spirits, Gabriel delivered a rendition of Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” that dialed the creep factor up to 11 with low, rumbling vocals.
Earlier in the night, Gabriel followed the buoyant “Message in a Bottle” with “Darkness” from 2002’s Up. Gabriel played buzzkill, introducing the song with story from his childhood about a spooky house in the woods where he thought a witch lived. The song rides a violent, sudden roar to emphasize the terror young Peter felt. The video screens showed a too-close-for-comfort attachment camera on the end of his microphone as he sang every word.
But not all of Gabriel’s songs were brooding. He danced across the stage under bright primary colors to “Games Without Frontiers.” On “Secret World,” he repeatedly twirled with his arms outstretched at center stage during the song’s climactic bridge.
The show concluded with The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” each artist’s biggest hit. For two artists without a recording history together, it was a justified, celebratory conclusion to their mutual admiration society.
Legend: PG = Peter Gabriel, S = Sting, PG/S = Both
The Rhythm of the Heat (PG)
If I Ever Lose My Faith in You (S)
No Self-Control (PG/S)
Invisible Sun (PG/S)
Games Without Frontiers (PG/S)
Shock the Monkey (PG/S – Sting lead vocals)
Secret World (PG)
Driven to Tears (S)
Red Rain (PG)
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight (S)
Message in a Bottle (PG/S)
Walking in Your Footsteps (S)
Kiss That Frog (PG/S)
Don’t Give Up (PG)
The Hounds of Winter (S)
Big Time (PG/S)
Englishman in New York (PG/S)
Solsbury Hill (PG/S)
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (S)
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free (PG)
Roxanne / Ain’t No Sunshine / Roxanne (S)
Love Can Heal (PG)
Desert Rose (S)
In Your Eyes (PG/S)
Every Breath You Take (PG/S)