Battle of the pop stars: Sting and Peter Gabriel
Usually shows that are called a “battle of the bands” aren’t held in big arenas and don’t feature big-name stars. But that’s the phrase that Sting recently used at the tour opener for his summer trek with Peter Gabriel.
Billboard magazine reported that Sting pointed to the blue and red color schemes on each side of the stage for the two artists’ tour and then explained how they figured out how this battle would take place.
“We got together in a big room and Peter played a song and then I played one,” Billboard reported that Sting said onstage June 22 during this first stop in Columbus, Ohio.
The Peter Gabriel and Sting tour, which features on July 15 at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena, is looking to be just that: a back-and-forth between two acclaimed and popular artists. Although, Gabriel said at that same show that there could be more to it than that from the participants.
Billboard reported that Gabriel said since both of them were from different towns in the U.K., “by the end of the tour, he’s going to teach me how to build a ship and I’m going to teach him how to milk a cow.”
All kidding aside, both singer/songwriters are showing off those contrasts during what they are dubbing the Rock Paper Scissors tour. Gabriel told Rolling Stone earlier this year that he was looking forward to the shows.
“What intrigues me is that you get a good bunch of musicians together and interesting things will happen,” Gabriel said.
Sting went further to compare it to another shared tour he went on recently -- with Paul Simon in 2014.
“We traded songs, we traded musicians, we sang together,” Sting told Rolling Stone. “And the take-home that people got from that was they loved it when did things together.”
Music without frontiers
Both singers’ career paths are quite different from each other. It was Gabriel who came to prominence first as the lead singer of Genesis. Starting in 1967, Gabriel’s distinctive voice and penchant for wild costumes and theatrics earned the group a following in the progressive rock world.
Among the best known songs that Gabriel performed with Genesis were “Supper’s Ready,” “I Know What I Like,” “The Musical Box” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” That last song was also the title track of his last album with the group, as he left the band after their concept album opus in 1975.
His solo career began with four self-titled albums in a row (he famously told reporters at the time that he wanted them to be like different editions of a magazine). Among his best known songs at this phase are “Solsbury Hill,” “Games Without Frontiers,” “Biko” and “Shock the Monkey.” His big commercial breakthrough was with the album “So” in 1986, as it featured four big hit singles: “Sledgehammer,” “Don’t Give Up,” “In Your Eyes” and “Big Time.”
It was around this time that Sting and Peter Gabriel first crossed paths onstage.
“In our youth, we had both done tours together for Amensty (International, the human rights group), initially in America and then around the world,” Gabriel said in a promotional video for the Rock Paper Scissors tour.
“So we’ve know each other extremely well and we have sang together before,” Sting said in the same video. “It’s not a first time. I’m very happy that we’re taking the chance.”
From there, Gabriel sporadically released albums and toured, sometimes waiting more than 10 years between projects. His most recent album was an orchestral record of cover versions called “Scratch My Back,” although he recently released a song called “I’m Amazing,” a tribute to the late Muhammad Ali.
“I wrote a song a few years back, which was in part inspired by Muhammad Ali’s life and struggles,” Gabriel told Rolling Stone about the new song. “At the time of his death, when so many people are celebrating his life and thinking about all he achieved, it seemed the right time to release it.”
Every hit he makes
Sting got a later start than Gabriel, but he’s also been way more consistently active on record and live. After mostly playing in jazz groups, Sting formed the Police in 1977 and rode their new wave sound to many hits, including “Roxanne,” “Message In a Bottle,” “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” and the monster hit “Every Breath You Take.” That last one was on the band’s final album, “Synchronicity,” in 1983.
His solo career has been varied, featuring mostly pop music but also showing influences in classical and jazz. The ‘80s were particularly good to Sting, with big songs such as “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “We’ll Be Together,” “Fragile” and “Englishman in New York.”
Similarly, Sting released a handful of albums in the ‘90s that had hits, including “All This Time,” “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” “Fields of Gold,” “Brand New Day” and his last top 10 hit to date, “Desert Rose” in 2000. He also was in a recent reformation of The Police for a world tour and most recently released an album called “The Last Ship,” which is based on a play he wrote and is a concept record about a small port town in England and its residents.
This next step for both artists, though, seems to cover less of the recent material from both and more of the hits that Sting and Gabriel are known for. In the promotional video for the tour, Gabriel outlined what people should expect.
“For me, it’s partly what sounds good in the present incarnation, and also balance with what people want to hear,” Gabriel said.
“People want to hear hits,” Sting added. “I’ve never shied away from playing hits. There’s something unified in a song that you may have been singing for 35 years … You can spice it up with something esoteric and you can that as well, but people want to come and hear the hits that we are famous for.”