Review date: 19th May 2019
Can you fit a square peg in a round hole goes the age old question? The same could be said for this curious gig. Can a good show be created by merging the divergent talents and musical styles – reggae, jazz and rock starring English music legend Sting and Jamaican reggae artist Shaggy? There was enough interest in this unusual combination for around 3,300 fans to turn up to this sold out night in London to find out whether or not Sting and Shaggy were a square peg trying to be squeezed into a Roundhouse.
This was Sting’s first show in the capital for 2 years since last performing at London’s Hammersmith Eventim Apollo in April 2015.
The duo go back a long and joined forces last year for this curiously titled 44/876 world tour … and no that’s a reference to the ages of Shaggy and Sting – although Sting does seem to have been around for something like 876 years! Joking aside that actually refers to the country dialling codes for the UK (+44) and Jamaica (+876).
The show opened with great crowd pleasing numbers including ‘Englishman in New York’ which had a wonderful added twist to it when Shaggy slightly altered the lyrics to ‘Jamaican in New York.’ There was actually a wonderful version going by that very same title from Shinehead (1992). That got the gig off to a terrific, lively start, instantly creating a party vibe which lasted throughout the evening as fans sang their hearts out to numerous classic hits. It was quite the nostalgic trip down memory lane as the pair ran through some of their greatest songs, not just as solo artists, but in Sting’s case of course, as front man of the all conquering band ‘The Police’ of late 1970’s and 1980’s fame.
I enjoyed Shaggy’s playful contributions, for instance, on ‘So Lonely’, in response to the line “Now no one’s knocked upon my door, for a thousand years or more…” Shaggy amusingly and simply retorted to Sting: “that’s a long time ago!” Cue much laughter in the audience and even a wry smile from Sting himself!
Shaggy would regularly add his own Jamaican style and reggae tinged spin on songs which often was a bonus, but sometimes came across as a little peripheral and lyrically incomprehensible, although the sound alone often carried more impact than trying to make sense of what he was actually singing!
Sting brought to the occasion his fine voice and bass playing, whilst Shaggy played the role of ring master, working the crowd, striding across the stage like the grand showman he is, orchestrating the fans singing and clapping; not that Sting didn’t perform the same role when he encouraged sing a long’s with his infamous “Eeooo Ooow’s” etc… although I felt that they did go on for a bit too long at times.
I’d not seen Shaggy live before so it was an experience to see him sing his famous hits such as ‘Oh Carolina’ and ‘It Wasn’t Me’. These went down well with the crowd. Overall though I found Shaggy engaging and entertaining, musically and lyrically I wasn’t overly enamoured by all of the songs he brought to the table. They seemed somewhat trite and having lyrics which were pretty unfathomable didn’t help.
Nonetheless this was for the most part just a fun gig. The artistes were enjoying themselves and the audience, comprising mostly old school Police/Sting fans were in party mood and cheerfully bopping away to the hits, which kept coming from ‘So Lonely’, To ‘Message in a Bottle’, to ‘Walking on the Moon.’ Despite Sting”s tremendously successful solo career the clear and overwhelming sense one got from the night, was that the old Police hits were the crowd favourites and really lifted the energy to much higher levels and got everyone going. Calls for The Police to reform to tour again have surfaced online from hardcore fans and you can’t blame them. The Police drummer Stewart Copeland was at London’s Southbank Centre as recently as March 2019. Sting was playing London in May 2019. Andy Summers is apparently playing in a Police tribute band. All drawing on their band’s back catalogue. Why not re-unite for the loyal fans again? It makes sense in so many ways.
‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ cry the fans for this dreamed of re-union. It’s also the name of Sting and Shaggy’s single from last year and that song was a lovely new single, with their melodic voices aligned in perfect harmony to the song’s gentle reggae beat. Songs such as ‘Desert Rose’ and ‘Shape of my Heart’ were very well received too.
There were a number of newer, slower, far less well known songs, which gave the audience a breather from the high energy, big hits. It was almost taken as an interlude, an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere and listen to the music as opposed to singing and dancing along all the way through as so many were doing.
It would have been nice to have heard some of the songs Sting rarely plays live such as ‘Russians’, ‘Bring on the Night’, ‘Tea in the Sahara’ and ‘Voices inside my head’ for instance. ‘Fields of Gold’ wouldn’t have gone amiss as well.
One annoyance was the constant filming and photo taking. I get it and understand why people do it but surely after a few songs in it’s time for people to put away their phones and simply enjoy the show. Surely there’s no need to be still filming over an hour into the show. In any event it was being professionally and officially filmed – presumably for release at some point in the future. I think the American stand-up comedians Dave Chapelle, Kevin Hart and Chris Rock are on to something when they ban the use of mobile phones at their gigs. It just creates a far better atmosphere without the distraction. It ensures fans have to live in and experience the moment rather than focus on capturing it on film.
The good humoured banter between Sting and Shaggy highlighted the warmth and camaraderie between the two men. It was great to see them up close and personal at this lovely relatively small venue for men of this stature. It made a very welcome change to not have to rely on video screens to see all the action up close if not fortunate enough to be in the front rows.
Given their respective ages they certainly had a lot of stamina and staying power performing for over 2 hours without so much as a break or interval. No quibbles about value for money.
I thoroughly enjoyed the gig and the quality, energy and pleasure of hearing the hit songs “live” was worth the price of admission alone. I did feel though that there were a few too many lulls in proceedings with unfamiliar songs, be they Sting’s or Shaggy’s, that simply weren’t of the exemplary standard of Sting’s and The Police’s greatest songs.
It was evident that Sting and Shaggy certainly weren’t square pegs trying to fit into round holes. They were more akin to a dynamic duo fitting comfortably into a Roundhouse.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
- Stewart Copeland Transcends Darkness to Light up the Orchestra – Tiemo review – 31.03.19
- Paul Simon and Sting on stage Together at the O2 – Tiemo review – 16.04.15