John and Joel. JT and Jay Z. Simon and Sting. Just a second – is that last sentence a typo? When grouped together on a grand marquee, a bill pairing Paul Simon and Sting may generate a sense of bewilderment and curiosity from the average concertgoer. Given each artist’s respective credentials, either one of them would have no problem selling out a house on their own.

In one corner there’s Simon, The City’s native son who first rose to prominence back in the 1960s as one-half of the legendary folk duo Simon & Garfunkel, before venturing out on his own to launch a successful solo career. Then there’s Sting, the duck from another pond, who’s not only been recognized as one of the figureheads of new wave music from his days in The Police, but is yet another familiar voice that’s lent itself to modern pop radio worldwide over the past thirty years.

But then again, what’s not to like? Throughout the last four decades, both artists have carved their legacies into the great pillar of contemporary pop with a wealth of Grammy-winning singles and albums, while making new strides into the genres of New Age, jazz, reggae and worldbeat as well. When these two influential songwriters took the stage at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday evening, it turned out to be quite the hits package for the packed house.

After an enthusiastic welcome from the audience, the two immediately opened with a vibrant rendition of “Brand New Day,” the title track from Sting’s 1999 Grammy-winning album. Backed by a full band, Simon and Sting took turns singing lyrics during the song’s verses, before joining together for its uplifting chorus. While Sting was on the mark note for note throughout its performance, it was a real treat to see Simon up there holding his own as well. With an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, Simon appeared to be relaxed and well rehearsed in his delivery, almost as if he was present in the studio when Sting recorded the song some fifteen years ago.

The two followed up the tune with Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” one of several songs from his landmark 1986 album, Graceland, that made the evening’s set list. The mix of accordion, brass and percussion culminated in an up-tempo Zydeco number, as the energetic Sting bounced around the stage with bass in hand like a kid living out his dream of playing next to one of his idols. Afterwards, the pair took to Sting’s soft-pop hit, “Fields of Gold,” with the stage lights dimming to a warm glow of golden colors that complimented the song’s autumnal mood quite nicely.

“Bonjour, Montreal!” greeted Simon after the song came to a close, before muttering that he’s been on the road too long. “Welcome to our little experiment of putting two bands together and letting two singers sing,” he said in describing the night ahead. Shortly afterwards, Simon made his first exit for the night, while Sting and his band showered the crowd with a handful of hits from both The Police and his solo catalogs. At nearly three hours long, the concert was equal parts Simon and Sting, as each artist performed two separate mini sets with their own bands, while also partnering up for a handful of songs such as an impressive duet of “The Boxer” and “Fragile.”

While both musicians offered really dynamic displays of showmanship, it seemed that Simon was getting preferential treatment throughout the night, possibly due to him coming home to where it all started in New York. Throughout the night, Simon bounced between various points of his storied discography, blending some of his upbeat numbers such as “You Can Call Me Al” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” between more subdued offerings like “Hearts and Bones” and the 1975 classic, “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Another memorable moment from Simon’s set came in the form of a cover, when the 72-year-old artist and his band revamped the Junior Parker blues standard, “Mystery Train” with nothing but honky-tonk guitars and good-time rock n’ roll licks. At one point during his set, Simon paused to address the crowd. “I’m trying to think of something clever to say,” and then shrugged, “It’s not going to happen,” as the band went into the opening of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”

Sting was no slouch himself, giving the receptive crowd their fill of Police staples such as “Message in a Bottle,” “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Roxanne,” while also delving into the vault with soul-stirring deliveries of “Desert Rose” as well as a breathy rendering of the Simon & Garfunkel single, “America.” Before diving into his sweeping interpretation, Sting kindly asked Simon to leave the stage, where he praised the latter as a mentor and how the song reminded him of his first time in America when he toured with The Police, revealing that they played and stayed in quite a few bars and motels that were not of the best quality. Returning to the stage one last time for an encore, the pair closed out the extravaganza with much-anticipated favorites such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Every Breath You Take,” along with Simon’s “Late in the Evening” and The Everly Brothers “When Will I Be Loved.” As the house lights slowly came up, the concert spectators found themselves on the receiving end of one last hit as they made way for the streets, this time in the form of Frank Sinatra’s take on “Mrs. Robinson.” It was a subtle way to punctuate quite an exciting evening.

Setlist for Sting & Paul Simon at @ Madison Square Garden 3/4/14

  • Paul Simon & Sting
  • Brand New Day
  • The Boy in the Bubble
  • Fields of Gold
  • Sting
  • Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
  • Englishman in New York
  • I Hung My Head
  • Driven to Tears
  • Walking on the Moon
  • Paul Simon & Sting
  • Mother and Child Reunion
  • Paul Simon
  • 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
  • Dazzling Blue
  • Graceland
  • Still Crazy After All These Years
  • Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
  • Paul Simon & Sting
  • Fragile
  • Sting
  • America
  • Message in a Bottle
  • The Hounds of Winter
  • They Dance Alone
  • Roxanne
  • Desert Rose
  • Paul Simon & Sting
  • The Boxer
  • Paul Simon
  • That Was Your Mother
  • Hearts and Bones
  • Mystery Train
  • The Obvious Child
  • Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
  • You Can Call Me Al

Encore

  • Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • Every Breath you Take
  • Late in the Evening
  • When Will I Be Loved