Paul Simon, Sting Rock Madison Square Garden

Five minutes before the show was supposed to start, throngs of people were still waiting to pass through intense security outside Madison Square Garden. So, when Sting and Paul Simon took the stage a few minutes later, they played to scattered empty seats. But by the end of the second song, the arena was filled to capacity as the two touring musical icons brought the Garden to life.

From the first notes, you could feel the mutual admiration they had for each other. They shared vocals on Sting’s “Brand New Day,” followed by Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble.” After covering Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” the Queens-born Simon addressed the hometown crowd to loud applause. He even acknowledged driving over the “Ed Koch Bridge,” an insider nod to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and what the span is better known by in New York.

Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Madison Square Garden in New York.

The pair rotated on and off stage for the next 2 1/2 hours. After the 72-year-old Simon left the stage for a little while, Sting dug into his solo and Police repertoire, covering songs like “Driven to Tears” and “Walking on the Moon.” Before launching into “Englishman in New York,” he told the crowd that there’s nowhere in the world like the Garden, to thunderous cheers.

Simon then came on for his solo turn, playing hits like “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” which brought everyone to their feet. He was joined again by Sting on guitar, as Simon covered his touching ballad, “Fragile.” At the end, Simon expressed his love for the song, and told Sting: “I wish I wrote it.”

The 62-year-old Sting quickly replied: “What? You haven’t written enough?” before making Simon leave the stage.

Then he told the audience how much he’s learned from Simon, calling him a songwriter “without peer,” because of his knack for writing songs that serve as markers to the important moments in life. Sting recalled coming to the United States with his band, The Police, before making it big, and he introduced the song that reminded him of that time, Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.”

Right before the song ended, a stage hand brought him a bass guitar, and without missing a beat, Sting launched into The Police hit “Message in a Bottle,” which proved to be one of the evening’s most energetic numbers, bringing the crowd to its feet to sing along.

For most of the show, Sting played rocker to Simon’s folksy troubadour. Still, Simon managed to energize the audience with lively versions of “You Can Call Me Al” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” as well as a reggae-infused “Mother and Child Reunion.” While eclectic in their styles, they seemed to complement each other well throughout the show of two hours and 40 minutes. Both artists share a passion for world music and pushing the boundaries of popular music, so their collaboration seems like a natural fit.

By the end of the night, the pair covered a poignant mix of their own songs, each other’s, and lots of duets. During the encore, Sting performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” alternating verses with Simon. They then did The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Simon’s “Late in the Evening.” After their 14-piece band left the stage, they concluded the show with the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved.”

Noticeably absent from the show was material from Sting’s recently released album, The Last Ship. That album inspired the upcoming Broadway musical of the same name. After an out-of-town run in Chicago this summer, the show opens on Broadway in the fall.

The pair will play the Garden again on Thursday night. The short tour began in Houston in early February, and wraps up in Orlando later this month.