Sting and Shaggy make unlikely collaboration work at Wiltern

Sting Shaggy Wiltern 2018 mainbar

This past Monday night, legendary musician Sting and his new pal Shaggy brought their collaborative project to a sold-out crowd at The Wiltern. Yes, you read that right — Shaggy, as in “Mr. Boombastic”, “It Wasn’t Me” fame. Sting AND Shaggy — together, performing as a duo.

I too, scratched my head at this unlikely pairing when I first heard about it. I think the whole world did. At first I assumed it was for a one-time performance but when I started seeing billboards with the two musicians bro-ing out, straddling motorcycles and advertising concert dates, I knew it was an actual thing. Interesting.

Well, I love Sting, I loved The Police — they always did have a bit of a reggae vibe in their music. As for Shaggy — some of his songs are a guilty pleasure, so maybe it’ll make sense, I thought. Maybe.

The mostly forty and over crowd at The Wiltern seemed to be wondering the same thing too. Almost everyone I encountered made the same similar remarks before the show started. “I can’t wait to see Sting” followed by “I don’t really know much of Shaggy, but it should be fun.” Looking around the venue, it was clear who most of the crowd came out to see. Sorry Shagster, this time it really wasn’t you.

Sting and Shaggy took the stage and got right into Sting’s classic “Englishman in New York.” The crowd went nuts. Sting, now 67, is still in fantastic shape and his voice sounds as good as ever. Sting was all smiles as he sang to the excited crowd and slapped the strings on a very worn down looking bass. Shaggy played hype man and got the crowd clapping along while ad libbing some “heys” and “woahs” to the beat. He even took over for a little bit, changing the lyric to “Jamaican in New York.” Surprisingly, the remixing of this first song worked well and the meshing of the pair sounded great. The crowd approved of it as well.

Pouncing on the crowd’s energy, the duo jumped right into the title track of their joint album “44/876.” It was a fun, lively performance, but watching the crowd’s reaction was even more fun than watching the musicians on stage. They were really making their best attempt to be into it, awkwardly dancing around to an unfamiliar song, but knowing deep down they were just waiting for their favorite Sting songs.

The two continued to play a number of their collaborative tracks, including “Morning Is Coming”, “Waiting For The Break Of Day” (during which some of Sting’s vocals brought to mind his 1987 hit “We’ll Be Together”), “If You Can’t Find Love”, “Dreaming In The USA” and one that I really enjoyed called “Don’t Make Me Wait.”

Of course, Sting took time to please the crowd and performed a handful of his solo classics as well as songs from his time with The Police. The crowd was delighted to hear “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” early on in the set. Other Police songs included, “Message In A Bottle,” and “Walking On the Moon” with the latter mashed together with a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Get up, Stand Up.” The reworking of these classic tunes together was actually brilliant. I noticed myself getting more and more into the set with each song, and the awkward pairing started to make sense — kind of. The duo brought a high energy to the crowd and it was fun to watch their bromantic chemistry unfold on stage.

Shaggy also had his time in the spotlight, performing his own material, including “Angel”, “Habibi (I Need Your Love)” and his most well-known song, “It Wasn’t Me.” Seeing a legend like Sting singing the lyrics, “Picture this we were both butt naked, banging on the bathroom floor” was something I’d thought I’d never live to see. But Sting had his boy Shaggy’s back and didn’t shy away from belting out the tacky, yet wildly catchy tune. That’s a real ride or die, right there. And again, watching the 50-60 year olds getting down to that song- priceless!

For the Police classic, “So Lonely”, Sting brought his son Joe on stage to help sing the song. Joe did an excellent job, he takes after his father both vocally and in the looks department. The women in the audience were double swooning. The song was mashed together with Shaggy’s “Strength Of A Woman” to which Shaggy shouted out to the crowd “Women, you don’t need no man” to an uproar of cheers, then jokingly added “except for me.” By this point in the set, no one cared anymore that it was Sting and Shaggy, the show was fun as hell. And in a weird way, Shaggy’s cheesy lines and dance moves worked, making the show feel more like a party. The two played off each other really well. It was actually a treat to experience.

The pre-encore set ended with The Police classic, “Roxanne.” This was most definitely a song the crowd wanted to hear performed live. Everyone was dancing around, loving every second…but then ”Mr. Boombastic” segued into the song. Seriously? We can’t just have “Roxanne” in all it’s glory? It was one of those moments where the DJ is playing your favorite song and just as your about to really bust out your best dance moves, they go and drop a completely different beat and you exit the dance floor, pissed off and feeling defeated.

The pair came back on stage and quickly made up for the disappointment I felt earlier. The performance of “Desert Rain” was amazing and probably the musical highlight of the night. The ultimate classic, “Every Breath You Take” was another stand out performance. It’s truly a timeless song. Finally, after the wild ride of the two hour set, the night ended on a sweet and quiet note, with Sting’s touching song “Fragile.”

I have to admit, I was doubtful about this show at the beginning but by the end, I was won over. The show was highly entertaining and something I’m glad I got to experience, for sure…that being said, I hope the success of this tour doesn’t bring to life a second Sting and Shaggy album. One is just enough.

Words and photos by Betsy Martinez