As little sense as the union of Sting and Shaggy makes on paper, the facts and figures speak for themselves: last year’s album 44-876 scored the stars their first Top 10 action after a decade lost at sea, along with a Grammy for best reggae album. But tonight, the oddness and lopsidedness of their collaboration is thrown into sharp relief.
Songs from the album are juggled alongside both artists’ greatest hits, and their collective material suffers in comparison. The only memorable new song they play is Crooked Tree, and that is mostly for the bizarre sight of Shaggy donning a judge’s wig and gown and declaring Sting – seated and pantomiming that he’s in the dock – “guilty as charged”. The rest is merely passable, pleasant reggae-pop.
The lion’s share of the set is devoted to Sting, revisiting his back pages. Gym-taut and rich-person-tanned, his improbable Northumberland-via-Trenchtown croon is on fair form. Shaggy, meanwhile, has a relatively shallow songbook, and it is not best showcased. Robbed of its sinful grind and speaker-shredding low-end, Oh Carolina sounds as if it’s being performed on a cruise ship.
Shaggy rarely has much to do during Sting’s songs: adding superfluous toasts, urging the audience to accompany his stage-mate for the “ee-oh”s on Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (as if they needed an invitation), or simply putting one foot on a monitor and pointing at the ceiling whenever he feels like it. This is still preferable, however, to the duo unwisely mashing up Roxanne with Shaggy’s Mr Boombastic, Sting’s pining for a sex worker uniquely ill-matched to Shaggy’s groin-thrusting self-celebration. Worse still is Every Breath You Take, the song’s creepy edge long erased by over-familiarity, and undercut tonight by Shaggy’s random interjections of “Camden Roundhouse!” and “Are you ready?”
The faithful scarcely seem to mind, enjoying the kind of slick, professional show where Sting introduces every member of the band at least twice. But while they’re clearly having fun, the duo are firmly less than the sum of their parts. And the memory of their yodelling competition during Walking on the Moon, honking like duelling foghorns, is one you’d join the Foreign Legion to forget.
• At O2 Academy, Newcastle, on 22 May. Then touring the UK until 25 May.