When word got out earlier this year that Sting and Shaggy were collaborating, not only on an album but also a full-scale tour that comes to House of Blues in Boston next week, there was a massive reaction of "Huh?"
There shouldn't have been. Sting has pushed musical boundaries pretty much from the day he walked away from The Police in 1986. There was the jazz-tinged "Dream of the Blue Turtles" album in 1985. And what about the 1989 EP "Nada como el sol," in which he sang five songs in Spanish and Portuguese? And, of course, there's the heavily world-music-tinged "Desert Rose" from his 1999 album "Brand New Day."
His 2003 album "Sacred Love" featured collaborations with Mary J. Blige and sitar performer Anoushka Shankar (Ravi's daughter, Norah Jones' half-sister). His 2006 album "Songs from the Labyrinth" featured the music of Elizabethan-era composer John Dowland and accompaniment from a Bosnian lute player.
Get the picture?
Sting has also been more than happy to share the stage with an eclectic group of artists over the years in a variety of co-headlining tours, including Paul Simon (they put on a great show at TD Garden in 2014), Peter Gabriel (one of my many regrets is not seeing their 2016 show at the DCU Center in Worcester) and, now, Shaggy.
Their album and tour both carry the moniker "44/876," an ode to the calling code for the United Kingdom (+44) and the North American area code for Jamaica (876). The album features 12 original tracks, and a whopping eight of them appear to be part of the setlist.
But if you're a fan of Sting, The Police or Shaggy, don't worry, there are plenty of hits for you in the massive 26-song setlist, including "Englishman in New York," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Love Is the Seventh Wave," "Message in a Bottle," "Fields of Gold," "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free," "Angel," "Roxanne," "Boombastic," "Desert Rose," "It Wasn't Me," "Every Breath You Take" and "Fragile."
The one (and probably only) drawback to the show is this: Because it's in a small venue (House of Blues Boston), tickets aren't cheap at $155 and $105 each. That said, there are almost none left. It's one of those one-of-a-kind, "I was there" shows, so if you have the means, definitely get the tickets.
The Gift of the Magpie
As a huge fan of The Black Crowes' music, but someone who has grown tired of their interpersonal drama, the existence of The Magpie Salute intrigued me. Rich Robinson recruited fellow ex-Crowes Marc Ford and Sven Pipien to a band that also features lead singer John Hogg.
They came through town last weekend with shows at The Cabot in Beverly on Friday night and the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Saturday night.
I caught the Friday night show, which featured an acoustic set with just Robinson, Ford and Hogg to open the show, followed by another acoustic set with the full band. The second half of the show featured an electric set with the full band.
First off, the 10-song acoustic set was phenomenal and the highlight of the show, particularly the first five songs with just Robinson, Ford and Hogg. The three-part harmonies and guitar melodies of Robinson, Ford and Hogg brought back memories of Crosby, Stills & Nash. (In fact, they covered CSN's "You Don't Have to Cry" in the set.)
Because The Magpie Salute only has one album to draw from, they lean on covers. Thankfully, unlike Chris Robinson Brotherhood, which steers away from The Black Crowes' songs, The Magpie Salute covers them along with a lot of other great acts.
Friday night's show included covers of The Flying Burrito Brothers ("Hot Burrito #2") and Otis Redding ("That's What My Heart Needs") in the acoustic set, along with Neil Young ("Big Time") and Bob Dylan ("Ballad of a Thin Man") in the electric set.
Oh, and there were Black Crowes covers as well, including "Cold Boy Smile," "Good Friday" and "Descending" in the acoustic set, and "Walk Believer Walk" and "Sting Me" in the electric set.
The only complaint had nothing to do with the band itself. The sound mix was dreadful in the electric set, to the point where nobody could hear Hogg's vocals. Everyone else sounded fine (and Robinson and Ford took lead on most of the songs in the electric set), but for whatever reason, Hogg was mostly inaudible. It's too bad, because the rest of the show was fantastic.