Broken Music

London, ON, CA
John Labatt Centrewith Phantom Planet
Sting at peace with the Police - The rock superstar dipped heavily into his past during last night's show at the JLC, much to his fans' delight...

First the apology, then the no-apologies-needed rock. Rock superstar Sting made his first visit to London a time to revisit many of the hits from his old group, the Police, thrilling the sold-out crowd of 9,250 fans at the John Labatt Centre last night.

''First of all, I apologize. I've never been to London, Ontario,'' Sting said. That produced the expected cheers. Sting added that he had to wait ''for springtime'' - meaning he had to land in Toronto because of yesterday's brutal weather.

He made his point about being in a Police mood early, opening with 'Message in a Bottle' and including 'Demolition Man' and 'Synchronicity II' in the first 40 minutes.

''Tonight, I'm going to sing a lot of songs I haven't sung (in years),'' he announced. That was what the boomer-aged fans packing the place wanted to hear. They were rewarded with plenty of Police-era Sting - and a promise - when the show ended two encores, and more than 90 minutes, later.

''Bless you all. We'll see you again,'' Sting said as he left for the last time.

That was following a set-ending 'Roxanne', a first encore of 'Next To You', 'She's Too Good To Me' and a terrific 'Every Breath You Take', and a second encore of 'Lithium Sunset'.

The crowd was up and cheering for all those songs - a mixture of Police classics and Sting's own solo material.

They put a big, booming finish to an evening full of indications Sting was also ready to take on anybody who thought he was in danger of noodling off into easy listening land.

'Message in a Bottle' ended with a big jump. That had the fans on the floor standing.

The pace of the concert could be measured in the number standing.

'Synchronicity II' - everybody up. The End of the Game - everybody down. Heavy Cloud, No Rain - fans on their feet again.

Roxanne and encore time - everybody up.

Sting left the Police for a solo career in the 1980s and, for many years, never looked back, leaving Police hits for dead when it came to playing live.

The message last night is that the cool-looking guy in the finely tailored dark suit is comfortable in his Police uniform - and sure that he wears it better than anybody else, too.

Sting's choice of touring band sends a message, as well.

Dominic Miller is a 15-year veteran of Sting's band. But in adding Shane Fontayne, a guitarist who has toured with Bruce Springsteen, and drummer Josh Freese, whose credentials include rock band A Perfect Circle and superflakes Devo, Sting must have been looking for a way to get the Police sound without the Police problems.

With Freese driving the band's hotshot guitarists and Fontayne's harmonica and Sting all over his bass, the message from the stage was that Sting still loves to rock.

It is always difficult to know if such a no-frills (except for great lights and backdrop), no-video-screens approach works all the way at the back of the arena. Sting was strong at the middle of the arena, to be sure.

As for strength, other 53-year-old rockers might join Sting in paying tribute to the Beatles as an influence.

They'd likely pick something easy from the Fab Four's songbook and move on. Not Sting.

Only Sting and this 2005 touring band would have the skill and guts to cover the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'. That marvel came at the hour mark, with Sting barely pausing to acknowledge the well-deserved applause before going back to his own music.

The drive to 'Roxanne' and the big finish was on.

Sting is so smart and smooth and sophisticated that it's almost a relief when he puts in an odd word.

Introducing 'The End of the Game' as a song about fox hunting, he identified Ontario as a state. Sting then went on to attribute a bit of Oscar Wilde's wit about the sport to George Bernard Shaw.

It all might have been Sting, the one and only, pulling our leg when it comes to quoting the greats. Again, nobody else is likely to quote - or misquote - Shaw or Wilde at the London arena this year.

As for Ontario being a state, a return visit to London would help correct that. No apologies needed, but don't wait 25 years next time, Sting.

Opening for Sting last night was L.A. rock band Phantom Planet, which didn't even record until the late 1990s - more than a decade after Sting went solo.

Not much stirred last night's Sting fans from keeping quiet during the opening set, but Phantom Planet's vocalist Alexander Greenwald did get scores of illuminated cellphones to be lofted during the band's finale, 'California', from the TV hit, 'The O.C'.

It provided the 2005 equivalent of lighters held on high. Phantom Planet is such a decent band that it freely admits borrowing the idea from another pop punk act.

(c) London Free Press by James Reaney