Sting in Sydney: Unexpected vigour and stealthy seduction...
There was a time when it wasn’t hard for a budding young rock snob to dislike Sting.
With his solo debut in 1985, seemingly overnight he’d somehow gone from being one of the most enigmatic frontmen around (despite being merely the third-coolest member of his band, mercurial rock trio the Police) to some smug, tree-hugging purveyor of relatively soft rock.
That time, it quickly transpires on this night, is long gone.
Sting has named this tour simply but instructively “My Songs” and, in one of the most impressive opening flexes you’re likely to see, he and his band steam into a sizzling Message in a Bottle, follow it with the jazzy stroll of An Englishman in New York, then add a cherry on top with the calypso pop rush of Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.
There are two Police songs in there, you might note, but such are Sting’s charm, showmanship and consistent, almost deceptive brilliance with a tune, he doesn’t play another one from that past life for maybe 45 minutes and you don’t even notice.
Admittedly, pretty much every song played has that slick sheen that may have put you off the oft-overproduced recorded versions, but the upbeat ones are brought to life on stage with unexpected vigour and, more often than not, the downbeat ones stealthily seduce.
You hear perhaps forgotten songs like Desert Rose and wonder how and when they wormed their way into your consciousness. Or you smile at the mad time signature of Seven Days. Even when you note that Heavy Cloud No Rain, with its lite blues, won’t be giving Gary Clark jnr any sleepless nights, along comes a powerhouse cameo from a backing singer to end it on a high.
Which brings us to the band, all of whom are given, and take, their chance to shine, with everything from the many spine-tingling clipped guitar licks to a series of warm harmonica cameos.
And there at the front, his fingers and thumbs dancing up and down his bass, looking impossibly good for a 71-year-old, working the crowd with evident delight, and still singing more distinctively and impressively than many an established artist half his age, is Sting.
There’s much more – the stories that explain the genesis of If It’s Love and Fields of Gold; So Lonely, so great when it races away, so sweet when it morphs into No Woman No Cry; the inevitably gorgeous Every Breath You Take – but among the most winning moves is that he doesn’t mess around when it’s time for the encore, returning to the stage in seconds and launching almost as quickly into Roxanne.
By the time he dedicates Fragile to the people of Ukraine, the Russian protesters and the women of Iran, it’s hard to imagine liking Sting much more.
Sting has a second show at Aware Super Theatre in Sydney on February 16, and then plays at Bimbadgen Winery, Hunter Valley, on February 18. He will play at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, on February 23.
(c) The Sydney Morning Herald by George Palathingal
At 71, Sting is still at the peak of his powers...
The thrill is undeniable as the 71-year-old with the battered brown bass guitar walks onstage.
For this particular septuagenarian has been part of the soundtrack of our lives for 45 years – whether you like it or not – yet the washboard abs visible beneath his T-shirt promise an artist still at the peak of their powers.
It’s a hope confirmed as soon as Sting and his band of drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, harmonica player and two backing singers launch into Message In A Bottle. The old Police hit sounded as vital as ever, with Sting’s clear, high voice intact, and his bass playing a marvel – a string slap here, a counter-melody there, it wasn’t the last song where the bottom-end shone brighter than it did on the original recording.
There was a lot of energy in this room – having one of the world’s most famous people in it will do that – and Sting harnessed it masterfully throughout most of the two-hour performance.
Message, for instance, was followed by another radio staple in Englishman In New York, but it was delightfully refreshed by a breakdown where the drums hit extra hard, and Sting charmed this very white audience – possibly against its better judgment – into join him for the first of several “woah-oh-oh-oh”-style reggae chants.
The ageless Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic further built momentum, to the point where Sting’s subsequent announcement that he’d “like to play a couple of new songs” did not prompt an exodus to the bar.
He actually snuck in three from 2021’s The Bridge album, but If it’s love was an unpromising place to start. Its lyrics smacked a little of the smugness which has made Sting’s post-Police career so divisive, and its polite arrangement didn’t touch the sides. The fact that that harmonica was chromatic, a la Larry Adler, rather than a dirty blues harp, symbolised the smoothness that marred a couple of tracks.
But then Loving You was a keeper, its brooding bassline enhancing the pensive mood of the breathy, spurned-lover vocal, heard with emotive clarity thanks to the stellar sound mix.
Sting kept on challenging us with the unexpected. Shape Of My Heart, for instance, was given a modern R&B makeover with the help of a bravura lead by backing singer Gene Noble; the tricky 5/4 time signature of Seven Days was show-offy but not just for the sake of it; while the Eastern scales of Desert Rose were another reminder of the musical magpie behind the mainstream hits.
Running straight into So Lonely from Walking On The Moon was also a masterstroke, and then interpolating that with a skanking bit of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry was a touching nod to the source material Sting so palpably held dear.
The man might be a billionaire after selling his song rights last year, but he remained invested to the last tonight – even the over-exposed Every Breath You Take got a gritty performance that brought out its true menace, while Roxanne devolved into a joyful extended jam.
Sting the activist emerged with the encore’s final song, Fragile, which he dedicated to the people of Ukraine and the women of Iran, and for which the bass that almost seemed part of his body was finally replaced with an acoustic guitar, picked with the kind of taste that was tonight’s hallmark.
(c) The Australian Financial Review by Michael Bailey