In 2004 as Sting was playing his final European dates on the 'Sacred Love' tour most of us could be forgiven for thinking that early in the new year, after his final date in February, he would be taking a well deserved break and we would not see him for some time. After all, the 'Sacred Love' tour was the seventh highest grossing tour of 2004, and as is usual for Sting, lasted well over 12 months. So it was typical of Sting to do the unexpected. In fact, he did something he had never previously done in his career. He announced that after the final date of the 'Sacred Love' tour he would put together a new four piece band, and hit the road for a six week tour of primarily college campuses and cities not previously visited. If this announcement wasn't mouth watering enough, the tour was to be billed as the 'Broken Music Tour' which itself suggested that a very different set list might be unveiled. Who could resist...?
Fast forward to early March. The 'Sacred Love' band had bid their farewells at the final show in Australia, and Sting was in Tuscany rehearsing with his new band - the evergreen and everpresent Dominic Miller, second guitarist Shane Fontayne (Lone Justice, Bruce Springsteen and Chris Botti) and drumming phenomenon Josh Freese, best known for his work with A Perfect Circle & The Vandals. A line-up of bass, two guitars and drums could only mean one thing - Sting planned to rock. Although there was little official word about which songs were being rehearsed in Tuscany enough information was leaking out to build expectation amongst fans that something special was going to be on the cards during the Broken Music Tour. We knew we had to get to some of these shows, particularly as it was clear that this was a tour that was going to be limited to North America.
Our first glimpse of the new line up came in London when Sting was a surprise guest at the Gizmondo (hand-held gaming console) launch on March 19, and boy, did things look promising! Sting and the band stormed through a short set of Police-era songs including 'Demolition Man', 'Message in a Bottle', 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take'. Chatting to the band before the show it was obvious how excited all of them were about the Broken Music tour. Josh and Shane because it was something entirely new for them, Dominic as it meant a move over to his Les Paul and a punchier, rockier style of playing, and Sting - well, Sting just enjoys touring and playing but was really excited about getting back to the college venues.
After London the band flew out to Los Angeles where they undertook some more rehearsals, made a couple of TV and radio appearances, and announced a warm up show at the Roxy on Los Angeles's Sunset Strip. Although a closed show to the public, Sting.com secured some tickets and approximately 50 lucky members were there to see the band unveil their much anticipated set list. And what a set list it was! Opening with the old Police song 'Spirits In The Material World' (a song that we can't recall Sting playing live since the South American Amnesty shows in 1990 and before that, since the Police days), it was just one of ten Police songs in the set. 'Driven To Tears', 'Invisible Sun', 'Voices Inside My Head' and 'Next To You' were all songs that Sting had either never played live since leaving the Police, or had only revisited on rare occasions. 'Invisible Sun' was even darker than the original version and 'Driven To Tears' was just as anguished as the original. 'Voices Inside My Head' was segued into 'When The World Is Running Down', which as the tour progressed became a showcase for some manic guitar playing from Shane Fontayne. It's hard to pick out one song, but if one song had to be selected to sum up the spirit of the 'Broken Music' tour for us, we would have to say it was 'Next To You'. In going back to the first song on the first side of the first Police album, Sting cast aside those rumours that he dislikes playing 'the old songs' and showed he could rock out with the best of them. We never, ever thought, we would hear Sting perform these songs again, and we could not be happier to have been proved so utterly wrong.
But back to the Roxy - the old Police songs were only half the story. As hoped for, the two guitar line-up led to the inclusion of 'The Soul Cages' track and deservedly so. The song won the grammy for best rock song, and it was arguably the last guitar driven rock song that Sting had written. It was nice to hear 'Lithium Sunset', 'I Hung My Head' and 'She's Too Good For Me' in the set too. Sting surprised again by including a magical version of the Beatles 'unplayable' 'A Day In The Life'.
You want surprises? Well, they don't come any bigger than the inclusion of 'The End Of The Game'. Back in March we received a request from management: "Have you got a copy of the full version of 'End of the Game'? We emailed over an mp3 of the track and thought no more about it, even though the band were in rehearsals at the time. After all, the full track had such a limited release that many people had not even heard the song so the thought it might be wind up in the set list was too far fetched to contemplate! Not so, while discussing possible songs to include out in Tuscany, Dominic suggested the song to Sting and the rest, as they say, is history. Typical of Sting the risk-taker. It's not as if this was a new song on a new album that people might reasonably expect to hear. It was a bonus track, on a CD single issued in the UK, and there was a strong chance that perhaps 90% of the US audiences would never have heard of the track before hearing it played live.
The official tour opener in San Jose saw further changes to the set list with 1993's 'Heavy Cloud No Rain' and the mournful 'Soul Cages' track 'Why Should I Cry For You?' both added. They would both remain in the set list for the rest of the tour. After San Jose, the tour headed out east and north taking in visits to places such as Oregon, Washington State, Idaho, Montana, Utah (where Sting and the band went snow boarding), Missouri and a visit into Canada for a show in Kelowna and London, ONT. Sting was receiving an ecstatic reception from fans at these shows, especially those that had general admission audiences and the band went from strength to strength as the set list bedded down and each band member found their particular niches. The press too was almost unanimous in their praise of the latest show, and deservedly so.
Sting was also taking the opportunity to 'give something back' during this tour, and he volunteered to make several appearances at selected universities in the cities he played in. In Eugene, OR he guest lectured at an English and creative writing class, speaking to the students about the process of writing his memoir, 'Broken Music' (see Virtual Ticket for extended footage of this event). In other cities he spoke to advanced music theory & composition students, usually accompanied by some or all of the band. In Chicago, MTV filmed the event for their program, 'Stand In'. These sessions were clearly very important to Sting and he enjoyed taking part in them immensely.
We first caught up the tour in the Midwest with a trio of shows in Madison, Champaign and Chicago, and the shows were everything the earlier reviews from members had led us to expect and more. By now, 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' had been added to the set list, and in Chicago after the opening chords of 'The Soul Cages' were enthusiastically welcomed the song promptly veered off into 'King of Pain'. Unfortunately, Champaign was the final night that 'The Soul Cages' was played in its entirety, but it's hard to grumble when it's replaced by a classic like 'King of Pain'! Funniest thing to happen in Chicago? That would have to be bumping into Dominic in Virgin Records and helping him track down the DVD of 'Spinal Tap' as both he and Josh had the urge to immerse themselves in the world of Tufnell, Smalls and St. Hubbins on their day off.
Meanwhile, the tour continued east wowing audiences and the local press in each city it landed. The tour was due to finish with a show at Jones Beach Amphitheatre out on Long Island on May 13, but the reception that the tour had got from audiences meant that a final date was added at Irving Plaza in New York. This would provide the opportunity to record and film the band for a potential DVD release. Like the warm up show in Los Angeles at the Roxy, this show was not open to the public but the fan club had 250 tickets which were sold to members. Demand was such that the tickets sold out in less than a couple of minutes.
This was our excuse to see the show one last time, but does anyone really need an excuse to go to New York? From the moment we landed at JFK airport, the next three days were one big adventure. Our first night in town saw us catching Fiction Plane's dynamic set at the Mercury Lounge where Joe and the band were watched by both Sting and Trudie. The following day's trip out to Jones Beach was also highly memorable. Arriving in time for the soundcheck in bright sunshine, the empty venue looked stunning. Standing on the North Atlantic shoreline, the stage is actually in the water, and after the orchestra seating on the floor finishes, the venue just rises upwards into the sky. Joss Stone was the opening act at Jones Beach and braved the bitterly cold wind to win the hearts of the crowd just as she had done in London during the 'Sacred Love' tour.
The short break between sets meant we were in desperate need of being warmed up, and Sting did not disappoint. He took on the elements and had the orchestra section up and on their feet from the start of his set. The two large screens on either side of the stage meant that even those sat at the highest points of the bleachers had a great view of the show. At the end of the show even the lottery of getting out of the car park didn't matter as at least the car offered a place to slowly thaw ourselves.
As far as the general public were concerned the tour was now over, but for ourselves and 250 other lucky members the highlight of the tour was about to begin. Saturday afternoon found the three of us at the Heartland Brewery in Union Square, handling the ticket will-call for the that night's Irving Plaza show. Accompanied by Ultrastar's Jeff and Kurt the afternoon passed by in a blur as we finally got to meet hundreds of members and put faces and personalities to people who had previously only been usernames. Zeeeter, Goddette, MimiMPH, Marianna, Shawn, Johnny, Wildflower, Felipe, Kathurn... the list went on and on and so apologies for not trying to list everyone. It was an absolute pleasure to meet many of the members who have contributed so much to the message boards and to Sting.com community since we launched back in August 2003.
As for the show itself, well what can we say? As Sting put it, "Last night we played in a blizzard and tonight we're playing in a rainforest!" The venue was small (only 950 people attended), general admission, packed with enthusiastic fans as far back as the bar, and probably the nearest type of gig that Sting has played in many, many years to the gigs he played with the Police back in the late seventies. From about the third song in Sting was wringing wet from head to toe and whenever he and Dominic ventured to the edge of the stage their sweat showered the front row. Was this really Sting, in a small, sweaty club, with two guitars and drums urging him on as he prowled and leapt around the stage during 'Demolition Man'? Yes, it really was and we all lapped it up. Irving Plaza had exactly the right combination - last night of the tour, great fans, small hot club and the band were on fire. For the encores, Sting finally got round to shedding his jacket - on reflection, it's a wonder he didn't collapse from heat exhaustion - and returned to the stage with his sopping wet shirt unbuttoned which seemed the cue for a sea of cameras and cellphones to appear for some reason!
The final chords of 'Lithium Sunset' heralded the end of an unforgettable evening, and an unforgettable tour. It's a shame that this tour didn't make it out of North America, because the band and the set list could pack venues wherever they played. But hopefully, it will prove to Sting that he doesn't need a new album to tour and please fans. He now knows he can put together a top class band in a very little amount of time, and play whatever songs he wants to. On the 'Broken Music Tour' we didn't miss 'Fragile', we didn't miss 'Englishman In New York', we didn't miss 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', and we didn't even miss 'Every Breath You Take' at Irving Plaza. Sting's strength is the sheer volume of top quality songs in his back catalogue and it's hard to describe the pleasure we've had from seeing him dip into that catalogue over the last two months. After all, it's worth remembering that in Sting.com's exclusive poll, 82% of fans that have seen the Broken Music tour voted it the best Sting show they had ever seen. Impressive figures by anyone's standards.
Finally, we must mention both Phantom Planet and Fiction Plane. Both are excellent bands fronted by charismatic singers - Alex Greenwald and Sting's son Joe Sumner - but talent in both bands go much deeper and runs through all the members of both bands. Phantom Planet went from strength to strength during the tour, and we only wish we'd been there to see their final shows when they joined Sting on stage during 'Lithium Sunset'. Fiction Plane's latest EP 'Bitter Forces and Lame Race Horses' is highly recommended. Both are bands that we would travel considerable distances to see again and both deserve every success that comes their way.
Tina, Dave & Wendy