No need to call The Police...
I first saw Sting perform live almost 40 years ago and (viewed from the balcony of the Manchester Apollo at least), nothing much has changed. The man is a testament to the preservative power of yoga. He stands fit, lean and poised centre stage, in much the same outfit of tight T-shirt and black straits he wore back when The Police stormed the bastions of punk to become new wave’s first pop superstars.
He may even have been playing the same battered white bass guitar, nimble fingers gliding across the fretboard, while his high, hoarse, expressive voice sailed above shards of sharp electric guitar and thunderous rock-reggae drums, leading the crowd in joyous call and response.
The squad of musicians may have changed but an opening salvo of Synchronicity and Spirits In The Material World demonstrated that Sting was ready and willing to lead a Police charge. In all, he played eight songs from his famous trio, including Message In A Bottle, Walking On The Moon, So Lonely, Roxanne, Next To You and Every Breath You Take, all delivered with a thrilling super-honed musical attack and swagger.
The actual Police completed a world blitzing reunion and farewell tour in 2008. Since then, Gordon Sumner CBE has toured with a symphony orchestra, embarked on singer-songwriter double bills with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, got out his lute for folk and jazz sets and starred in his own Broadway musical about ship building in Newcastle.
His latest album, 57th & 9th, marked a belated and arguably long overdue return to the lean, pop-rock style that fans first fell in love with, full of pithy, sharp, economical songs where the big issues are sugared with even bigger hooks. They fit hand in leather glove with his Police era classics and a swathe of his punchiest solo hits, including An Englishman in New York, Shape of My Heart, One Fine Day (he dedicated his environmental anthem to Donald Trump) and a tender, meditative version of Fragile (dedicated to the people of Syria: “Stop dropping bombs on them for f---’s sake”).
The original trio may have long since taken Police retirement but Sting’s new recruits are no slouches. Josh Freese is an explosive, wildly percussive drummer, every inch the equal of Stuart Copeland, while Dominic Miller is a dextrous player with a wide range of styles, even if it took the addition of his guitar playing son Rufus Miller to fully compensate for the more lateral, inventive dash of Andy Summers. It was a family affair, with Sting’s 40-year-old singer-songwriting son Joe Sumner joining on backing vocals, along with the four members of Tex-Mex support act The Last Bandeloros.
It was in this respect that the evening really differed from a Police drill. Sting’s former colleagues were an almost Gladiatorially combative group who kept each other and their audience on their toes with fierce, audacious, competitive displays of musicianship, like a jazz band playing rock. It was quite amazing to witness but didn’t always look like fun to be part of.
This, by contrast, was a relaxed and genial affair, with the band’s leader clearly encouraging a mood of care and camaraderie between musicians. As a result, the audience got the kinder, gentler face of the Policeman, more Sting of Dock Green than Line of Duty. No truncheons or riot shields required.
Personally, I missed that edge of tension but it left space for musical digression. Amidst the blizzard of rock smashes Sting’s repertoire expanded to the gorgeous, folky Fields of Gold, the sensuous Arabic groove of Desert Rose and (in case anyone feared he had mislaid his more pretentious side) a waltz about 18th century cross dressing soldiers with a concertina solo. At the heart of what Sting does is a supreme songwriting talent, flowing melodies, audacious grooves and meaningful lyrics delivered by a master musician who seems to get a genuine sense of accomplishment from performing at the highest possible level.
This show deserved a badge of honour. No need to call the Police.
(c) Daily Telegraph by Neil McCormick