Sting at 60 can still command the audience...
The busman's holiday is officially over.
After spending the greater part of 2010 fronting a behemoth of an orchestra for his global 'Symphonicities' tour, Sting, ever the British heartthrob at 60 (not to mention a walking billboard for the benefits of yoga), has gone to the opposite extreme and pared things down to the bare necessities with his Back To Bass tour.
Twenty-four hours after playing a private Palais Royale shindig for beaucoup de bucks (rumoured to be in the area of $1 million), the ex-Policeman took to Massey Hall for the first of two shows (the second is tonight) in the most informal of stage attire: running shoes, jeans, a mauve t-shirt and a shorn head.
Flanked by the father and son team of guitarists Dominic and Rufus Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta, the "drummer's drummer," as he tagged him, and the twin violin section of Jo Lawrie and Peter Tickell, Sting proceeded to take the adoring, largely 40-plus and 50-plus sold out crowd on a sonic adventure that revisited past triumphs and explore some lesser known gems of a catalogue that has sold over 100 million albums.
It was a bit on the indulgent side: perhaps he's sung 'Roxanne' or 'Fragile' one too many times as those classic hits were left off the two-hour set list. In fact, 'Nothing Like The Sun', arguably his best album, was entirely ignored in favour of selections some of his more "obscure" works - 'Ten Summoner's Tales', 'Mercury Falling' and 'Sacred Love' - but, truthfully, the crowd didn't seem to mind.
That's because they've been trained over the years by a pop superstar - and let's face it, if anyone has earned his laurels for that description it's Sting, first as the Police architect who ushered in the end of disco and the beginning of new wave in the late '70s, to one who managed to extend his career beyond a band format and write a few touchstone anthems along the way - who never mails it in.
As he's done with past configurations, he's reinvented his songs to encompass whatever style he feels at the moment, and been very good at treating his audiences to new experiences every time out with imaginative arrangements that always inject new, unexpected twists.
That shrewd instinct was in generous display at several points during last night's show; from the pliable rendition of 'Seven Days' that embraced a jazzy 6/4 feel and then found Colaiuta driving the band into double time; to a fiery 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)' that ended with a climactic duel between Colaiuta and violinist Tickell trading bars and riffs for the evening's most rewarding exchange.
In fact, within the first half-hour of the set that began with a fairly rote version of 'All This Time', Sting and his quintet had explored a panorama of genres: rock, country, jazz and mutations thereof, impressively switching moods and tempos in mid-stream, at the drop of a hat.
Oddly enough, it was Sting's awe-inspiring bass playing that anchored the show, much more appreciated once the initial sound bugs were ironed out. Considering the instrument serves a role that is anything but melodic, it's amazing that the singer can separate the two parts of his brain that handle both with such aplomb.
He gave 'Sacred Love' a punchy funkiness, kept the motor running for the aggressive Police nugget 'Driven To Tears' and offered impressive multi-beat spaces to kick-start 'I Hung My Head'.
And as he's mellowing in his old age, Sting has actually become quite the chatterbox, charming the Massey Hall audience with tales of the creative process, some of the meanings behind the songs, and waxing philosophical about his 32-year marriage to Trudie Styler that he claims "healed" him.
He was also emphatic in his love for Massey Hall.
"I love this place," he declared after a particularly buoyant take of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'. You know, my dressing room is haunted. I don't know by whom."
Ever comfortable in his rock star skin, he demonstrated his musical infallibility with the third encore, accompanying himself on guitar as he serenaded the standing crowd with the evergreen 'Message In A Bottle', as the audience harmonized on cue without any prompting.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true embodiment of synchronicity.
(c) The Toronto Star by Nick Krewen
Sting gets back to bass-ics...
The last time I saw Sting in Toronto - in July 2010 at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre - he had a full orchestra playing with him in a performance that didn't always click.
My, what a difference a year and a bit makes.
The singer-bassist returned to T.O. on Tuesday night - for the first of two shows at Massey Hall - with his Back To Bass Tour in support of his 25th anniversary as a solo artist.
The trek sees him playing with an ace five-piece band including father-son guitarists Dominic and Rufus Miller and British electric fiddle virtuoso Peter Tickell (more on him later).
Maybe after the so-so orchestral treatment Sting realized it was time to go back-to-basics.
Whatever the reason, the simpler, stripped-down approach better suited his songs, both solo and hits with his famed British new wave band The Police, with such wide-ranging influences as pop, rock, ska, reggae, country, and jazz.
And that was just in the first half-hour.
Sting, who turned 60-years-old a month ago but still looks remarkably lean and muscular with his sexy rasp of a voice still strong too, kicked off the night with his solo hit, 'All This Time', dressed down in a snug-fitting lavender top, zippered black pants and pale coloured sneakers, with his head clean shaven. He looked positively aerodynamic as he performed for two hours and ten minutes with the best of the songs coming in the show's final stretch beginning with 'Never Coming Home', which featured an impressive, moody light show and killer playing by Tickell, who brought the audience to its feet.
That was followed by three (count 'em three) encores including a sentimental solo version of the Police hit, 'Message in A Bottle', featuring just Sting on acoustic guitar as the show wound to a close, plus such fan favourites as 'Desert Rose' (a solo chart-topper with Algerian singer Cheb Mami) - with Sting doing his best hip-shaking moves - and more Police classics as 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Next To You'.
Seemingly jazzed by playing in such an esteemed theatre - "my dressing room is haunted by I don't know who," he said gleefully and playing back in T.O. (he pointed out The Police first played the Horseshoe in '78) - Sting hit his peak early in the night with such Police chestnuts as 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Demolition Man'.
It would take a while before he hit such heights again as he turned his attention to more sombre and country-fied songs as 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' - "Divorce is a season in hell," he explained of the song - and 'I Hung My Head', which Toby Keith and Johnny Cash, respectively, later covered.
"I have a problem with authenticity," the Newcastle-born singer joked of writing country music.
"I'm not from the south. I'm not even from the south of England."
It would be yet another Police song, 'Driven To Tears', that would bring the energy level right back up, along with his solo songs, 'Fortress Around Your Heart', 'Fields Of Gold' and 'Sacred Love'.
Of the latter song, he joked: "It's about my two favourite subjects - sex and religion."
He also got personal, dedicating 'Ghost Story' to his father, who passed away 20 years ago, and with whom he had a difficult relationship, and Inside about his successful 32 year marriage to Trudie Styler.
"She mended me when I was broken," he said of Styler.
Sting also returned to his country obsession with 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice', explaining he had combined his love of the western, The Magnificent Seven, with Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, but this time it was the electrifying playing of Tickell - who also hails from Newcastle - that wowed the crowd.
(c) The Toronto Sun by Jane Stevenson
On stage, Sting hasn’t aged a day...
And so this is Sting at the age of 60. Sounding good, looking fine - every breath he took was visible, his T-shirt so tight as to reveal the details of his respiration - the milkman’s son from Newcastle and former ace-face of the Police was in buff and buzz-cut form at Massey Hall, where he chatted amiably and delivered a well-received set of millionaire-Englishman blues-rock and assorted hits from his long career. On stage with a five-piece band that included a pair of fiddlers, the chatty superstar spoke of the past - "So much history" he said of Massey, also mentioning that ghosts were in his dressing room and that Toronto "felt like home" - but he wasn’t completely beholden to his bygones, feeling no need, for example, to flip on the most famous red light in pop history. If 'Roxann'e did not figure, though, 22 others did, including the following highlights.
'All This Time': A single from the 1991 solo album 'The Soul Cages', the opening number’s breeze and bounce belied darker lyrics about the death of the musician’s father. Sting’s current tour is dubbed "back to bass," a play on words referring to the stripped down nature of the show, as opposed to his pretentious lute playing in the past or the orchestral hubbub of his previous tour. As for the "bass," Sting fluidly and strappingly played a pair of Fender Precision models.
'I Hung My Head': After the Nashville-styled 'I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying', the castle-dwelling musician told his audience he had a "problem with authenticity," as it pertained to writing country music. "I’m not from the south. I’m not even from the south of England." Perhaps his authenticity issues stem from thinking that his tuneful murder ballad was anything other than enjoyable light-rock, regardless if the song was once covered by Johnny Cash.
'Inside': From 2003’s 'Sacred Love' album. If his outlandish torso didn’t impress the ladies enough - as he sang, with two feet together behind the mic-stand, his baldness and V-shaped physique made him look like an Oscar statuette - his comments before this brooding rocker cemented his appeal. The long-married rock star spoke of the risk of "emotional annihilation" as the root behind the male fear of commitment. Women gasped in agreement at the observation.
'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)': The spaghetti-western/country conflation was notable only for a wild-eyed bowing by fiddler Peter Tickell. We haven’t seen such aggressive friction since Sting and Police drummer Stewart Copeland were going at each other regularly back in the day.
Encore: The Moroccan-roll of 'Desert Rose' compelled one to charm snakes, belly dance and eat a fig - all at once. The inching rhythm of 'Every Breath You Take', about an ex-lover’s serious surveillance issues, took us back a couple of decades. 'Next to You' was effervescent punk-lite. And 'Message in a Bottle', with Sting solo on a classical guitar, was pure pop euphoria. "Another lonely day," sang the main attraction, in a high and forlorn holler, "no one here but me." A crowd sang along in complete disagreement - message received, loud and clear.
(c) The Globe and Mail by Brad Wheeler