Sting concert oddly paced in Phoenix...
Throughout his decades-long career, Sting has always seemed to want things to be bigger.
Though he keep it pretty simple in his reggae-tinged punk-rock days (the Police were only three guys after all), his solo work has always been about addition, constantly adding layers and flourishes to his sound. He's dabbled in jazz and world music, and held concerts with entire symphony orchestras.
But things were different when Sting and his five-piece band hit the stage at Phoenix's Comerica Theatre on Tuesday night, Nov. 22. The show was a stop on his Back to Bass tour, promoted as a back-to-basic retrospective of Sting's prolific career.
And while the night certainly had a stripped-down feel, the set list offered too few hits and a slow pacing that couldn't keep the fans on their feet.
The night got off to a fine start, with Sting and the band opening with the mellow 1991 single 'All This Time' before dipping into the Police catalog for 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'. That second track got the fans out of their chairs and dancing along.
As promised, Sting rocked the electric bass all night, effortlessly powering out complex riffs. His unmistakable tenor sounded as crisp and powerful as ever, and at age 60, Sting looked for all the world like a chiseled yoga instructor.
The energy stayed high for the jerky jazz of 'Seven Days' and the punishing drive of 'Demolition Man', but the vibe of the show dropped with an ill-advised introduced to the next song.
"I don't want to bring you down, but how many of you out there are divorced?" Sting said happily, while a half-hearted cheer went up from some members of the crowd. "Of course you are."
"Divorce is a season in hell," he said, before they launched into the 1996 hit 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying'.
"But it's only a season, and it does get better."
Sting went on to explain that maybe as an Englishman he's not the most qualified to write country songs, but added that Toby Keith covered that last song, and Johnny Cash did a rendition of 'I Hung My Head', a county murder ballad that fizzled with the crowd.
Sting was clearing trying to make the night an intimate affair, with long pauses between songs, during which he mused about songwriting, marriage and love.
During these asides, Sting mostly came off as laid-back and charming, thanks in large part to his cheerful accent and sly sense of humor. He joked about trying to "lower the median age of the band" by surrounding himself with younger musicians, and he offered a heartfelt explanation of the gentle song 'Ghost Story', saying it was meant to be a conversation with his dead father, which whom he never really got along.
But that English charm only goes so far, and some of these stories came off as tiresome and more than a little arrogant. While introducing 'Fields of Gold', he talked about how he was inspired to write the hit tune while walking along the barley fields in the countryside by his home near Stonehenge.
"Well, it's actually more of a castle," he said with a laugh. "But I looked out at those golden fields and thought, 'There's a song out there somewhere.'"
The fans stayed in their seats most of the night, while still singing along to 'Heavy Cloud No Rain'. A furious solo by violinist Peter Tickell on the country track 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice' earned a standing ovation, and the moody vocal acrobatics of Sting and sultry singer Jo Lawry on 'The Hounds Of Winter' brought the crowd to its feet again.
After ending with an extended jam on 'Never Coming Home', Sting and his bandmates quickly returned for a high-energy encore of the 1999 hit 'Desert Rose', which got one of the biggest responses of the night. Fans danced into the aisles during the Middle-Eastern flavored tune, and they only got more excited when Sting dropped into the Police classic 'Every Breath You Take'. These encore songs would have served better at the beginning of the set, adding more energy to the room.
After leaving the stage briefly again, Sting and his bandmates played a second encore of 'Next to You', another Police track.
Sting returned by himself for a third and final encore, this time playing 'Message in a Bottle' on a small classical guitar. The crowd sang along with reverence while Sting plucked out the guitar riff, lit by a single spotlight.
This final moment captured the kind of intimacy the entire show was clearly meant to deliver. And while the night was dragged down by questionable song selection and a slow pace, for most of the crowd, those last three minutes seemed to be enough.
(c) The Arizona Republic by Joe Golfen