After six weeks taking his latest tour across intimate theatres in North America, Sting's 57th & 9th tour landed in the UK for three shows which included two concerts at Hammersmith's Eventim Apollo. In keeping with the rock nature of his latest album, these were general admission shows, his first in the UK for many years, and the floor of the Apollo was a packed, bustling mass.
Unusually for such an icon, Sting was involved from start to finish, taking the stage at the stroke of 8pm to welcome the audience and getting the action started with an acoustic performance of “Heading South On The Great North Road,” a paean to all those musicians, like himself, that have trekked up and down the A1/M1 over the years heading to, and returning from, gigs in London. He was assisted on vocals by his son Joe Sumner, who served as one of the opening acts on the tour, but who was also on stage most of the evening playing guitar or providing backing vocals.
Indeed the whole evening was something of a family affair, with talented father and son guitarists Dominic and Rufus Miller performing in Sting's band, and brothers Diego and Emilio Navaira both members of the other support act, Tex-mex outfit The Last Bandoleros. Sting’s drummer, the talented Josh Freese, has a diverse resume, having played with Devo, Weezer and Nine Inch Nails, and it was good to see him back with Sting, filling the seat he occupied on the 2005 “Broken Music” world tour.
Hailing from San Antonio, The Last Bandoleros were playing their first London show, and frankly, were excellent. With only one EP currently on release, they are full of promise and their short but action packed set included Maria,” “Take Me To It” and “Where Do You Go?,” on which Sting returned to the stage to sing, shake a tambourine and generally have a ball.
Fifteen minutes later, he was back on stage opening his own set, with a brace of Police tracks, rocking versions of “Synchronicity II” and “Spirits in The Material World.” As openings go, it ticked all the boxes and had fans on the barrier head shaking and singing from the start. “Englishman In New York” followed, before he performed the first single from the latest album, “I Can't Stop Thinking About You,” a fast paced, rockier number.
“One Fine Day” was dedicated to the Environmental Protection Agency, with Sting commenting that he hoped President Trump would wake up one day and realise what those words meant. A couple of deeper album cuts followed, the jaunty She's Too Good For Me” and the karmic “I Hung My Head.” “Fields of Gold” was beautifully done, featuring not Dominic Miller's familiar mid-song nylon string guitar solo, but instead a concertina solo from the Bandoleros' ever-smiling Percy Cardona. Sounds odd, but it worked a treat.
“Petrol Head” gave both of the Miller's ample opportunity to turn up their guitars and rock out, and after a rousing version of “Message In A Bottle,” Sting confided that the song was written only a short walk away, in Bayswater, where he lived as The Police's rise to fame started. He told us the only audience at the time was a disinterested cat and his young son, Joe, who grinned back at his father from behind his mic. Sting went on, "From playing that song to Joe and the cat, to now playing it to all of you here, and to hear you singing it back to me means so much. I never take it for granted."
Joe was coaxed from behind his mic stand and stepped up with his guitar to sing a poignant version of David Bowie's “Ashes to Ashes,” which segued neatly into “50,000,” Sting's take on the world having recently lost so many performers.
From then on, it was classic after classic – “Walking On the Moon,” “So Lonely,” “Desert Rose” and an awesome version of “Roxanne,” the staged bathed in red light until Sting veered it away into blue lighting as the song turned into Bill Withers' “Ain't No Sunshine” before returning back to “Roxanne.” The song must have been played live thousands of times, but he keeps reinventing it and finding new ways to present it.
All the musicians returned to the stage for a thrash through “Next To You,” and a mass singalong to “Every Breath You Take.” “Fragile,” dedicated to the children of Syria, was a gentle and sober end to what had been a tour de force performance.
Although Sting seems capable of turning his attentions to lute music, winter songs, orchestral arrangements and musicals, this is what he does best. He turns up, pulls out the big songs, plays them with a youthful intensity and sends folks out into the night humming and singing them with smiles on their faces.
It was a masterful return to Hammersmith.
A gallery of images from the show can be found here: