Rock great Sting made an overdue return to Music City on Tuesday, as his U.S. tour stopped at Municipal Auditorium - a venue he played 35 years ago with The Police. But even though he's been at it for decades, the British-born rocker goes above and beyond in his live show. Here's why.
He's his own opening act
As Sting told The Tennessean earlier this month, there have been points in his stadium-filling career where he felt "kind of God-like."
But these days, he's keeping his ego in check with a move few Rock and Roll Hall of Famers would dare attempt. He takes the stage first, before his opening acts - as oblivious audience members are still buying drinks and finding their seats - and plays one acoustic song to set the tone.
That song is "Heading South On the Great North Road," in which Sting remembers leaving his hometown to chase his dreams in London.
"I had three things," he told the audience before he began. "I had a 5 pound note in my pocket. I had a bag of songs and one telephone number. It happened to be (Police drummer) Stewart Copeland's telephone number. Pretty important. And the rest is history."
After the tune, he ceded the stage to his son, Joe Sumner, and joined fellow openers Los Bandoleros to provide background vocals and tambourine.
His (hazy) Nashville past
Speaking of "history," Sting made sure to acknowledge his own past with Music City - even if it eludes him.
"I played in this building before, apparently, in 1982, but I have no memory of it," he said with a laugh. "I have no idea what I was smoking, but it certainly wasn't legal. But I do remember playing in 1979 at the Exit/In. Vividly! I remember it vividly."
"And you weren't there," he added, pointing to an audience member up front. "Because you were too young!"
Standing room only
It wasn't hard to spot a young face or two up front, because Sting, unlike most rock stars his age, isn't selling pricey front row seats. Nearly the entire venue floor was general admission, standing room only, not unlike his first Nashville gig in 1979. Under the stage lights, Sting - who's famously in fantastic shape - looks pretty much like the same guy who took the stage back then. He sounds like him, too.
That wasn't just heard in the old favorites, like set opener "Synchronicity II," but in brand new tunes from "57th and 9th," his first rock album in more than a decade.
His dexterous backing band was perfectly suited for that style, but they were also able to handle Sting's insatiable taste for sounds from around the globe.
Songs and surprises
Sting pulled out a few tunes just for Nashville on Tuesday, including "I Hung My Head." It was one of several country-inspired tunes he's written over the years and he told the audience he felt vindicated when Johnny Cash covered it on the final album released in his lifetime. That led into another rarity on this tour: his 1993 hit "Fields of Gold."
He mixed deeper Police cuts in with several new tunes from "57th" in the first hour of the set. The audience stayed with him at every turn, but a massive roar of elation came with the first chords of "Message in a Bottle." The celebration continued with "So Lonely" and reached its peak with "Roxanne," and each featured lively games of call and response between Sting and his fans.
"I wrote that song probably 40 years ago in my apartment in London," he said of "Bottle."
"The audience was probably just the cat, and not particularly interested. But now I can go to Nashville, and everybody knows those words. And it means something. I do not take that for granted."
(c) The Tennessean by Dave Paulson