Sting had a lot riding on his most recent album, 57th & 9th, and its 2017 tour that packed Fishtown’s Fillmore Philadelphia on Saturday night.
First, he had to thaw a freezing audience of grumbling over-40s. Luckily, those same patrons could sample the debut of the Fillmore’s new tony VIP lounge area, complete with plush couch seating and heady cocktails, so that was a start. Secondly, the usually-eclectic-yet-always-Sting-ish Sting had to remove himself, his literary lyrical skills, and his warm jazzy melodic complexity from the taint of a decade’s worth of lute music, morbid boating songs, depressing Christmas holiday albums, and the saddest-ever set of children’s tales this side of Bambi.
While the crunchy rock-outs and baleful ballads of 57th & 9th were a nice start on Sting’s road to recovery, it was through this loose, live revelry that the singer/bassist seemed happily unbound.
Starting and ending with 57th & 9th’s most beatific moments (“Heading South on the Great North Road” with its sliding vocal runs and “The Empty Chair”), Sting & Co. proved to be nimble, limber – even sensual – as if having practiced the boss’ tantric yoga routine. The band was a family affair, not only with father-son guitarists Dominic and Rufus Miller, but Sting’s soundalike son, Joe Sumner, handling background vocals.
After mentioning first Philly gigs in 1979 at Grendel’s Lair (“you weren’t there, we had three people: me, Andy, and Stewart,” referring to his Police mates) and 1980’s Walnut Street Theatre, Sting made swift, spare dispatch of Police hits “Synchronicity II” and “Spirits in the Material World” before jumping into his solo catalog old (a Marley-like “An Englishman in New York,” a rockabilly-ish “She's Too Good for Me”), and new (the rough, blunt pop of “Down, Down, Down” and “Petrol Head”).
After he and his son ran through a clunky version of the late David Bowie’s spacey “Ashes to Ashes,” Sting tackled 57th & 9th's “50,000,” written in dedication to Bowie, Prince, and Lemmy. "50,000 voices rising every time he sings … Rock stars don't ever die /They only fade away."
Without overarching themes, pretension, or lutes, Sting’s new stuff – like his ancient “Roxanne,” played here with tart brio – reminded you of why you loved him in the first place: He writes delicately nuanced pop songs with intricate working parts and smartly emotional lyrics, plain and simple. In the intimate Fillmore (he dug getting close to the audience as well as “loving the chandeliers”) the intricacies of Sting’s contagion came through loud and clear.
(c) Philadelphia Inquirer by A.D. Amorosi