Sting: My Songs Tour

Toronto, ON, CA
Budweiser Stage


Sting sounds better than ever — but the Budweiser Stage sound mix let him down...

Despite the issues, Sting is a consummate, age-defying entertainer, looking thin, fit and sounding even better with that signature tenor of his.

It was a four-star performance marred by one-star sonics.

Both Sting and his Budweiser Stage audience deserved better on Tuesday night as the former Police frontman delivered a fairly enjoyable show in front of an estimated 16,000 or so music lovers who had come to hear some old friends.

Those “old friends” were the familiar songs in the British singer-songwriter’s extensive hit catalogue, all extremely popular with Toronto crowds due to the many visits he’s made over the years, dating back to his first Horseshoe Tavern appearance in 1978 with his groundbreaking reggae-tinged new wave trio and the rest as a solo artist.

“I think I’ve played everywhere in Toronto there is to play,” Sting declared at one point during his 100-minute set and, in fact, this was his fourth appearance at this outdoor venue.

It’s just a shame that the occasion was spoiled with perhaps the worst sound this reviewer has endured at Budweiser Stage: when Sting first emerged strapped to his bass to open with one of the crowd favourite Police classics, “Message in a Bottle,” the resulting aural mishmash offered the nuance of a garden shed buried in an airplane hangar.

Granted, sometimes there are “dead zones” in venues and perhaps the front part of the 300 section right of Sting was one of them, but the echo that came out of the speakers was horrible for the first 40 minutes and then improved incrementally throughout the remaining 60, never achieving the pristine cleanliness this writer has heard in previous shows by the artist, most notably 2010’s “Symphonicity” tour on which a 45-piece orchestra sounded so clear you could practically hear them rustle in their seats.

But that was not the case this time out, and Sting and a six-piece band that included long-time guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Zach Jones, keyboardist Kevon Webster, backing singers Gene Noble and the aptly named Melissa Musique, and harmonica player/vocalist Shane Sager suffered for it. In fact, during the evening’s sophomore number, “An Englishman in New York,” Sager was barely audible.

Not impressive.

Moving on to the positive aspects of the show, one of the joyful merits of a Sting concert is that the showman doesn’t give you a carbon copy of the hit records and instead introduces a fresh element of exploration, or focuses on an unexpected instrument in his arrangements: in this case, the harmonica.

He also engages in a lot of call-and-response — be it with the crowd (“yo-yo-yo” for that great Police nugget “Walking on the Moon”) or his own backing singers (on “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” and a playful duet with Musique and her stunning vocal on “Heavy Cloud No Rain”).

Of course, there are the spontaneous singalongs: “So Lonely,” “King of Pain” and the night’s capper, “Every Breath You Take.”

And the consummate, age-defying entertainer — 71 going on 40 — looking thin, fit and sounding even better with that signature tenor of his, knows how to work a crowd and does so rather lightheartedly.

For instance, he announced before performing “Brand New Day” that Stevie Wonder had played the extended harmonica intro and motioned to his own harmonica specialist, Sager, pointedly asking him, “Do you think you can handle it?”

Sager nodded in the affirmative but, of course, we all knew the answer to that one: do you think Sting, who has hired every top-notch musician from Branford Marsalis to Darryl Jones to Josh Freese to be in his band over the years, is going to settle for somebody who can’t cut the mustard?

Sager preceded to dazzle. When given his moments in the sun, backing singer Noble also shone with his soulful range and delivery. And there was even a spot reserved for Gordon “Sting” Sumner’s son Joe, who trotted out for the two pre-encore Police numbers to share lead vocals on “King of Pain” with his dad and sounded so much like him it was scary.

Another successful Sting ploy was running songs together without breaks in between: very effective in building momentum when you have “Desert Rose” melt into “King of Pain,” and then segue into “Every Breath You Take,” as the audience gleefully gasped in recognition and admiration.

Show highlights included the charming “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” the tender “Shape of My Heart” and the alluring “Fields Of Gold,” plus the one number everyone came to hear and sing, “Roxanne.”

And finally, many of the sound bugs were somewhat tempered with the show’s finale, “Fragile,” with Sting trading his bass for an acoustic guitar for the first and only time that evening.

Sting is a writer of meaningful songs that are packed with infectious melodies and emotionally resonant lyrics. He’s also an ace performer whose professionalism always exceeds the highest of standards.

But he can’t control every outcome and this was an occasion — an anomaly — when his front-of-house engineer was having an off night.

Crap happens, but it did not deter from the universal appeal and charisma that seems to ooze from the pores of Sting’s skin, or the joy the crowd felt upon hearing his familiar music.

He’s worth the price of admission anytime he’s in town.

(c) Toronto Star by Nick Krewen

Sting brings his solo and Police hits - and his physique - to Toronto...

His voice was in great form too.

Sting struck quite the impressive figure on Tuesday night as he opened his hour-and-45-minute show on a sweltering late summer evening at Budweiser Stage with his Police hit Message in a Bottle.

The 71-year-old’s toned arms, among other things, stood out as Sting and his six piece band — which grew to seven when his son and opening act Joe Sumner later joined dad for another Police classic King Of Pain and his three backup singers for Every Breath You Take — brought the massive crowd to its feet early and often.

Let’s put it this way, Sting may be the only person to wear white pants after Labour Day and get a pass.

Magnificent physique aside, the musician was in great voice too as he took the audience through his biggest solo and Police hits as part of his My Songs World Tour and reminisced about such early Toronto stops with his former New Wave band at both the Horseshoe and The Edge.

“Toronto, how are you?” asked the charismatic musician.

The show, otherwise, was propelled by such standout solo songs as Englishman in New York, If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, Fields of Gold, Shape of My Heart (with special mention to Dominic Miller’s beautiful guitar playing), Desert Rose, and Fragile and Police chart-toppers Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Walking on The Moon, Every Breath You Take, and Roxanne.

Sting even mixed in some early reggae influences as he inserted Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry into The Police’s early hit So Lonely.

He also joked about his home in the English countryside — “It’s really a castle” — and claimed if anyone stopped by he’d make them tea.

I’d be the first in line.

Most of all though, as he ran through many but not all of his major hits, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the 17-time Emmy winner’s back catalogue and wish he’d played even more.

(c) The Toronto Sun by Jane Stevenson