Sting’s adoring middle-aged fans were willingly taken on a sonic adventure but some classic hits were left off the list
The busman’s holiday is officially over.
After spending the greater part of 2010 fronting a behemoth of an orchestra for his global Symphonicities tour, Sting, ever the British heartthrob at 60 (not to mention a walking billboard for the benefits of yoga), has gone to the opposite extreme and pared things down to the bare necessities with his Back To Bass tour.
Twenty-four hours after playing a private Palais Royale shindig for beaucoup de bucks (rumoured to be in the area of $1 million), the ex-Policeman took to Massey Hall for the first of two shows (the second is tonight) in the most informal of stage attire: running shoes, jeans, a mauve t-shirt and a shorn head.
Flanked by the father and son team of guitarists Domenic and Rufus Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta, the “drummer’s drummer,” as he tagged him, and the twin violin section of Jo Lawrie and Peter Tickell, Sting proceeded to take the adoring, largely 40-plus and 50-plus sold out crowd on a sonic adventure that revisited past triumphs and explore some lesser known gems of a catalogue that has sold over 100 million albums.
It was a bit on the indulgent side: perhaps he’s sung “Roxanne” or “Fragile” one too many times as those classic hits were left off the two-hour set list. In fact, Nothing Like The Sun, arguably his best album, was entirely ignored in favour of selections some of his more “obscure” works — Ten Summoner’s Tales, Mercury Falling and Sacred Love — but, truthfully, the crowd didn’t seem to mind.
That’s because they’ve been trained over the years by a pop superstar — and let’s face it, if anyone has earned his laurels for that description it’s Sting, first as the Police architect who ushered in the end of disco and the beginning of new wave in the late ’70s, to one who managed to extend his career beyond a band format and write a few touchstone anthems along the way — who never mails it in .
As he’s done with past configurations, he’s reinvented his songs to encompass whatever style he feels at the moment, and been very good at treating his audiences to new experiences every time out with imaginative arrangements that always inject new, unexpected twists.
That shrewd instinct was in generous display at several points during last night’s show; from the pliable rendition of “Seven Days” that embraced a jazzy 6/4 feel and then found Colaiuta driving the band into double time; to a fiery “Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)” that ended with a climactic duel between Colaiuta and violinist Tickell trading bars and riffs for the evening’s most rewarding exchange.
In fact, within the first half-hour of the set that began with a fairly rote version of “All This Time,” Sting and his quintet had explored a panorama of genres: rock, country, jazz and mutations thereof, impressively switching moods and tempos in mid-stream, at the drop of a hat.
Oddly enough, it was Sting’s awe-inspiring bass playing that anchored the show, much more appreciated once the initial sound bugs were ironed out. Considering the instrument serves a role that is anything but melodic, it’s amazing that the singer can separate the two parts of his brain that handle both with such aplomb.
He gave “Sacred Love” a punchy funkiness, kept the motor running for the aggressive Police nugget “Driven To Tears” and offered impressive multi-beat spaces to kick-start “I Hung My Head.”
And as he’s mellowing in his old age, Sting has actually become quite the chatterbox, charming the Massey Hall audience with tales of the creative process, some of the meanings behind the songs, and waxing philosophical about his 32-year marriage to Trudie Styler that he claims “healed” him.
He was also emphatic in his love for Massey Hall.
“I love this place,” he declared after a particularly buoyant take of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” “You know, my dressing room is haunted. I don’t know by whom.”
Ever comfortable in his rock star skin, he demonstrated his musical infallibility with the third encore, accompanying himself on guitar as he serenaded the standing crowd with the evergreen “Message In A Bottle,” as the audience harmonized on cue without any prompting.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true embodiment of synchronicity.