Last Night: Sting At Verizon Wireless Theater
Verizon Wireless Theater
November 17, 2011
Sting gets a lot of shit that Rocks Off has frankly never really understood. Is it the myriad social causes? The way he expected you to know who Chaucer was? The tantric sex thing? We're not going to sit here and defend absolutely everything the guy has done (case in point: Brand New Day), but he's a better-than-average songwriter with a gift for a hook ("Message in a Bottle" or "Fields of Gold," anyone?) and a skilled multi-instrumentalist.
Photos by Jason Wolter
He's also one of the most successful musical artists of all time. He's allowed a little pretension.
That said, his last sojourns through Houston (two dates on the Police Reunion Tour: Toyota Center in '07 and the CWM Pavilion in '08) weren't exactly our cup of brimstone and treacle. Too much noodling and Spinal Tap style jazz odyssey-ing for our tastes. Certainly a band is allowed to stretch its musical muscles now and again, but "Roxanne" is not a free-form jam kind of song.
None of that was in evidence last night, as Sting and his back-up band brought the "Back to Bass" tour to H-Town and offered up a pretty straightforward run-through of (mostly) solo stuff and a few choice Police cuts to a (mostly) rapt Verizon Theater audience.
It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since the Police broke up. Younger folks who only know Sting from Brüno or that Jaguar commercial may be unaware that they were huge in the early 80s, selling over 16 million copies of their final album, Synchronicity, and embarking on a world tour of sold out stadium dates before breaking up at the height of their powers.
And seeing the guy last night, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and in better shape than guys a third his age (dude is 60 years old), jumping around like it was 1983 all over again, you got a small taste of what made them the biggest band of their era.
He opened with "All This Time" (from The Soul Cages) before introducing his band: longtime collaborators Dominic Miller on guitar and drummer Vinnie Colaluta. Accompanying them, in an effort to "keep the median age down," were Dominic's son Rufus on rhythm guitar, Peter Tickell, the boyish fiddler from Sting's hometown of Newcastle, and backup singer Jo Lawry, also on fiddle and percussion.
"Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" from 1981's Ghost in the Machine was next, followed by "Seven Days" and another Ghost cut, "Demolition Man." And then his "country" songs: "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" and "I Hung My Head" from the underrated Mercury Falling. He admitted to having a lot of nerve coming to Texas and playing country songs, but decided Johnny Cash's covering "I Hung My Head" gave him a pass. We'll allow it.
The second half of the set was more obscure, pulling in a lot of material from the lesser heard Sacred Love, so anyone expecting a greatest hits retrospective was SOL. Frankly, we're glad for that. Not all of his newer stuff is strong ("Inside" was a particular chore), but songs like "Ghost Story" (about his recently deceased father) and "Stolen Car" (about a psychic car thief, so he told us) fit in well. The latter also offering Lawry a chance to show off her pipes. And her stems, if you get what we're saying.
He introduced "Heavy Cloud No Rain" as a song with "particular relevance to Texas." Thanks for reminding us, pal.
Admittedly, it seemed to us at times he was hurrying things along. Several songs were clearly truncated, with some fills and breaks removed entirely (this was especially noticeable on "All This Time" and "Desert Rose"). Maybe it was to allow for full jam potential on "Demolition Man" and "Driven," or mayne Sting got our letters about the reunion tour.
And just like that, it was encore time. Stalker anthem "Every Breath You Take" brought everyone to their feet, and by our estimates less than 10 percent of the audience realizes what a creepy song that is. Or maybe they just don't care. One woman actually made it on stage during the song, and Sting waved off security to allow her to sing along with him, her eyes shining with delight the entire time. Perhaps he was savoring the irony.
He came out alone with an acoustic guitar for "Message In a Bottle," another audience participation number, it remains one of our favorites. "Pretentious" or not, Sting and the Police were a big part of Rocks Off's musical youth (now there's a band that needs to get back together), and the solo stuff has grown up with us as well. Last night's show saw a guy finally comfortable in his own skin, who can still entertain for two hours onstage.
[insert joke about "offstage" stamina here]