Sting dusts off his anti-Cold War anthem Russians to poignant effect... 4/5
The rock star may once have performed for Russian oligarchs, but his duet with a Ukrainian cellist at the Palladium was a stirring sight
If you, like me, find Sting prone to occasional pomposity (the preachy environmentalism of a globe-trotting rock star, the wine range, the Elizabethan lute albums) then you might have approached this intimate show at London’s Palladium theatre with a touch of trepidation. Labelled Sting: My Songs, the concert was the first of a six-show residency that promises fans a “compendium of Sting’s songs with dynamic, visual references to some of his most iconic videos and inspirations”. I half expected an earnest evening of rainforests, madrigals and worthy reinterpretations of his greatest hits.
How wrong I was. The concert was effectively Sting’s glitzy Las Vegas show squeezed into an Edwardian theatre. It was a greatest hits romp – big on pizzazz – that took in everything from The Police’s Roxanne and Walking on the Moon to his solo highpoints Englishman in New York and Fields of Gold.
With production values that were as shiny and tight as Sting’s leather trousers, the show was a rare treat for attendees: the 2,300-seat Palladium is around half the size of Las Vegas’s Colosseum, where his run of shows continues in June (it’s the same venue where Adele is supposed to be performing this year). At the time of writing, there were a small number of back row tickets left. At a cool £94.50, they’re roughly the cost of a case of Sting’s Roxanne red wine. I’d wager this memory will last longer. Fans should grab one.
Before the show proper, there was a poignant moment. Sting walked onto the stage with Ukrainian cellist Yaroslava Trofymchuk. Together they played an acoustic version of Russians, his melancholy 1985 anti-Cold War anthem in which he sings of Europe and America’s “growing feeling of hysteria” about the nuclear threats in the “rhetorical speeches of the Soviets”.
Sting said he thought the song had been “irrelevant” for decades. No longer. “I hope the Russians love their children too,” he sang in the pay-off. It was moving, its impact only slightly lessened by the fact that Sting has been known in the past to play lucrative private gigs for Russian oligarchs, something he has vowed to stop doing due to the horrors of the invasion.
Then the curtain raised and we were off. Flanked by two vast video screens and a seven-piece band, Sting burst through six bangers including Message in a Bottle and Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. Sting is 70, but with his svelte physique, wireless microphone headset and boundless energy, he could have passed for decades younger. In fact, in his black leather-look suit, he could have walked straight off the mid-1980s set of David Lynch’s original Dune as his leather-clad character Feyd-Rautha. Equally remarkable was Sting’s voice: powerfully raspy as ever, and unweathered by age.
A mid-set run of new songs led to an inevitable lull. The jarringly jaunty If It’s Love contained the first example of piped whistling I have ever heard at a concert (Sting pretended it was him – it was nice to have a touch of vaudeville at the Palladium). But by the finale of Every Breath You Take, the crowd were on their feet and the aisles were packed with bopping Baby Boomers. Sting ended the show alone on stage performing an acoustic rendition of Fragile. This was showbiz Sting rather than serious Sting. Vegas has come to Soho.
(c) Daily Telegraph by James Hall
Sting review – still great, but doesn’t he just know it...
At the first show of a seven-night residency, Sting demonstrates he is near peerless as a pop composer – but his jazzy arrangements and self-seriousness irritate.
Sting opens his set with Russians, a 1985 single about the cold war that he has reworked and reissued to raise funds for a Ukraine relief charity. “I’ve hardly played it in years, because I thought it wasn’t relevant any more,” he sighs. “But, in light of recent events …”
Accompanied only by a Ukrainian cellist, Yaroslava Trofymchuk, the black-pleather-clad 70-year-old croons the song’s chorus and earnest central message: “Russians love their children too.” He cautions us: “Don’t forget, a lot of brave Russians are protesting against this war.”
It could be mawkish, but Sting carries it off through his evident sincerity and, primarily, its haunting melody, pulled in part from Prokofiev. It is a potent start to the veteran star’s six-night London Palladium residency as part of a Covid-delayed world tour he is simply billing as My Songs.
Sting has always been a divisive figure. Ever since his faux-punk days in the Police he has been a consummate musical craftsman, cleverly weaving trace elements of rock, jazz, reggae and global music styles into punchy pop tunes. The problem? It is all too evident how good he knows he is.
The slickness with which Sting dispenses Police heavyweights Message in a Bottle and Every Little Thing She Does is Magic early in the set topples so easily into smugness. He is prone to distilling these sharp-edged songs, with hooks to hang your hat on, into freeform jazz.
New songs If It’s Love and Rushing Water, from his lockdown album The Bridge, are exquisitely honed exercises in classy, adult rock that long for us to take them as seriously as they take themselves. Sting sporadically glances up from between his cheekbones, to check we appreciate how clever he is being.
There is noodling aplenty. The sprung rhythms of Walking on the Moon segue into Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up and Sting looks very, very white. Roxanne remains a masterclass in sublime pop alchemy but cannot emerge unscathed from a bout of sub-Cleo Laine scat-singing.
The sleek menace of Every Breath You Take still resonates 40 years on and, as a composer of infectious pop nuggets, Sting is near-peerless. But you leave the Palladium knowing that if he could eat himself, he would.
(c) The Guardian by Ian Gittens
Sting review: hits and a few misses as he jazzes up his classics...
He may be 70, but Sting appeared ridiculously young and glowingly healthy at the opening of his six-night Palladium residency. Sporting leather trousers and a bleach-blond buzz-cut, the black-clad ex-Policeman seemed to be modelling his look on Rob Halford of Judas Priest, though sadly without the operatic melodrama and homoerotic innuendo.
An arena-sized show squeezed into a West End theatre, this hit-packed performance felt like a Pilates masterclass in polished pop-rock slickness.
Before firing up his full band, the Geordie superstar began in sombre mode with an acoustic rendition of his 1985 Cold War empathy anthem Russians, accompanied by the Ukrainian cellist Yaroslava Trofymchuk. Released as a single last month to benefit Ukrainian charities, revisiting this song was a well-meaning gesture of atonement from a man who once played private gigs for Russian oligarchs, albeit slightly tainted by Sting clumsily calling the war-ravaged nation “the Ukraine”, a Soviet-era affectation intended to diminish it from sovereign state to colonial territory.
Perhaps giving over his huge Wiltshire mansion (“more like a castle”, he smirked during this show) to war refugees would have been a more convincing show of solidarity.
Postponed by the pandemic, these Palladium shows were originally scheduled for 2020 to promote Sting’s 2019 album My Songs, which features reworked arrangements of his greatest hits.
Some of these jazz-heavy makeovers survived the transition from studio to stage, but too many felt cluttered and ungainly. Once spry and supple, Englishman in New York was hobbled by over-fussy noodling and clobbering drums, while the vintage Police hits Walking on the Moon and So Lonely dissolved into lumpen Bob Marley cover versions midway through, complete with faux-Jamaican vocal mannerisms that bordered on audio blackface at times.
Sting even managed to sabotage the mighty Roxanne, sapping its gloriously wonky reggae-punk energy with pointless scat-jazz babbling. These songs were not broken, but he fixed them anyway.
But for all his lapses into toe-curling smugness and twiddly self-indulgence, Sting remains an undeniably skilled performer with a gold-plated back catalogue.
Among the highlights of this set were Shape of My Heart, featuring magnificent guest vocals from the backing singer James Eugene Roston III, a roaringly dramatic Desert Rose, which fizzed with feverish North African rhythms, and a reliably moody rendition of the evergreen Police classic Every Breath You Take.
Even after decades in the spotlight, Sting can be his own worst enemy at times, but this was still an impressively rich and sporadically excellent show.
(c) The Times by Stephen Dalton