Sting came to Melbourne and had everyone dancing (politely) in the aisles...
It’s easy to be cynical about Sting.
As frontman of The Police, he was one of the coolest exports of the British New Wave. As a solo artist, he became a byword for a unique brand of cringe. His strident human-rights activism, startling turn as an actor (and even more alarming metallic codpiece in the original Dune), his enthusiasm for tantric sex – all while purveying his searchingly earnest soft-rock –made him an easy target for ridicule.
And yet, Sting slaps. This tour is named My Songs, and it showcases decades of songcraft. Some of those songs are among pop’s greatest. Some are not; but that’s hardly the point of the night.
The set opened with Message in a Bottle, then slipped into the radio staple Englishman in New York, before a delightful up-tempo slice of Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. A bravura opening – including a drum breakdown/call and response section during Englishman that felt only a little mega-churchy – had the audience dancing (politely) in the aisle. It was hard to spot someone in the crowd who did not know every lyric, a fact Sting acknowledged, thanking everyone for singing along nicely, before launching, somewhat apologetically, into new material.
No matter, the crowd dutifully took their seats for a few down-tempo selections from The Bridge (2021), then pogoed up again for a bracing version of So Lonely, which segued into a cover of No Woman No Cry.
For nearly two hours, Sting’s vocals never tired. The plaintive thirst of Fields of Gold, the rasp in Roxanne, the Arabic-language intro to Desert Rose originally sung by Cheb Mami – Sting nailed them all. Occasional vocal slips were smoothed by carefully supportive backing vocalists, who also provided virtuosic R&B and gospel vocal showcases.
It has to be noted that throughout the night Sting had the crowd, to paraphrase a lyric from the charming bric-a-brac of the setlist, wrapped around his finger. The years have been kind to Sting, but kinder to his music. His brand of mature vulnerability – that read as a sort of protean soft-boy cringe back in the jaded days of Fukuyama’s End of History – feels more welcome in today’s callous world, where authenticity and connection come at a premium.
This is a performer who kept ploughing ahead until the world was ready for him, a sort of pop-cultural tantric session. For a musician to reach this sort of a climax so late in a career, well, it’s a kind of magic.
(c) The Age by Liam Pieper