Sting: My Songs Tour

Concord, CA, US
Toyota Pavilion at Concord

Sting celebrates 72nd birthday at Toyota Pavilion...

Singer-songwriter and rocker Sting brought his My Songs Tour and a positive life outlook to Toyota Pavilion on Monday.

After a fun, slightly ramshackle take on “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” the former Police frontman talked about getting stuck in traffic in Oakland earlier in the day before remembering it was his birthday—he turned 72—and appreciating the privilege of being a musician and having a stage on which to play on his special day.

A group of fans tried to get a round of “Happy Birthday” going, but Sting seemed more interested in keeping the momentum going, with his band launching into one of his many love songs.

On this tour, which is midway through a 10-show return engagement in North America, the 17-time Grammy winner is playing many of his most-loved tunes from his solo and band careers. In Concord, he was joined by a solid band that allowed him to play both alongside and atop, and three backing singers who each had multiple moments to shine via solos or duets with Sting.

Following the band members, he walked across the stage for the start of “Message in a Bottle” before walking back again, giving both sides of the amphitheater some love while singing into a wearable microphone. While the band played a quick melody he plucked out a leisurely riff on his bass.

The following tune, “Englishman in New York,” surprisingly prompted what would end up as the loudest singalong of the evening. It was also the first of numerous opportunities for harmonica player Shane Sager to blast out a bluesy solo, while drummer Zach Jones (who replaced Josh Freese when Freese joined the Foo Fighters) turned up the intensity with a modern-sounding breakdown.

Sager also shined while covering Stevie Wonder’s parts on “Brand New Day,” from the 1999 album of the same name.

The tour shares its name with Sting’s My Songs (2019), a reworking of some hits—but largely sticking with his first love of rock and roll rather than his excursions into jazz and reggae (among other genres). Some of that tinkering made it into the arrangements on this tour in the forms of mid-song tangents or snippets. But he definitely didn’t skimp on the rock in Concord. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” for example, stayed true to the bouncy original, until a short drama and jazzy outro.

“We’re gonna play a couple of love songs and then we’re gonna talk about it,” Sting announced before sitting down on a stool for “If It’s Love.” Afterward, he elaborated:

“The least favorite songs for a love song is ‘I love you and you love me,'” he said. “Far more interesting is I love you and you love someone else.'”

That led into the slower and sleekly darker “Loving You,” on which guitarist Dominic Miller played on ominous melody. The song built up and got louder, with one of the backing singers duetting with Sting.

Next came a couple crowd-pleasers in the nostalgic “Rushing Water” and “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” On the latter, a lyric about losing belief in politicians got a noticeable ovation. Sting’s and Miller’s playing waved around each other, creating a warm rhythm and melody.

For the romantic “Fields of Gold,” Sting told story of being inspired by the barley fields that surround his home in England. In fact, he introduced most of the songs with a short story or anecdote. Introducing “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying,” a country-inspired tune from 1996’s Mercury Falling, he spoke of falling in love with the genre and being honored when artists like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Toby Keith covered his songs. Keyboardist Kevon Webster, mimicking a pedal steel, led this rendition. “Mad About You” was inspired by the story of King David and Bathsheba, he explained.

“I’m not a conventionally religious person, but I read the Bible,” he said, explaining the good book is a fount of inspiration.

On the sleek and sensual “Shape of My Heart”—Sting acknowledged at one point that with his many experiences of having his heart broken and breaking others’ hearts, he had a lot of real estate to work in for the love songs—vocalist Gene Noble delivered an on-point snippet of Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams.”

And vocalist Melissa Musique shined throughout. On the bluesy “Heavy Cloud No Rain,” she delivered some risqué comedy when she crouched down low to get a good look at Sting’s bass handling.

“I know it’s your birthday, but, ‘No Rain!'” she belted, jumping back into the song’s lyrics.

The latter part of the show laid on The Police songs, including the reggae-tinged “Walking on the Moon,” which had several movements and tempo shifts; “So Lonely,” with a bit of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry;” rocker “King of Pain,” on which he was joined by his son (and show opener) Joe Sumner; and massive hit “Every Breath You Take.” Among those, he included a standout performance of Eastern-leaning solo song “Desert Rose.”

After a quick break, he and the band returned for an encore of “Roxanne,” on which he threw in a jazz- and reggae-tinged movement, and “Fragile,” off of 1988’s …Nothing Like the Sun. He played the latter on an acoustic guitar to close the show.

“Thank you for sharing my birthday with me tonight,” Sting said.

Joe Sumner, 46, opened the concert with a 25-minute set of acoustic-based songs, which he played on a hollow body electric guitar through an acoustic filter, and backing tracks.

The performance by the Fiction Plane frontman included the relaxed “Looking for Me Looking for You,” uptempo folk rock tune “The Same,” and the fun “Jellybean,” about his children—whom he said he was excited to finally see after the show. There was also a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” that completely stripped out the famous Bo Diddley beat and turned this classic into a folk pop song with Sumner singing in falsetto.

The younger Sumner had the biggest surprise of the night, inviting Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito up on stage to perform “Hope,” with Negrito singing backup and clapping along, and then the Beatles’ “Birthday” for Sumner’s dad.

(c) Riff magazine by Roman Gokhman