In our article about “The Rules of going solo” for an artist that has emerged from an incredibly successful band, we highlighted Sting as having pulled off one of the most stunning stylistic reincarnations by creating and nurturing a sound that in reality is an invigorating cocktail of genres spanning rock, jazz, and eastern fusion. Sting has on several occasions in his illustrious career, demonstrated a propensity towards straying from convention . This modus operandi has undoubtedly also become the underlying theme on his “57th and 9th” tour – a tour intended to promote his most recent album titled “57th and 9th” (named after the street intersection that he passed on each day that he walked to the recording studio in which he recorded this album).
The first glimpse into Sting’s deviation from convention was his rather casual entry on to the stage at the beginning of the concert thus eschewing the theatrics typically associated with global superstars of his stature. He walked on to the stage just to say a quick “hi” to the audience and acknowledge their enthusiasm for braving the inclement weather courtesy of Blizzard Stella and attending the concert at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom on the final night of the US leg of the “57th and 9th” tour. He kicked off the show with a low-key acoustically driven track called “Heading South on the Great North Road” (from his new album “57th and 9th”). In the middle of the song, he introduced his son guest vocalist Joe Sumner. Joe Sumner might be Sting’s offspring but he is undoubtedly the vocal twin of his father. The resemblance between their voices is striking. Joe performed an acoustic set of three songs. For one of this performances, he was accompanied by Jerry Fuentes – lead singer of the show’s official opening act – The Last Bandoleros.
When the opening act began, the Last Bandoleros definitely came off as a band with far more swagger than substance – but it is with their performance of “I don’t want to know” (a Latin-flavored song inspired by the Mexican artifacts in lead singer Jerry Fuentes’ mother’s living room) that the band showed its first glimmer of true promise. Their flavor of music can be described as country-meets-rock – which makes them an odd choice for an opening act for Sting – and yet it seemed to work just fine. The transition between the performances of Sting, Joe Sumner, and the Last Bandoleros seemed almost fluid and unrestricted by the typically structured sequence of a concert.
The setlist featured a mix of songs from Sting’s years with The Police, the new album “57th and 9th“, and songs that span his 30-year long solo career. Fans of The Police would have been particularly pleased given that a third of the playlist consisted of songs from the back-catalog of The Police – the band in which Sting rose to prominence as one of the most successful musicians of the last four decades. Joe Sumner and the the Last Bandoleros stayed on as backup singers throughout the entire duration of the concert. The highlights of the concert were as follows:
Englishman In New York: To say that this is one of the most sublime moments of Sting’s solo career would be quite the understatement. Its infectiously catchy chorus enveloped in a sonic lustre that spans genres gives it the same shimmer that it possessed when it released almost 30 years ago. The performance of this song got the crowd going. That being said, the beautiful jazzy saxophone bits of the song’s studio version were conspicuous by their absence in the arrangement that Sting and his band performed.
One Fine Day: While “57th and 9th” might be Sting’s first pop/rock album in over a decade, it would be difficult for the objective critic to consider this album to be an essential in Sting’s legacy. The melodies on most songs on the album are not exactly memorable. The only exception to this set of songs is the beautiful “One Fine Day“. This song is far more reminiscent of the Sting all of us know and love. The sparse but precise use of harmonies from the backup singers on the song’s verses made the performance a huge improvement over the studio version of the song.
Shape of my heart: Sting introduced this song as being about a man that was both a gambler and a philosopher. Squeezebox performer Percy Cardona (who also played with the Last Bandoleros during the opening act) added his own personal stamp to the song in the instrumental portion right before the song’s final verse.
Desert Rose: In an electrifying performance which featured guitarist Rufus Miller successfully emulating the song’s middle eastern elements,Sting just might have taken the energy level of the venue up by a factor of ten. For this performance, he invited a lady from the audience to dance on stage through the length of the song. One cannot help but think that featuring an actual belly dancer would have been the icing on the cake. This was definitely one of the lost opportunities in terms of the visual element that this song could have encompassed.
Roxanne: To play live is to have the opportunity for experimentation and improvisation. This can manifest itself in the form a revised arrangement of a song or the inclusion of a whole different song within the confines of the original song. Sting opted for the latter by making a seamless departure from his hit song “Roxanne” to a cover version of Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine“. Ardent Sting fans would know that this rendition of “Ain’t no sunshine” was first featured in Sting’s live album “Acoustic Live in Newcastle”. It was incredibly refreshing to see an artist revisit a lesser known and under-rated slice of a stellar back-catalog. Sting was able to transition back to “Roxanne” with the same ease with which he drifted away from it into a whole different mood.
Nothing suggests a break from convention more than the concert’s ending did. Most artists and bands choose to end their concerts by giving their audience an adrenaline high via an uptempo classic. It seemed that Sting was doing exactly that with this performance of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. Interestingly enough, at the end of that song, and after the departure of the band from the stage, Sting returned alone and said to the audience that he wanted to leave them with something “quiet and thoughtful” – so that they would walk away from the concert being both quiet and thoughtful. He played a beautiful track titled “The Empty Chair“. While introducing the song, Sting explained that the empty chair is a metaphor characterizing the void that is left behind when a loved one is either away in trouble or in danger – or even worse, at the doorway to a tragic demise. This song was written about the fate of Jim Foley – an American photographer and journalist that died at the hands of ISIS in Raqqa (Syria) while covering the Syrian war in 2014. The song was a reminder that over the years, in addition to being a musician and an entertainer, Sting had increasingly become an ambassador for awareness of some of the unfortunate issues that our society has been plagued with. Needless to say, the performance was a humbling jolt back to reality after the escapism that the rest of the concert provided.
Like most concerts, this one definitely has its areas for potential improvement. As mentioned earlier, “57th and 9th” is unlikely to be considered an essential milestone in Sting’s legacy many years from now. While it is understandable that these concerts are aimed at promoting the new album, it would be great if Sting capped the showcase of the new album to five songs as opposed to playing seven songs from this new album. Instead, it would have been great if Sting had played some of his less celebrated moments – such as his rendition of “Windmills of your mind” (originally performed by Noel Harrisson) which was featured in the 1999 remake of the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair” – or “She walks this earth” – from the compilation album “A Love Affair – The Music of Ivan Lins.
Overall, Sting proved yet again that he is a potent force to be reckoned with. His is a career that budding musicians can only dream about. We wish him the best for his European leg of the “57th and 9th” tour and many more years of great music!
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