Sting at the Rosemont in Chicago
In the liner notes of Joe Jackson’s first live album from 1988, Jackson writes that artists should play the music they want to play when performing live shows because an audience will always see through a canned performance. Sting appeared to have taken this advice to heart for many of the earlier shows on his “Back to Bass” theater tour, as he ignored a great number of hits in favor of deeper cuts from more recent releases. You couldn’t blame some fans if they walked away from these performances a little disappointed.
At the Rosemont Theater near Chicago on Saturday night, Sting’s stance appeared to mellow just a bit, as a few additional audience-pleasing songs were inserted into the set-list. Still, it’s interesting to note first the songs Sting didn’t play: If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, Brand New Day, Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, You Still Touch Me, Why Should I Cry for You, Soul Cages, Fragile (or anything else from his second solo album, Nothing Like The Sun), and Set Them Free. If he’d denied the audience “Desert Rose,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “Every Breath You Take,” there might have been a riot. As it was, Sting did a nice job of interweaving various highlights from his repertoire, including stellar deep cuts, into the set-list, though the show still hit a bit of a lull about two-thirds in when he focused on tracks from his last studio album of originals, Sacred Love.
Supported by a first rate 5-person band, including a fiddle to take up many of the solos heretofore handled by woodwinds, Sting looked – let’s be honest here – fabulous as a sixty year-old man, sporting nothing more than jeans and a t-shirt. Yes, I’m happy he no longer takes off his shirt as he used to do while singing “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” but I’ve no doubt he looks better shirtless than I do at 17 years his junior. Ho hum. He plays better bass than I do, too. Absent on this tour were keyboards, and with rare exception, they weren’t missed in the least (and this is coming from a keyboard player). Like Joe Jackson, Sting manages to rearrange his songs to fit the instrumentation at hand and still have a full and exciting sound.
My three favorite Sting songs were all played, with “I Hung My Head” and “Seven Days” two of the show’s best of the evening. My other favorite, “Ghost Story,” which was preceded with an explanation of how String wrote the lyrics for his father, didn’t fare as well. The song was rushed and its climax was in need of additional instrumentation. Better represented were “The Hounds of Winter,” “Stolen Car” and “Dessert Rose,” the latter coming off surprisingly well considering the absence of keyboards, and one that coaxed the audience to its feet all the way up to the balcony.
Fiddle player Peter Tickell handled much of the solo opportunities with terrific results, the most memorable being an impassioned run during an extended outro of “Love Is Stronger Than Justice” (among the worst Sting songs ever recorded, though the fiddle helped to make it at least palatable).
Sting’s voice was mixed expertly, with nearly every syllable clearly understandable. Though the low-end of the band suffered a bit in the mix and the acoustic guitar came out sounding tinny, I appreciated being able to actually hear the stories in the lyrics unfolding during some of the more compelling songs.
Six Police selections were included, including “Driven To Tears,” “Next To You,” and the deeper track, “Demolition Man,” which came out even better than the original, as did “Sacred Love,” another subpar track from Sting’s last album, but which played better live than in the studio.
My three children attended the concert, and despite not knowing a good percentage of the material, they were able to enjoy the musicianship and the obvious talents displayed on stage. Seeing Sting perform an acoustic “Message in a Bottle” to finish the show is a memory I believe they’ll hold onto decades from now. It reminds me of how we had to leave the Paul McCartney show six years ago while he played “Yesterday” because one of my daughters was falling asleep. Perhaps fourteen is a better age to witness a legend. Oh well.
Next week we see Paul Simon at the same venue, and 70 years from now my daughters will be able to tell their grandchildren that they witnessed the greatest American songwriter (Simon) and the greatest English songwriter (McCartney) as youths. Throwing Sting in the mix is icing on the cake.