Sting’s love affair with Toronto burns hot 45 years later.
Mononym pushed aside briefly, Gordon Sumner and his old band, The Police made their first Canadian and Torontonian appearance way back in November 1978 at the Horseshoe Tavern. Thirteen more shows would follow including a trio of Police Picnics that were likely the first North American ‘new wave’ festivals. Then a spry 27 years old, leaping around bass-slung onstage with his spikey shock of white blonde to last night, well, a spry 71-year-old strutting around bass-slung onstage with his spikey shock of a bit less white blonde.
Despite having released his latest album, The Bridge in late 2021, this tour began in 2019 following the release of his reworked hits on My Songs. For reasons that require no mention, it didn’t pick back up until 2 years ago. Buzzing its way through every continent on the globe upon the restart, it finally landed in Toronto on Sept. 5 on the North American fall tour. Although on this unseasonably scorching night that felt in the mid-30s, autumn seemed far, far away. He looked older but aged well and in enviously good shape, both musically, vocally and physically, despite the faux pas of wearing tight white pants (paired with a holey and even tighter short short-sleeved t-shirt) after Labour Day. However, being Sting, his wardrobe defies the reach of the fashion police.
Sting and band, comprised of longstanding guitarist, Dominic Miller, journeyman drum ace, Josh Freese, Kevon Webster on keyboards, backing vocalists Gene Noble and Melissa Musique, and overcaffeinated hype man slash harmonica player, Shane Sager took to the Budweiser Stage and promptly broke into Message In A Bottle, a song almost as old as Sting and in the same great shape. After a quick hello, Sting and crew dropped into one of his first solo hits, Englishman in New York. Back to his Police output, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic came next getting the crowd to their feet. If You Love Somebody Set Them Free from his first solo album got some boomer hips shaking. As did If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, adding to the string of songs that highlight a long career of writing iconic hits. The middle portion of the set allowed Sting to chat with the crowd a bit about His Songs. The entirety of the show including the banter and interplay with the band felt very rehearsed, but a few Las Vegas residencies will do that, I suppose. In introducing, Fields of Gold, he spoke about his Elizabethan-era country house near Salisbury, which he admitted is more of a castle, and described the fields of barley that surround it, and thus the impetus for the song. The songs that followed were some deeper cuts that were likely Sting’s faves more than the crowd’s as a bit of a doldrums dropped during performances of the sex-denial-smooth blues of Heavy Cloud No Rain (which featured Melissa Musique in the vamp role), a very mellow but appreciated Shape of My Heart, the underappreciated Why Should I Cry For You? and Mad About You. Segued out of Why Should I Cry For You? was a sweet and simple take on All This Time from 1991’s The Soul Cages.
Seeming to defy any natural aging, while the gathered mass wilted at times in the high heat, Sting looked like he was thriving under a sheen of sweat. He bopped and sashayed as he played his weathered 1957 Fender Precision bass showing to anyone who noticed just how innovative he remains on his main instrument. He can also be considered undervalued as a bassist. It’s hard not to harp on his age, however, it becomes relevant when discussing how his voice has amazingly changed very little over the decades.
For the final third of the show, it was all hits all the time, beginning with Walking on The Moon, flowing into So Lonely that broke into Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. More boomer bait was dropped with Desert Rose before a trip back to the Police days with a high-speed tempo King of Pain, which brought show opening artist and Sting progeny Joe Sumner out to sing alongside his father. Unsurprisingly, there was no better voice onstage to add to Sting’s due to just how much the two sound alike vocally. Joe stuck around to sing backup next on Every Breath You Take, which made me think how he was singing these not-so-kind words assumed to be inspired by his mother and Sting’s former wife. A grand faux goodbye didn’t last long as the band returned to play an extended Roxanne with a bit of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). Sting and backup singers made a point of getting the crowd into the call and answer of the song. To close the show, Sting said he always chooses to end with something slow and thoughtful which had him at the front of the stage strapped with a nylon string guitar to perform a gorgeous rendition of Fragile. After 20 classic songs, there was nothing left for anyone, performers and audience, to say apart from goodnight.
Unlike many of his touring septuagenarian contemporaries who may be viewed as a must-see due to years lived with a question mark on those remaining, the man is clearly immortal and a model for clean living (and being fabulously wealthy). But the real reason to see Sting is that he comes bearing a wealth of songs so embedded in the zeitgeist that even his band members who didn’t have a microphone could be seen singing along, just like the thousands and thousands who come to witness the legend each and every show.
The enormous My Songs tour rolls through some more East Coast shows before traversing all over the West and Southwest US through the fall. Sting takes the last leg back to Europe a SIXTH time where it is set to end on December 16th in Pamplona, Spain after a staggering near-300 shows, if my math is correct.