With 40 years of performing, nearly 100 million records sold, 10 Grammys, two Brits, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, three Oscar nominations, a Tony nomination, Billboard Magazine’s Century Award, and being selected as MusiCares 2004 Person of the Year, it’s hard to describe what it’s like to be in the presence of an artist like Sting. With his upcoming show at the UNO Lakefront Arena on February 22 for the 57th and 9th Tour, I had to reflect back as a (reluctantly) aging Gen Xer contemplating my 30+ years’ relationship with this living legend.
Our First Meeting
As the door of my mom’s 1974 Chevy Impala slammed and the hulking gas guzzler sputtered off leaving me on the sidewalk, my world would change forever.
It was November 3, 1983, and there I was outside the Omni—Atlanta’s fabled concert venue—in the cold, with the bright lights of the outside signage radiating off my perfectly quaffed early-80s mullet hairstyle. Very expensive (for a 13-year-old) $15 ticket (yes, tickets were $15 in 1983)? Check. Jean jacket? Check. Hundreds of music buttons affixed to said jacket? Check. Comb sticking out of the back pocket of my jeans? Check. This was my first concert without my parents—a seminal rite of passage for any aspiring American youth, and I was ready. The band: The Police.
It was the Synchronicity Tour, the exclamation point on the trio’s ascension to becoming the biggest band in the world. The Synchronicity album is chock full of singles including “King of Pain,” “Wrapped around Your Finger,” “Synchronicity II” and, the mega-breakthrough hit, “Every Breath You Take,” and the album would win the Grammy for Album of the Year and catapult The Police into a stratosphere rarely reached by bands. They were about as big as a band could get and, for a young teen who had never been to a live concert without his mommy, it’s hard to explain the natural electrical magic that was pulsing in my veins.
Then the lights went down and the frenetic opening notes of “Synchronicity I” boomed out of the Marshall amps on the stage. There he stood like a Roman god. “How are you feeling?” he asked the frenzied crowd. I thought I might explode.
The show that night was filmed and later released on VHS—you can still see it today if you type in “Police” and “Omni” on YouTube. That night changed my life and set off a lifelong love affair with live music. Little did I know, that would be one of the last shows the band would play for almost 25 years. In the blink of an eye, the biggest band in the world disintegrated and Sting, like the incandescent star that he was, shot into an orbit of his own.
All Jazzed Up
Two years later, I had tickets again to see Sting (this time the ticket price had ballooned to $16.75—GASP!) and this time in support of his first solo album, Dream of the Blue Turtles. For this project, Sting had assembled a dream team of jazz musicians, taking an enormous risk by straying from the rock/punk/ska genres that had propelled him into superstar status. The record was a commercial success and a critical masterpiece—possibly the first and only successful crossover of jazz and rock where compositions blasted through the confines of typical rock barriers in phrasing and time signatures. Hits like “Set Them Free,” “Fortress around Your Heart,” and “Love is the Seventh Wave” demonstrated an uncanny ability to riff in just about any genre with arrangements that most rock stars would never have dreamed up. But to Sting, it was as natural as a smooth arpeggio.
Dressed in a sharp white pinstripe jacket, hair tamed but still radiant, Sting assumed center stage, leaving the bass lines to maestro Daryl Jones (formerly of Miles Davis and currently the bassist for the Rolling Stones) while he strummed a Stratocaster. This time, sprinkled among his new solo work were 10 Police tracks including the closer of the third encore, “Message in a Bottle.” Sting had moved on to a new phase in his career—one that would continue to evolve over the next two decades while his live performances continued to be the hallmark of his experience.
Re-Arrested by the Police
Then, in 2007, it finally happened: almost 24 years to the day after the first show I had seen with him, The Police reunited for a tour with a stop in my hometown. There was no way on Earth I was going to miss it—and this time, well into my late 30s and prospering in my career, price was not an object. The tariff on a third-row ticket? $260, just a 1,700 percent price increase since my 1983 show.
And what a show it was! I have seen many aging rock stars out on tour, decades past their primes. Typically, it’s an exercise of the artists getting through the performance without their bodies or their voices being carried off on a stretcher. Often times, the best you can hope for is to have your cherished classic hits to be sung at an octave or two lower. But not Sting. Despite the migration of his hairline, he still embodied rock-god status. First of all, he was in better shape than most 20-year-olds, a result of his dedication to a macrobiotic diet and the practice of yoga. And his voice—still gritty, still pure, still very much in the same range as when he used to belt out tunes while in his 20s, carried the show—every song in its original key. The finale, “Roxanne,” with its helium-range chorus, was as rapturous as I remembered it in 1983.
Back to the Future
I saw Sting again, solo, in 2012 at an outdoor amphitheater (tickets were a “bargain” at $141). It was a great show, combining a mix of Police classics with his solo work from over the years. But perhaps I most look forward to the upcoming 57th & 9th Tour, which arrives at the UNO Lakefront Arena. Sting will be joined by a three-piece band including his longtime guitarist, Dominic Miller, plus Josh Freese (drums) and Rufus Miller (guitar).
The tour is in support of his 12th solo studio album, 57th & 9th, a 10-song collection that reawakens the rocker in him, from the rowdy, guitar-dominant “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” to the fiercely expressive “Petrol Head.” There’s also the melodic “50,000,” which deals with the losses of beloved artists in 2016, including Prince and David Bowie (George Michael, with whom he collaborated on the legendary Band Aid project, had not passed away yet when it was recorded).
It’s clear that, even at 65, Sting has not slowed down and likely will redefine what an “older” rocker can do. Whether you are 13 years old like I was then or now 46, be sure not to miss the one-of-a kind experience of seeing Sting live.