It’s amazing how many Sting songs from the Ronald Reagan ’80s work well in today’s Donald Trump era.
In “Spirits in the Material World,” the 1981 Police song famous for its line, “There are no political solutions,” Sting sings, “Our so-called leaders speak/ With words they try to jail you.”
In “An Englishman in New York,” the 1987 Sting hit with the chorus, “I’m an alien/ I’m a legal alien,” Sting sings, “Takes more than combat gear to make a man/ Takes more than a license for a gun.”
In “Message in a Bottle,” the Police anthem famous for the line, “I'll send an SOS to the world,” Sting sings (in a song actually released in 1979), “Seems I'm not alone at being alone/ A hundred billion castaways/ Looking for a home.”
The British rocker sang all those songs Saturday at his sold-out concert at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. But he didn’t emphasize the politics. Had drummer Stewart Copeland been leading the band, as he did with The Police, the political parallels between then and now might have been given more of a musical exclamation. But Sting was more interested in entertaining than finding political solutions. He took advantage of The Show’s intimate setting to deliver a smartly paced concert that emphasized family togetherness.
Sting, looking fit and trim at 65, let his son, singer-guitarist Joe Sumner, start the show with three acoustic songs. Then the San Antonio band, the Last Bandeleros, featuring the brothers Diego and Emilio Navaira IV, performed a second set before joining Sumner as back-up singers and occasional instrumental supplements to Sting’s group, which also featured father-and-son guitarists Dominic and Rufus Miller.
They helped engage the crowd with straight-ahead rock versions of “Spirits,” “Synchronicity II” and “She’s Too Good For Me,” which the Bandeloros turned into a Tex-Mex song with an accordion solo. The concert's middle section was a showcase of songs from Sting’s latest album, “57th & 9th,” his first rock album in 13 years. The best was “Petrol Head,” a dynamic rocker about a truck driver who likes sex, speed and religion, but not necessarily in that order.
Sting has been doing this so long, he knew just when to cease with the less familiar material and raise the audience back up with “Message in a Bottle.” Then he brought his son forward for a number that became one of the highlights of the show. Sumner sang David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” ("I'm happy, hope you're happy, too"). The Miller brothers followed with a barrage of guitars leading to Sting’s recent song, “50,000,” ostensibly about Bowie, but applicable to all the musical icons who died in 2016 with the lyrics, “50,000 hands are raised to a man that's just like you and me/ We create the gods we can and gift them immortality.”
That lifted the concert into an orbit of rarefied air for the Coachella Valley. The Police hit, “Walking On the Moon,” got the crowd excited and Sting expertly played with their emotions on “So Lonely,” building to a crescendo, winding down to decrescendo and back to a big climax with a repetition of the syllables from the song title like a mantra.
Last Bandaleros drummer Emilio Navaira IV was brought out to play a snare drum that added tremendous energy to Sting’s solo hit, “Desert Rose,” which still featured the swirling world rhythms of the original, but went in unexpected directions, with Sting’s vocal improvisations leading into a couple verses of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” before returning to “Desert Rose” for the big finish.
Sting’s set ran just over 90 minutes, following the 35-minute opening acts and a 15 intermission, but he got in two encores before closing the show at 10:30, including a rocking “Next To You,” featuring all of the Bandaleros, and an upbeat version of his classic, “Every Breath You Take.”
The latter is an ominous song. Sting sings, “Every single day/ Every word you say/ Every game you play/ Every night you stay /I'll be watching you.” U2’s Bono would have milked the sickness out of every verse. But Sting just smiled as he sang it, adding a sense of irony, as if he was warning his audience.
In Sting’s hands, it was a fitting climax to a very entertaining evening.
(c) The Desert Sun by Bruce Fessier