Before the excellent second opening act (The Last Bandoleros), before even the first very good opening act (his son, Joe Sumner), Sting was the very first person to take the stage of the Smart Financial Center Thursday night. Part warmup, part introduction to the night, he grabbed his acoustic guitar, talked a little about his previous trips to Houston and played a lovely version of “Heading South on the Great North Road.” It was a delight and really set the tone for the rest of the evening, which - musically at least - was great front to back, top to bottom.
It was maybe the most selfless display I’ve ever seen a rock star put on. Most headliners, at best, give the briefest acknowledgment to their opening acts while trying to keep them at a certain amount of distance so that no one gets confused about who the star of the show is. Sure, every now and then you get someone who will let the opener join them for a song, but that’s about it.
Which is why it was a surprise, in the best way, when Sting and his entire band came out at the end of The Last Bandoleros’ set to join them on the very fun “Where Do You Go?.” There he was, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, winner of damn near every award under the sun, playing the tambourine and singing backup vocals. Yeah, members of the San Antonio band were drafted to do backup vocals for the headliner on this tour, but still, he didn’t have to show them as much love as he did. (The Last Bandoleros are back in town April 28, and you should probably go because their blend of Tex-Mex pop-rock is really great.)
After a short break, Sting and the band hit the stage for his set proper. Looking at the set list, you’d be correct in noticing that it’s missing some of his biggest hits, but in the moment it didn’t really feel like anything was missing at all. This tour is heavy on material from his new record, 57th & 9th, and while they’re not all home runs, some songs really stand out as strong additions to his repertoire. “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” in particular was a standout.
Still, it was the big hits that got the crowd on their feet. “Englishman in New York” and “Desert Rose” went over like gangbusters, as did “Message in a Bottle” and “Roxanne” from his days with The Police. Ever the front man, there was a ton of call-and-response in the show, with the crowd following along at every step. Sure, no “Fields of Gold” or “King of Pain," but if people were disappointed, they didn’t show it.
Overall, it was a very loose-feeling show, which is to say it felt like peeking in on a group of musicians just hanging out, playing rad tunes and enjoying being around each other. Given that there were two dads playing along with their sons and a pair of brothers, maybe that’s just the benefit of jamming with your family. Or maybe it’s that Sting is just so effortlessly confident that he didn’t mind leveraging his star power to make sure everyone got a chance to shine, be they blood or just a guy who can rip a wicked accordion solo. I would not mind if music had more men like him around.
Personal Bias: I’ve never really liked The Police as much as I should, but I acknowledge “Next to You” as being one of the best rock songs of all time. In terms of English dudes who left bands and found success in the ’80s, I rank Sting slightly ahead of Peter Gabriel but slightly behind Phil Collins.
The Crowd: Lots of folks dressed up all fancy-like for a Thursday night out at the new concert venue.
Overheard In the Crowd: All of the talking. So much talking House of Blues would blush. I know that we mostly live long enough to become what we hate, but if I ever have so much disposable income that I can afford to buy concert tickets just to have an interesting place to talk and drink with my buddies, I hope a higher power strikes me down. People are the worst.
Random Notebook Dump: It should come as no surprise that I, being a pop-punk-loving Tool fan, was super stoked to see Josh Freese drum live again. Considering he’s on four records that I think are incredible, it’s always pleasant to see him do his thing in person.
(c) Houston Press by Cory Garcia