Last Best Show: Sting at the Pavilion...
Sting brought his Back to Bass tour back to Boston Friday night. There were no symphonicities, as he calls orchestral versions of his songs, and, more importantly, none of that godawful lute music that he inflicted on his fans a while ago.
This time the former (and future?) frontman of The Police played nothing but his hits in a riveting look back at an enormously successful 25-year career. At a sold out Bank of America Pavilion, Sting and band delivered a perfect performance. On the longest day of the year, it was the fastest two hours I've spent at a concert in many a moon. Backed by what is probably the greatest group of musicians working today (only the E Street Band and the current Steely Dan lineup are their equals), this was nirvana for both fervent fans and those familiar only with Police classics.
Sting (the 61-year-old Gordon Sumner, playing on the first day of summer), is incredibly fit. When he arrived on stage wearing a skin tight white T-shirt and old blue jeans, women - and more than a few men - oohed and aahed.
The 16-time Grammy winner kicked things off with solo hit 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and Police smash 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', and it was evident early on that this was going to be a very special night.
First off, the sound mix was pristine; every word and subtle instrumental touch was clear as a bell; all touring acts should take such care with their sound!
Secondly, this is a no-nonsense band that clearly enjoys itself onstage. Sting plays a mean bass, and his arrangements are far from simple, even on such trifles as 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da'. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who attended Berklee for a year, is in a league by himself; he was, remember, in persnickety Frank Zappa's band for years. Pianist David Sancious was in the earliest versions of Springsteen's E Street crew and has worked with such diverse giants as Peter Gabriel, Santana, Stanley Clarke and Zucchero. Dominic Miller, another ex-Berklee student, is Sting's long-time guitarist and has been the in-studio go-to guy for Phil Collins, Rod Stewart, Backstreet Boys, Placido Domingo and the late Pavarotti. Toss in the violin playing of Peter Tickell and vocals of Jo Lawry and it's a first-rate group.
Thirdly, the songs are so damn good: 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', 'Roxanne', 'King of Pain', 'Every Breath You Take', et al.
Highlights were many. This review would never end if all were mentioned. But the reggae groove of 'Englishman in New York' and the group sing-along of its "whoa-oh" chorus was sublime... and loud: I bet the windows rattled at the Seaport Hotel down the street. A bone-crunching 'Demolition Man' followed by the gorgeous, quiet 'Fields of Gold', with lovely fingerpicked guitar by Miller, was a fine loud/soft mix. Tickell's violin solo on the jazzy 'Driven to Tears' was sensational and the funky 'Heavy Cloud No Rain' got everyone up and shaking their fannies. 'Message in a Bottle' was a euphoric rocker followed by the delicate, melodic 'Shape of My Heart', easily the best one-two punch of the night. And the dancing bear mascots wearing Bruins jerseys during second encore 'Next To You' got folks giggling and clapping. He dedicated the night-closing 'Fragile' to those who lost their lives in the Marathon bombing, and it was a terrific way to end a terrific show.
Sting has great affection for the city of Boston and its people. The Police's U.S. success really started here, he said, recalling his early gigs at the long-gone and much missed Rat and the support shown by the DJs at the long-gone and much missed WBCN. Sting launched his Back to Bass tour in October 2011 at the Wang, taking only the occasional break since then. Not quite Bob Dylan's never-ending tour, but pretty impressive nonetheless. He has a new album due in September: 'The Last Ship', music from a musical he wrote that will open on Broadway next year. So who knows when we'll get to see this killer band in action again. Soon, I hope. Because pop music doesn't get any better than this.
(c) Boston Herald by Bill Brotherton