On “50,000,” a forlorn track from his fine new album 57th and 9th, Sting sings, “Rock stars don't ever die, they only fade away.” If Thursday’s show at the Palladium in Hollywood was an indication, the former Police-man has a long time before he has to worry about his light dimming.
The crowd-pleasing show, part of Citi Sound Vault’s Grammy week series that also includes Beck, The Chainsmokers and Metallica, was his second night at the venue and, like the previous night, spanned his full career, from early Police to recent single “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” It was the latest stop on Sting’s current tour, which has him playing clubs and small theaters for the first time in more than 35 years.
Below are the best moments from the show:
“Heading South on the Great North Road”: A few minutes after 8 p.m., Sting came onstage along with a guitar (shortly joined by guitarist Dominic Miller) to welcome everyone. He joked about the Police’s first trip to Los Angeles in 1979 and how he made the car stop so he could examine a palm tree, which he’d never seen before up close. He then launched into “Heading South,” a lovely autobiographical tale about heading from his hometown of Wallsend, near Newcastle, to London to pursue his dreams. He introduced his son, Joe, and then came back onstage to join the second support act, The Last Bandoleros, for a spirited version of their tune “Where Do You Go." As word has spread that Sting comes on first, he nicely set the tone for the evening, but he also smartly ensures that people get there to see the openers.
“Spirits in the Material World”: After opening his set with a full-throttled “Synchronicity II,” Sting segued into this track from 1981’s Ghosts in the Machine, supposedly the first he ever wrote using a synthesizer. In concert, it took on a far more muscular tone than on record, due to a crisper, punchier arrangement, Sting’s deeper reading of the lyrics -- perhaps from the passage of time -- and Miller’s strappingly robust guitar solo.
“Petrol Head”: While Sting devoted much of the set to choice catalog cuts, he still delved deep into 57th & 9th, playing eight tracks from the new set, his first rock album in nearly two decades. Some of the songs work better than others -- as intriguing a tale as “Pretty Young Soldier” weaves, it feels like it’s taking a spot better used for something superior -- including “Petrol Head,” a pedal-to-the-metal, grungy rocker that recalls mid-career Police and that his phenomenally tight band sunk its teeth into with gusto.
“I’m So Happy, I Can’t Stop Crying”: Few songwriters are able to pull off the juxtaposition of an upbeat melody with a sad lyric, but few songwriters are Sting. He originally recorded this song, featured on 1996’s Mercury Falling, as a country track and, later, scored a No. 2 hit on the country charts in a duet with Toby Keith. “I’m glad Toby didn’t do it at the inauguration,” Sting said Thursday night, before performing a revamped, suped-up version that played up the reggae elements that subtly informed the original to transform it into a completely new animal, tears still intact.
“Message in a Bottle”: Like Sting, “Message in a Bottle” has aged remarkably well. Almost 40 years in -- and even though we all know how the story ends by now -- there’s still a sense of relief when those hundred billion bottles wash up on the shore. Sting performed it not only with the verve of someone who had not sung it literally thousands of times before, but he held a ridiculously long note at the end that had the audience in awe. He was in fine vocal form all night, but never more so than on “Bottle.”
(c) Billboard by Melinda Newman