Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)
The only question needing an answer heading into Sting’s Victoria debut on Friday night: Which version of the rock legend would show up?
The fiery Brit whose first band, the Police, produced an incredible number of hits over a six-year period? Or the easy-listening yoga practitioner whose last substantial hit was a decade ago?
Turns out he was a little bit of both at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Sting, 61, delivered a 21-song, two-hour set split evenly between Police hits and solo offerings. Not every song from both sides of his personality worked, but there was a uniqueness to many of the left-field choices that bookended his staple singles.
The rocking Demolition Man, from the Police’s Ghost in the Machine, was an aberration among the early mellowness, while the horn-heavy I Hung My Head, which Johnny Cash covered in 2002, gave the set a much-needed soul infusion. And the inclusion of Next to You was sensational. Hearing the band rip into the first song on the Police’s 1978 debut was one of the many songs that defied expectations on this night.
But those gems aren’t what the sold-out audience of 6,573 paid to hear, which is why Sting and his solid backing band spent the majority of the set singing songs that practically defined radio during the 1980s and early 1990s.
(Actually, I don’t know exactly what this crowd came to hear, because a cemetery would have been livelier on this night.)
Message in a Bottle, Wrapped Around Your Finger and Roxanne were expertly, almost effortlessly performed. But when he got to the trifecta (King of Pain, Walking on the Moon and Every Breath You Take) that came near the end of his set, it was impossible not to marvel at Sting’s hit-making abilities.
“You’re a lovely town,” he said. “I’ve never been here before. I’m a virgin. A Victoria virgin.”
At various points, Sting couldn’t conceal the fact that he has played the majority of these songs hundreds of times during his career. He flirted occasionally with adult contemporary sounds on songs that didn’t need them and decided to completely ignore his Grammy-nominated solo debut, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, and the hits (If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, Love Is the Seventh Wave, Russians and Fortress Around Your Heart) it spawned, which was an unnecessary oversight.
In the end, there’s no sense in thinking the Sting of 1983 is going to be the Sting of 2013, no matter how good he sounds. Whining about why he didn’t play this song or that one is a fruitless proposition: He touched on many facets of his career, from one of the first singles by the Police to their last — and on the night before Synchronicity, his final album with the Police, turned 30 years old, at that.
And when an audience member jumped upon the stage during Roxanne, Sting let her fly her freak flag for the duration. “That was a special, surprise treat,” he said, sounding genuinely moved by the interpretive-dance experience.
Sting still has some get up and go, as evidenced by the news that he showed up unannounced Thursday at a yoga studio in Kelowna, hours before his Back to Bass tour opened. And, it should be said, he still looks incredibly great (Sting can wear the stuff out of a T-shirt and jeans, simply put).
What more do you want from a rock star with a cadre of hits and an honest-to-goodness desire to still play them for his fans?