Sting acts his age for the senior citizens of Vancouver
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday, December 8
“There’s no religion but sex + music” proclaimed one $35 T-shirt being sold in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thursday night. Such a message carries the suggestion of rock ‘n’ roll hedonism, but for Sting—the man whose name was emblazoned on the back of said garment—the reality is far more tame.
As a yoga practitioner and a long-time advocate of Amnesty International (there were several petitions available to sign near the merch booth), Mr. Gordon Sumner’s philosophy is one of peace and love rather than indulgence. It was only fitting, then, that the evening got off to a serenely mellow start when the audience filed into the theatre with a laid-back ambient soundscape playing over the PA system.
This was the beginning of a night that offered plenty of charm and rock-solid musicianship, but very little in the way of thrills. The gig was part of the former Police frontman’s Bass to Bass tour, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when he sidled on stage already clutching his four-stringed instrument and promptly launched into the sprightly acoustic number “All This Time” from 1991’s The Soul Cages.
Clad in a tight white T-shirt that left little to the imagination, the singer looked every bit of his 60 years. Still, his voice has held up admirably, and his singing was note-perfect as he led his five backing musicians through a perky version of the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” A couple songs later, he once again delved into his early ‘80s work with the bluesy, riff-rocking “Demolition Man.”
Despite the upbeat start, it wasn’t enough to coax the fans out of their chairs. The crowd largely consisted of couples in the 40-60 age bracket, and they remained polite but placid as the band launched into the Americana-tinged combo of “I Hung My Head” and “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying.” The singer self-deprecatingly noted that these songs were his “attempt to write country music,” but added that he was vindicated by the fact that the tunes had been covered by Johnny Cash and Toby Keith, respectively.
Affable asides such as this helped to keep the performance engaging, even when the energy began to sag thanks to too many deep cuts from the songwriter’s extensive back catalogue. The mid-set lull was eventually remedied by the barnburning “Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven),” which culminated in a virtuosic jam punctuated by densely syncopated funk and a show-stealing hoedown from fiddle player Peter Tickell. Unquestionably the highlight of the night, this finally got the concertgoers out of their seats, as they hailed Tickell with a standing ovation.
The main part of the set ended uneventfully with “Never Coming Home,” but Sting made up for this by returning for three—yes, three—encores. The crowd remained on its feet for faithful versions of “Desert Rose” and “Every Breath You Take,” and these mega-hits even inspired some onlookers to show off their embarrassingly wriggly dance moves.
Things came to a finish with Sting setting aside his bass and taking up a classical guitar for a solo version of “Message in a Bottle.” The coffee shop-style serenade was hardly the most electrifying of finales, but based on the fans’ enamoured response, it seems that this chance to sing along with their hero was exactly what they were looking for.
In the end, if anyone left the concert disappointed, this reviewer has one guess as to the nature of their complaint: why the hell didn’t Sting play “Roxanne”?