When Sting shouted out, “I want to hear you New Orleans!” the crowd shouted back in unison. While the city is in the midst of their Mardi Gras season, Sting brought that same kind of jovial fun to his set on Wednesday night at the UNO Lakefront Arena, performing with bass in hand just about the whole night and doing his trademark jump when the song felt especially good.
What makes this tour happily satisfying is Sting’s return to rocking his music. The last time he played New Orleans in 2010, he was predominately respectful, almost worshipful, of his songs, as they were performed with a symphony behind him giving them grace, emotion and spirituality. For his 57th & 9th Tour, he has dirtied them up a bit and the crowd loved it. Some of the best songs of the evening were rambunctious renditions of “Desert Rose,” “50,000,” “Next To You” and the blending of “Roxanne” with a sultry mid-song departure into “Ain’t No Sunshine” and then back into the raucousness of one of The Police’s biggest hits. And the reggae swinging of “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” and “So Lonely” has always been one of the best things we’ve loved about the former Gordon Sumner.
With the tour still brand new, having kicked off just a few weeks ago in Vancouver, there is a lot of energy going on. Sting has brought his son, Joe Sumner, along as not only an opening artist but utilizes his pipes as one of his background singers. The Last Bandoleros, a young band out of San Antonio, Texas, whose debut EP was just released last month, follow Sumner with five songs of their own as well as doing backing harmonies throughout Sting’s main 22 song setlist. In fact, the whole show is a group effort. Sting and his band – Dominic Miller, Rufus Miller and Josh Freese – come out for the last song of the Last Bandoleros set, making for a party onstage during “Where Do You Go?” The act is reciprocated during the first encore of Sting’s set when everyone joins him onstage.
Actually, Sting opens his own show with an acoustic “Heading South On The Great North Road,” a song off his new 57th & 9th album, released in November of 2016. He then introduces his son, who performs three songs, then the Lost Bandoleros come on and then it’s Sting, his bass and a whole lot of good music. He performs eight songs from the new album and eight Police songs, with only seven songs repeated from the 2010 performance.
Sumner, who is transitioning from the angry young rocker who spit out songs with his longtime group Fiction Plane into a singer-songwriter with more folk leanings than punk. Having begun his musical journey after discovering Nirvana and writing such songs as “Get Out Of My Face,” “Zero” and “Drink,” which he performed on an acoustic guitar during his mini-set, his new inspirations are coming from areas of deep thinking and family life. His new song, “Jelly Bean,” is a loving ode to his children. During his father’s set he comes back to the front of the stage to sing the David Bowie song “Ashes To Ashes,” a definite crowd pleaser if New Orleans was any indication.
The Last Bandoleros, although together for about three years, are just getting their careers started, and having a prime slot on the Sting tour should open more doors for them. A mix of rock and so-called Tex Mex, their set consisted of “Maria,” “River Man,” “Take Me To It,” “I Don’t Want To Know” and the fun rocker “Where Do You Go?” Singer Jerry Fuentes described “I Don’t Want To Know” as having been inspired by his mother’s living room decorations and it features a bouncy rhythm with Fuentes singing the first verse, guitarist Derek James on the second and bassist Diego Navaira on the last. Drummer Emilio Navaira returns to the main stage during “Desert Rose” and is one of the main reasons the song rocks as hard as it does.
One of the highlights of seeing Sting is his backing band. The often overlooked but extremely talented Dominic Miller lets loose and the smile on his face translates to his playing, hypnotically shining on “50,000” and playing a quite lovely intro to “Shape Of My Heart.” Miller’s son Rufus has come by his chops naturally yet is driving off in somewhat of a different direction. With his long hair and almost headbanging enthusiasm, he takes his soloing into a slight metal edge. If he is ever let loose, he will spray paint the wall with some hellacious notes. And drummer Josh Freese is just simply one of the best.
Not everything Sting gave us was supercharged. He allowed “Shape Of My Heart” to float on that lovely melody and the elder Miller’s gentle guitar playing. And the Academy Award nominated “The Empty Chair,” which Sting wrote about journalist James Foley who was beheaded by Isis in 2014 and is in the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story is heartbreaking in nature and presentation. Sting explained that he was too emotional about the story to write a song when they asked him to do so. But then one day as his own family was gathering around him, he began thinking what he would do if one of his children were in captivity and how would he deal with it, and one of his thoughts would be to have an empty chair at the table for them. Sting performs it at the very end of his show, by himself, playing an acoustic guitar. After such a fantastic evening featuring songs new and classic, leave it to Sting to send us home thinking about more than the music we just heard. A subtle hint that the world is changing and each one of us can play a big part in making it a better place.