Sting Live at Rod Laver Arena
Live Review – 23rd Feb at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
As the crowds spilled in to Rod Laver Arena, they were anticipating a jolt back to their childhoods via a live soundtrack curated for reminiscing.
Sting’s ‘My Songs’ tour promised to give all the feels, and cover his most popular tunes, helping the mature feel young again.
As seats were being filled, we were entertained by Sting’s son, Joe Sumner, who opened his support act with ‘Looking for me, looking for you’ to great applause. The song of his set was ‘Jellybean’, which he wrote for his kids. The inclusion of this little ditty was just delightful. It transported us to Sumner’s living room where we could imagine delighted kids faces as he sang this song written just for them.
The set ended with a guest appearance by Paul Dempsey (of Something for Kate). Together Sumner and Dempsey performed ‘Hope’, adding texture to the set with two guitars and voices, and endearing Sumner to the crowd by including a local talent onstage.
Sumner can sing, and Sumner can play – there is no doubt about that. With a high tenor vocal range similar to his father, and a falsetto to die for (sheesh, it was great!) his vocal performance was truly impressive.
However the set itself was misplaced in the stadium context. A number of songs were played to tracks, which pointed out the glaringly obvious: this guy needs a band. And when he dropped the tracks and played solo guitar with voice, a band was required to make sense of the changes. He gave everything to the performance, and is clearly a talented singer and musician, but on his own he just simply could not fill the space.
Which, thankfully, is a stark contrast to his father.
Sting began with a bang performing three of his biggest hits first up: ‘Message in a Bottle’, ‘Englishman in New York’, and ‘Every Little Thing She Does’. The crowd were up and on their feet, singing along to a stadium-filling sound, and joining a band who clearly love what they do.
It’s been over a decade since Sting performed in Melbourne last, and in 2011 it was with the MSO. That concert was a far cry from this arena concert designed to entertain with hit after hit.
What stood out was Sting’s seemingly endless energy, and unceasing vocal strength. At 71 he shows no sign of slowing down. Playing bass and singing continually for almost two hours, then suggesting this is not the last time he’ll tour here (I believe him), what really amazed me was his vocal range at his current age. He very rarely took a lower melody route – as ageing performers often do – but rather chose to sing high vocal melodies to align with the expectations of the original. In fact Sting very rarely strayed from the expected version of each song, allowing his fans to freely sing along and feel a part of the performance.
After the first three songs he broke into a couple of newer tracks, acknowledging that people don’t like hearing new songs at gigs, but justifying their inclusion by adding, “You never know, they could end up being hits.”
Sting’s ability to move from massive stadium-engaging songs to intimate lounge-room vibes without alienating his crowd is impressive. ‘The Shape of my Heart’ particularly, felt intimate and mellow, but still engaged and filled the room.
One minor disappointment was the letdown of the mix in a few different songs. ‘Desert Rose’ and ‘Fragile’ both rely on a female backing vocal that could barely be heard, in ‘Seven Days’ the acoustic guitar was inaudible, and the harmonica was often being played but rarely heard out front.
The tunes of the event for that reason were ‘Rushing Water’ and ‘Fields of Gold’, which both showcased tight and layered vocals, and exquisite solid-body acoustic guitar solos respectively. Both tunes imparted a haunting mood from stage to audience.
Experiencing this tour, it’s easy to see why Sting is so beloved this many years after The Police.
He is a true musician, with a unique emotive quality to his songs, and he performs them in a way that both respects and supersedes the original tunes, to the delight of the fans flocking decade after decade to see him.
An absolutely top-notch show.
Words: Heather Packett
Behind the Lens: Lucas Packett