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Review: Greg Phillips Photos: Jason Rosewarne

Sometimes a Melbourne Rod Laver Arena audience approaches the venue with a greater sense of anticipation than usual. Tonight is one of those occasions. Sting is back in town and it’s been quite a while between drinks. He’s on his My Songs world tour, so we know the hits will be forthcoming. Even better news for longtime Police fans is that he’s left his lutes at home! Instead he’s brought along his son Joe Sumner as support to open the shows for him.

Joe clearly possesses his father’s physical genes, vocal tone and likability but doesn’t come with dad’s bag of hit songs. However he does a great job of engaging the Melbourne crowd with his heartfelt ballads, played solo with just voice and a Fender Acoustasonic Strat. Jelly Bean is a playful tune he performs and dedicates to his kids, who he’s obviously missing. Something For Kate’s Paul Dempsey is welcomed to the stage to join Joe in a rendition of Hope, one of Joe’s more recent singles.

Joe Sumner

A fit looking 71 year old Sting takes to the stage with his well worn P-Bass and launches into Message in a Bottle with the crowd immediately bursting into song. Englishman in New York and Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic follow. Ain’t a bad way to begin a Sting concert. Dominic Miller on guitar and Zach Jones on drums are consummate musicians and deliver sublime performances of Sting’s current arrangements of the first two classic Police songs of the night. While Miller plucked his intricate guitar lines and Jones caressed his drum pads with superior stick work, my teenage heart was yearning for 1981 Festival Hall Police-style angst and aggression. (In fact you can hear that 1981 Melbourne Police concert on YouTube )

In his first chance to chat to the audience, Sting told the crowd that he felt quite emotional upon entering the venue earlier in the day and seeing Michael Gudinski’s statue, saying that his friendship with the late, great entrepreneur went back to 1980. The moment also gave Sting the opportunity to tell the audience they were in for a couple of new tunes, that “you never know, might even become hits one day”. If It’s Love and Loving You are quality tunes that give credence to Sting’s evaluation of the new songs.

If I Ever Lose My Faith in You and Fields of Gold,  delivers the first rush of Sting solo-era hits, allowing the band to add their extraordinary feel to the mix. Sting points out that the original harmonica intro to his song Brand New Day was recorded with Stevie Wonder and he calls on band member Shane Sager to step up to the plate and knock tonight’s version out of the park, which he did. It should also be stated the Sting’s voice throughout the night is as strong as ever, although more casual in his delivery than his early days.

A dramatic RnB version of Shape of My Heart from his Ten Summoner’s Tales album, featuring an amazing vocal performance by backing singer Gene Noble leaves the audience breathless. Melissa Musique takes the spotlight on Heavy Cloud, No Rain and shows off her spine-tingling range too.

The band handles the complex time signatures of Seven Days with ease but Sting’s request for the audience to take part in the vocal and clapping nuances requires a bit of guidance. Next up, What Could Have Been, a song from a Netflix animated series called Arcane, which is accompanied by a clip.

Heading into the pointy end of the night, it’s time for more Police hits. Wrapped Around Your Finger, also gets the 2023 arrangement renovation, receiving a light reggae, Arabian touch. Walking On The Moon too is given a more chilled out vibe than the original. Continuing the theme, So Lonely morphs into Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry before finally rockin’ out to the song’s end in one of the night’s many highlights.

A sensational version of the exotic Desert Rose is further accentuated by a dramatic lighting display, which must be said, has been a tasteful feature of the show all night. Joe Sumner returns to the stage to help dad out with King of Pain. A joyous, energetic Every Breath You Take brings the main set to a close, as the band take the obligatory short break before returning for the encore, which of course is the mega hit Roxanne. With the crowd in full voice and spotlights reaching out into the bleachers, it’s a total celebration of the career of one of music history’s greatest artists, with a significant catalogue (recently sold for over $300 million) which has become the soundtrack to the lives of many in attendance tonight. Sting takes a seat, calms us down and dedicates a gorgeous Fragile to the people of Ukraine, the protesters in Russia, the women of Iran and the victims of the earthquake in Turkey, leaving us with “something to think about”. Tonight Sting gave us a sprinkling of everything, all quality, all joy and not a lute to be seen … perfect!

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