Forty-six years after he came out of Newcastle, England, with mates Andy Summers and Steward Copeland to form The Police, Sting delivered on April 12 a triumphant performance of Police songs and Sting solo material at the intimate and classy, 2,500-capacity Hard Rock Live venue, 35 miles north of Sacramento.
Spanning his entire career and touching on almost every Police and Sting album over the past six decades, we were reminded what a wonderful song-crafter he is. Each song is its own unique piece of work, with each offering’s grooves and musical phrasings unlike any other song. And lyrics-wise, it was joyful to hear Sting’s always intelligent, poetic, thoughtful, and topical (sometimes political; Sting leans progressive) words.
Now 71, Sting was a toned and muscular figure on stage, wearing a tight, slightly tattered old T-shirt and singing and strumming on his trusty, well-worn 1954 Fender Precision bass. Conversational, clear-eyed, and witty, he often moved about the stage to musically converse with bandmembers while he wasn’t center stage – a few times performing from a barstool when he wasn’t aggressively playing, singing, and rocking about.
Almost every song could be considered a “highlight,” but some standout performances included a fun “Heavy Cloud No Rain,” a poignant “Fields of Gold,” and an epic “Every Breath You Take,” with an extended and clever “I’ll be watching you” segment toward the end of the song. Also fabulous was the ska/reggae-ish old Police song “So Lonely,” which had a nice chunk of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” embedded within including the repeated hook, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” In introducing the song, which Sting said was influenced by the Marley tune when it was written, he said that even now this line “gets to” him”: “Good friends we’ve had – good friends we lost along the way.”
Sting and his seven-piece band ran through almost two dozen songs including soft ballads, such as “Fields of Gold” and “Shape of My Heart” to many-a fine mid-tempo selection, to rocked-out ska-punk-infused raucous Police-era fun, including “Walking on the Moon” and “Message in a Bottle” (and of course, “Roxanne”).
After opening with five hits, Sting performed two selections from his 2021 album, “The Bridge”: “Loving You” and “Rushing Water.” Both were pleasurable, well-received, and did nothing to diminish the energy in the room. The set also included the ballad, “What Could Have Been” (written by Sting and Ray Chen) from the “Arcane League of Legends” animated action/adventure-series soundtrack, also from 2021, and was accompanied by a wonderful animated movie on the big screen behind the band.
The pace of the show was snappy, in terms of both a) moving from song to song and b) the tempo of each piece of music that in some instances, such as the epic performance of “Every Breath You Take,” was offered at a quicker clip than the original.
Lead guitarist Dominic Miller, who co-wrote “Shape of My Heart” and who has been with Sting since 1991, was on-point all night. Other bandmates, all of whom added meaningful input to the show, were Kevon Webster (keyboards), Shane Sager (harmonica, which was especially impressive playing the part Steve Wonder played on the original recording of “Brand New Day”), Gene Noble and Melissa Musique (backing vocals), and Zach Jones (drums).
The double encore of a rocked-out “Roxanne” followed by a tender “Fragile” was a pleasing way to end the show.
Opening the show was Joe Sumner, Sting’s 46-year-old son, who appeared as a solo artist and offered a pleasing 30-minute set of material. The younger Sumner came back out to sing with Sting and his band on a couple of songs late in their set.
Sting, with The Police and as a solo artist, has earned 18 Grammy Awards (and has been nominated for over 20 more) and has sold in the neighborhood of 100 million records. The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and finished as Billboard’s No. 1 single of 1983.
While it is kind of near Sacramento, Hard Rock Live, part of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at Fire Mountain complex, is in a remote locale well north of the state capitol – the closest town being Wheatland, California (population 3,715, eight miles away from the venue). Hard Rock Live is less than two miles from the Toyota Amphitheatre, also nestled in rural Yuba County.
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at Fire Mountain is on the land of and owned by the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria Design. “This location is in the southern end of ancestral lands which lie between the south and north forks of the Feather River,” according to 500nations.com. The casino opened in late 2019, and Hard Rock Live’s first major event, with Maroon 5, took place in June 3, 2022.
Sting: Message in a Bottle, Englishman in New York (I'm a legal alien), Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, If You Love Someone Set Them Free, Loving You, Rushing Water, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, Fields of Gold, Brand New Day, I Hung My Head, Shape of My Heart, Heavy Cloud No Rain, What Could Have Been, Mad About You, Walking on the Moon, So Lonely/No Woman, No Cry/So Lonely, Desert Rose, King of Pain, Every Breath You Take Encore: Roxanne, Fragile