Following a highly successful but half-hearted Police reunion tour and forays into symphonic and Renaissance music, Sting has gone back to the basics on his aptly named Back to Bass tour. Playing the first of three sold-out shows at the Wiltern Theatre, Sting adeptly wielded his electric bass guitar all night, the instrument he picked up as a schoolboy in northern England that eventually catapulted him to stardom with the Police.
It seems a fitting time for the star to return to his roots, having just celebrated his 60th birthday and released a retrospective box set marking his 25th anniversary as a solo artist. Looking lithe and lean as a man half his age, Sting seemed completely at ease leading his able five-piece band through re-imagined versions of several familiar tunes. Kicking off with the crowd-pleaser “All This Time” and segueing into the Police favorite “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” it looked as though it might be a greatest hits evening, but Sting soon delved deeper into his catalog, pulling out “Demolition Man” and “I Hung My Head” as well as several tunes that never made it onto commercial radio.
Standing center stage with dramatic white lights illuminating him from above and below, Sting frequently lapsed into storytelling mode, explaining to the audience his inspiration for several tunes, such as a fox that stole chickens from his farm (“End of the Game”) and a psychic car thief who could intuit the details of his victims’ lives (“Stolen Car”). It wouldn’t be a Sting show without addressing the perils and exaltations of love, so in the midst of “Fortress Around Your Heart” and the country-tinged “Love Is Stronger Than Justice,” the singer dispensed relationship advice culled from decades of marriage, encouraging the crowd to risk it all for love.
Despite his stories, Sting still maintained a regal distance from his fans throughout most of the evening. Although the vital elements for an incredible show were in place – a charismatic singer with a plethora of hits whose voice hasn’t diminished with age, a stellar backing band, and a room filled with adoring fans – the performance lacked a certain magical quality. Perhaps it was too easy an outing for a man who can command arenas and seamlessly transition from rock to jazz to country and back again. Sting could take a page from his own book, infusing his entire performance with the intimacy he brought to his third encore, which saw him standing alone with his defenses down playing only an acoustic guitar as his voice rung out with the beloved, heartbreaking lyrics to “Message In A Bottle.”