Hit-filled concert reminds us of British singer-songwriter's vitality...
Sting ended the year where he began.
After kicking off his 2023 touring schedule in Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena in January, the British singer-songwriter concluded an impressive run of 106 shows at a lavish New Year’s Eve gala at Atlantis, The Palm.
With this knowledge, it's little wonder the band exhibited all the joy and casualness of pupils on their last day of school.
This made for one of the most inconspicuous entrances I have seen at a major concert.
After a supersized cover band – complete with half a dozen singers, string and horn section – concluded their first set, the stage was quietly rearranged for Sting and his backing group to seemingly pop-up out of nowhere.
The singer, whose real name is Gordon Sumner, acknowledged the low-key introduction as he strode up the T-shaped stage to declare to the crowd: “Well, are you going to join us or not?”
It was all tongue in cheek, of course.
And if the 4,000-strong audience needed any more motivation to delay their trip to the mammoth buffet, the spidery guitar riffs of Message In a Bottle did the trick.
The 1987 classic by The Police, with its deft blend of reggae-vocal arrangement and throbbing new-wave basslines, launched a 60-minute show with a set list easily functioning as the ideal Sting playlist.
Next up was English Man in New York, another sumptuous fusion of pop balladry and smooth jazzy vocals.
While Sting is a multi-instrumentalist, his live shows often have the strident basslines of his weathered 1954 Fender Precision at the forefront.
It gives tracks such as the sprightly Every Little Thing She Does is Magic and the majestic If I Ever Lose My Faith in You an added warmth – and at times, mirth – missing from the studio recordings.
That said, Sting also knows when to hang back, as he did in the beautiful Fields of Gold.
Following his now-standard dry introduction, “this is a song about my small house in England – well, it's a castle, really,” it was Dominic Miller’s mandolin that took the lead for the Celtic-tinged folk song.
The jubilant Brand New Day belonged to harmonica player Shane Sager, who replicated Stevie Wonder’s fiery contribution to the original with a swagger of his own.
When the expectant basslines introducing Walking on the Moon rumbled from the speakers, Sting was back in the forefront.
His voice may now be huskier, but it is still agile enough to reach the high notes he wrote for himself as a much younger man.
Even more impressive was his delivery of Roxanne, which is a vocal high wire act from start to finish.
While Every Breath You Take may have sounded brooding and mysterious upon its release in 1983, Sting transformed this song of icy compulsion into a celebratory anthem to end the new year.
And why not? Strip away some of the tumultuous lyrics and beneath them stands an irresistible pop song that still sounds vital 40 years on.
Even if Sting wasn’t on hand to launch the countdown, launching a spectacular firework and drone display, it was a potent way to help pull down the curtain on 2023.
(c) The National by Saeed Saeed