In releasing "57th and 9th," all those public relations people and music reporters kept talking to Sting about how this was his first rock album in years.
But to Sting, the former frontman of influential British export The Police, it didn't exactly feel that way.
"I play rock and roll every night, and it's been part of my DNA since I was 7 years old," he laughed in an interview just weeks ago. "That puzzles me a little bit."
And it was precisely that DNA that fueled his Thursday (Feb. 22) night return to the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. The genre has fueled Sting for decades, and it's as much a part of his music as the storytelling approach he takes to his songwriting, which, like the musician, can be as much playful as sincere.
With a setlist spanning the hits of Sting's time with The Police and highlights of his most recent album, he led a much simpler band arrangement than his last trip to New Orleans in 2010.
Back then, he was touring with the 45-member Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This time around, however, he brought just the father/son guitar-playing pair of Dominic and Rufus Miller, drummer Josh Freese plus backing vocalist Joe Sumner, who is Sting's own son and a musician in his own right. The group was also joined by openers Los Bandoleros on vocals, returning the favor to Sting and his band, who joined the earlier performers onstage for their own finale.
Wearing a pair of tight black jeans and a tight blue shirt only rockers can really get away with, Sting led the charge for nearly two hours and two encores, slowly warming up an audience clearly suffering from what must have been a little Carnival-induced lethargy.
"We are delighted to be here in New Orleans. It's such a special week for you. We're wearing our beads," said Sting, who had his own green pair wrapped around his left wrist, before introducing his band and the song "She's Too Good For Me" from 1993's "Ten Summoner's Tales."
As bandleader, Sting deftly passed off the spotlight -- literally and figuratively -- to the men around him, finding shadows onstage as the Millers enjoyed solos. But he also delighted in telling his own stories, offering a peek behind the songwriter's curtain as he explained the genesis of "Pretty Young Soldier." (It's inspired by old British folksongs about women crossdressing to find their beloved at war, if you were wondering.)
In introducing his band, Sting joked that he "very shrewdly" hired Dominic Miller's son "as a sort of guarantee, because you never know."
The band also tackled "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying," a song Sting wrote for Toby Keith, but on Thursday, it went reggae.
"We brought the guys to do some very silly back-up vocals, and they have to it because I'm the boss," he said with a smile as the men woo-hoo'd behind him. "See what I mean? Can you do it again? Can you do it all night? I love it!"
The night, however, wasn't all for laughs.
In a second encore, Sting introduced "The Empty Chair," a song he wrote for "Jim: The James Foley Story," a documentary about the war correspondent who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and beheaded on camera in 2014. The song earned Sting an Academy Award nomination, and he's next off to perform it at the award ceremony Sunday.
"I watched the film, and I was in floods of tears at the end of it. I was so emotional," he said, adding that his deep response to it initially made him refuse the offer to write a song for it. Eventually, he wondered what he would do if one of his loved ones was abducted, and it mentally landed on the metaphor of leaving an empty chair at the table at dinner time. "At a time when journalism is under attack ... this young man is incredibly important. He put himself in harm's way, he put his life on the line to bring the truth."
In an earlier moment, Sting stepped offstage so Sumner, his son and thusly his own genetic replacement, could channel David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes" as a poignant introduction to "50,000," Sting's meditation following Prince's death on what musicians leave behind.
The song flowed into The Police's "Walking on the Moon" and "So Lonely," and his own "Desert Rose," which required one of Los Bandoleros smashing on an extra drum kept upright with the musician's foot.
Under a wash of white and then red lights, the whole ensemble fell into "Roxanne," which evolved into a groovy call and response as Sting marched in place and found something sultry for "Ain't No Sunshine" before returning for a funky end to "Roxanne."
And Sting's audience, finally on their feet, clapped for more.
(c) Nola / Times-Picayune by Chelsea Brasted