Sting: My Songs Tour

Syracuse, NY, US
St. Joseph's Health Amphitheater

Sting, ‘An Englishman In New York,’ packs St. Joe’s Amp in Syracuse...

Few can make a front man out of a bass player. Only Sting can make it look quite so cool.

The English musician returned to Syracuse on Tuesday night to play an impressive set at a packed St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview.

The last time he was in Syracuse, he played at the Carrier Dome in front of 32,000 people. The first time, in 1978, he and The Police played at now-closed Firebarn Tavern. It wasn’t half full, said the singer.

But on Tuesday, 17,000 people came in on cue after the first few notes of “Message In A Bottle,” Sting’s first song on the setlist for this stop of his “My Songs” tour. The show had begun.

He followed cheekily with “Englishman In New York,” often gesturing at the crowd to sing along, then paused to talk.

“You’ve heard a few hits. You’ve sung along with them very nicely,” he said, then asked the audience to stick with him while he performed songs from his latest album.

“If It’s Love” was solid, if not the barn burners of some of his ’90s material. But the sultry “For Her Love” marked Sting’s first truly magnetic moment of the night, as the musician pared down the accompaniment and settled into a storytelling moment akin to “Fields of Gold.”

In a minute the indefatigable singer was back on his feet for “Rushing Water,” with characteristic meticulous harmonies. Sting might look like the Sex Pistols but he’s the first to admit that his music is far from the messy arrangements that defined ‘70s punk.

That much was obvious whenever the singer leaned back to let one of his band members take center stage — something he did often.

Before “Brand New Day,” Sting introduced harmonicist Shane Sager, the band’s stand-in for Stevie Wonder, who played the harmonica on the original 1999 recording.

Sager, plus guitarist Rufus Miller (son of Sting’s longtime right-hand man and guitarist Dominic Miller) and the truly, truly incredible Melissa Musique and Gene Noble on backup vocals had their own moments to lead the band. Sting introduced all the members more than once and gave Musique, Noble, Sager and both Millers plenty of space to breathe.

Sting’s own ability to belt a 17-song set has not wavered an inch in the four decades that he has been performing.

He sang right through “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” (winking at the audience at “You could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians”) then The Police’s “Walking On The Moon,” with an “Ay-o” call-and-response that Freddie Mercury wouldn’t have sniffed at.

After The Police’s “So Lonely,” Sting exercised some of his genre-breaking muscles with “No Woman, No Cry” by Vincent “Tata” Ford (later covered by Bob Marley) and “Desert Rose,” the result of collaboration with Algerian musician Cheb Mami.

Finally, he sang “King Of Pain” and “Every Breath You Take,” gathered up his bandmates in a line for a hand-in-hand bow and sauntered off the stage.

He was back a minute later to appease the encore, except — “I don’t really know what to do. What do you all want?” he said.

Roxanne, of course.

Guitarist Dominic Miller snapped the opening chords. The crowd cheered. Sting roared through the high notes in a voice like a racecar engine.

Halfway through, he dropped the tempo and spun out the melody into a smooth, swinging jazz piece.

“It has not escaped my attention that this song has become a college drinking song,” he said over the band. Every time he sings Roxanne’s name, someone takes a shot, he explained to the crowd, many members of whom hadn’t been in college for a little while.

“By my estimation, I sing that song no less than 17 times,” he grinned. The tempo surged forward.

“Rooooxanne,” he sang.

“Rooooxanne,” sang the crowd.

Somebody in the audience raised a beer.

“Good night, God bless you,” said Sting.

“We shall see you again.”

(c) by Jules Struck