Former Police frontman, Rock-and-Roll Hall-of-Famer, and dad-rock royalty Sting made his way to the Lakefront Arena the Wednesday before Mardi Gras, marking the first time the English musician returned to the arena since June of 2010. The event was particularly of note to the University of New Orleans community because tickets were discounted to students, faculty and staff.
Supporting Sting on this tour were a few predictably mediocre opening acts, with Sting’s son Joe Sumner even on guitar for a few numbers—arguably the only really redeemable quality from the opening set.
Sting gave an opening teaser with a new song, “Heading South on the Great North Road,” but really got down to business with the surprisingly strong opening number, “Synchronicity II” from The Police’s early catalogue. That set the tone for more of Sting’s back catalogue of Police- and solo-era hits, sprinkled in with new-ish material.
The show largely seemed to reflect current events, with the singer-songwriter getting subtly political on songs like “Spirits in the Material World,” “Englishmen in New York,” and “Pretty Young Soldier.” The latter song of the trio is from his newest album “57th & 9th” which, as the title of the leading single, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” indicates is—at worst—corporate-Walmart rock and—at best—catchy and not completely forgettable.
Twenty-first century renditions of “Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take” and even a reggae-tinged version of Sting’s only country-western hit “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” delighted the mixed crowd of millennials and baby boomers. The best numbers of the night, however, were the songs that needed no special millennium treatment: the crystal-clear “Message in a Bottle” and the ever-haunting middle-eastern samba, “Desert Rose,” somehow managed to sound better than ever live and in person.
To everyone’s unanimous surprise, the singer-songwriter reappeared alone after the encore with an acoustic guitar and a solitary chair on stage, strumming out “The Empty Chair,” a social commentary about the killing of journalist Jim Foley—ending the high-energy Wednesday night with some sort of poignancy.
In short, a Sting concert is one of those events that you show up for because your parents bought you a ticket, but you end up staying to watch the kick-ass live band. Sure, the live band may have four decades of dad-rock staples, some aging better than others. And yeah, it may not be enough to get you drunk at the open bar, singing “Roxanne” at the top of your lungs on some couple’s dinner table, but it’s enough to tell your friends that some old British guy with a funny stage name can blow most modern-day ukulele-toting indie bands out of the water.