It’s all numbers– Sting is 65, looks 45, and played two shows last night back to back at Irving Plaza that reminded me of when he was 35 and launching his solo career. Tomorrow he releases a new collection of rock and pop songs called “57th and 9th” that puts to shame rock stars half his age.
But it’s also the musicianship and the architecture of his compositions– songs like “Message in a Bottle” and “Englishman in New York” sound brand new and as effervescent as they did when he first introduced them over three decades ago. And although he hasn’t released an album of songs like these in over a decade, the new ones are instantly recognizable sort of “next steps” in Sting’s songwriting canon.
I’m already in love with “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” a hit on Sirius and FM radio. But from the album there’s also the Beatle-y “Down Down Down,” the gorgeous ballad “If You Can’t Love Me” (a sort of masterwork that sounds like it grew from his great numbers on “The Last Ship”), a pop hit that radio will eat up called “One Fine Day” (with surprising lyrics) and “Petrol Head,” a punkish number that could have been found on an early Police album.
Sting, his longtime bandmate Dominic Miller, and the rest of his new crew could have been hidden behind a curtain and passed off as a new young hot band of the moment. It’s not just that they know what they’re doing, but they do it with soul. As on the album, the new songs come off so sharp in a live environment. And live, they and all the old songs like “Every Breath You Take” were incredibly fresh. An old Police chestnut, “Next to You,” just pounds away.
The second show last night was for members of Sting’s devoted fan club. They got a treat that the earlier audience didn’t (and mind you, these were two crowds of people who stood like sardines, danced and knew all the lyrics). Sting finished the second show sitting down for the first time, playing the ethereal “The Empty Chair,” which closes his album and was written for a new documentary about James Foley called “Jim,” which could earn him some movie award nominations this winter. The value added of the night was a talented female fan who jumped on stage and did a belly dance while Sting and the band performed “Desert Rose.”
What a night: Chris Botti was spotted in the audience, someone told me they saw the Olsen twins, there were actors and musicians from “The Last Ship” plus Oscar winner Paul Haggis. The two different crowds left on clouds maybe because it was so nice to see one of the last great rock stars fulfill their fantasies.
More on “57th and 9th” tomorrow.