We know Sting as the King of Pain, the Prince of Tantric Sex, the Chief of the Police. Who knew he was the Family Guy?
That role was very apparent Thursday night at the sold-out Myth nightclub in Maplewood. The Rock Hall of Famer waltzed onstage precisely at 8 p.m., offered a solo acoustic number about where he grew up in England and then introduced his son, Joe Sumner, who sang three numbers with a Sting-like voice.
The family parade continued with the next act, San Antonio's Last Bandoleros, who feature a pair of brothers. Then Sting returned with longtime guitarist Dominic Miller and his son, guitarist Rufus Miller, and Sumner and the Bandoleros on backup vocals. Lest he leave anyone out, the bandleader mentioned that drummer Josh Freese, who played with the Replacements during their reunion gigs, had family from Edina.
But Sting was more than Family Guy on Thursday. He was Rock Hero, wearing tight pants, an even tighter T-shirt and a frequent smile. I can't remember him having as much fun onstage in the Twin Cities since his local debut in 1979 with the Police at the now-defunct Longhorn in Minneapolis. Oh, yes, Sting remembered that. He even mentioned it. Because he's also History Guy.
At 65, Sting knows his reputation all too well, and he has fun with it. He joked about his wealth ("my little house — well, castle really") and self-seriousness (he didn't have the authenticity to write a country song because he's from a country but not the country). He even toned down the seriousness of his music, rocking out on new numbers like the full-tilt "Petrol Head" (about "a truck driver and religion and sex"), the swinging 1993 oldie "She's Too Good for Me" and the Police's ebullient "So Lonely."
The band was loose but seldom cut loose during the 110-minute performance. Even though this is probably the most rock-oriented tour Sting has offered during his 32-year solo career, he doesn't allow for much spontaneity. Solos were economic, jams rare.
Nonetheless, the bassist/singer carried on with sufficient rock 'n' roll spirit to thrill the mostly middle-aged crowd and send himself into bursts of "yay-o" or "a-yo." You can gauge his happiness onstage by how enthusiastic he gets for those call-and-response chants of his hallmark non-words.
One of Sting's savviest moves was enlisting the Last Bandoleros, a Tex-Mex-meets-Britpop quartet, as opening act and auxiliary musicians for this tour. Not only did the male harmony singers add a new dimension to Sting's sound but so did the band's accordionist, Percy Cardona, who enlivened both new and old material.
This was certainly Sting's least jazzy solo trek, aside from his 2010-11 tour with an orchestra. Thursday's set list drew heavily from last year's "57th & 9th," his first pop/rock album in 13 years after self-satisfying sojourns into lute renditions of Renaissance music, orchestral treatments of his own music and musical theater (composing and starring in "The Last Ship").
Several new tunes didn't connect with the crowd. "One Fine Day" was pedestrian pop, "Down Down Down" was too down-tempo and tuneless, and "50,000" was too serious, addressing rock-star deaths (Sting didn't mention hometown hero Prince in his comments).
By contrast, the Police-evoking "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" surged triumphantly, and a solo acoustic guitar reading of "The Empty Chair" worked as the night's finale. Mentioning that he'd played the song Sunday on the Oscars — it was a best-song nominee — Sting explained how he came to write it for the documentary "Jim: The James Foley Story," about an American journalist photojournalist beheaded by ISIS. "I'd like to leave you with something quiet and thoughtful," he said. And he did.
However, the fans are more likely to remember the night they saw a seemingly ageless rock icon deliver invigorating versions of "Message in a Bottle," "Every Breath You Take" and "Roxanne." In a club no less. They never thought they'd get to stand so close to Sting.