There are two very clear sides to viewing Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting, the former singer/songwriter/bass player for The Police and solo star (since 1985). One is the objective eye, which says he is, without question, one of the finest performers, musicians, singers, etc. of the last thirty-plus years and his concerts are wonderful executions of precision playing and flawlessness. The other is the subjective eye, in which the word “insufferable” seems to always start the sentence, usually followed by expletives and hyperbole. I would prefer to veer away from the latter as it doesn’t serve any purpose.
Here’s the takeaway from watching this new concert DVD, Live At The Olympia Paris: it is, indeed, a flawless performance. The man knows how to lead a band like a general with his troops; the musicians he has as his backing band (who he’s worked with for years, now) is a well-oiled, on point, tight machine. The song selection is consistent, which is an important change, as in the past, Sting’s concerts have meandered into dangerously pretentious waters – there’s no escaping that irritating fact. But here, he delivers the lion’s share of his last album, 57th & 9th (a very good, strong rock/pop album). And that’s the point of this tour and DVD – this was Sting’s first “rock”-oriented tour in over 10 years (which I presume, means the last time he played rock was during The Police’s reunion shows). The songs from that album works perfectly in a live setting – in this case, it was at the Olympia Theatre in Paris – and they have (as many songs or even total albums do) take on a greater punch and ferocity when played live.
Naturally, there are a good number of Sting “classics” from his solo canon and yes, he gives a fair number of The Police’s greatest hits their time. All of which is to say, the audience certainly got their money’s worth from this performance. From the academic standpoint, simply a great show – and the man’s voice is still pure, honeyed gold.
The problem is this is about as soul-less as you’ll get. It’s a bland set of music – all the crackerjack musicianship doesn’t negate the fact that there’s nothing dynamic; nothing that makes you feel. And I found that element distracting and off-putting. Yes, musicians get tired and bored from doing the same songs on the tour cycle, but Sting is just too clinical, too antiseptic a performer to get the blood pumping. At the same time, by seeing this DVD, it saves me the time, money and effort of having to actually go to one of his concerts since there’s no great warmth here.
Nevertheless, for the musical merits alone, he’s still one of the untouchables. And there’s a lot to be said about someone who’s been doing it since 1977. So full marks go to him and his band – and a very savvy choice of songs that provided a solid set.
Live At The Olympia Paris is currently available