Sting Plays The Hits At The Woodlands

Nobody else's songs, dammit.
Nobody else's songs, dammit. Photo by Pete Vonder Haar
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
October 15, 2023

When last we left the former Gordon Sumner (at least, the last time I left him), it was 2011 and he was playing a cozy gig at Verizon Wireless Center (as it was known at the time), favoring us with some deeper cuts in his impressive catalog and giving off the aura of an artist who can do as he pleases.

Many years have passed, as the song goes, yet Sting is still a guy who's been successful enough to do whatever he wants. And last night in The Woodlands, he apparently wanted to remind all of us just how much of his music has shaped the last four decades.

Well, his *and* his former band, the Police. For those born after 1986, the Police (Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers) released five albums in about as many years, including their final album — Synchronicity — which sold eleventy million copies and made the band, for a short time, the biggest in the world.

And then they broke up, with all three members going on to individual projects. Copeland and Summers have been just as busy in their subsequent post-Police careers, but neither has been as commercially successful as Sting. Perhaps not coincidentally, last night's show leaned almost as heavily on his former band's output as his own solo work.

But really, even those are technically "his." As the principal songwriter and primary architect of the Police's sound, Sting's influence looms large over the musical landscape. So much so that it's kind of funny to see set lists label songs like "So Lonely" and "Spirits in the Material World" as "Police covers."

If you were worried about stoking the notoriously perfectionist performer's ego, you needn't have. We goof on artists "playing the hits" as opposed to making deep dives into their material, but this seems like a perfect opportunity to exploit one of those rare perfect Houston evenings, where Sting sang like an artist at peace with his legacy and maybe even ready to poke fun at himself.

The set list was a murderer's row of Police and solo hits, and he fairly rocketed through it. As if hearing past complaints about excessive noodling in previous shows, Sting played a remarkably (though possibly not for the longtime vegetarian) fat-free show. Hell, he *opened* with "Message in a Bottle," which to many is the quintessential Police song. From there it was practically a highlight reel.
And perhaps knowing contemporary audience, his only quote-unquote "obscure" cuts were from The Bridge, his latest solo album. He prefaced the three love songs by reminding us he's from the north of England and not Houston or Galveston or "the other romantic places." Oh, buddy. Only an Englishman would find Galveston "romantic."

But if that assessment of the upper Gulf Coast didn't lose the Pavilion audience, nothing would. Especially with a show that definitely erred on the side of the older stuff. Pleasantly surprising (to this reviewer, anyway), was the emphasis on 1991's The Soul Cages, including "Mad About You" and "Why Should I Cry For You."

Shit, man ... let's get a Soul Cages tour going a la Springsteen's The River. There must be dozens of us who'd like to see that.

Sting's catalog is enough that we can bitch about what was left out. No "Don't Stand So Close To Me?" Or "We'll Be Together?" Or "I Hung My Head?" Sure, if you want a four-hour show. At least the encore was enough to take us all the way back to the first Police album ("Roxanne") and the second Sting solo album ("Fragile").

This whole thing is humorously reminiscent of Boomers ("Born in the 50s?") who refuse to just retire and move along. Sting could hang it up if he wanted (and he's clearly earned the right to), but why bother when you still dig what you're doing and audiences are still willing to pony up for your music?

Personal Bias: I'm enough of a Police fan that I provided a definitive ranking of their albums that is not to be questioned.

The Crowd: Hey, section 101, row T, seats 35 and 36: get absolutely fucked. We'll stand up for whatever songs we want.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Is he a vegetarian or a vegan?"

Random Notebook Dump: "No 'Spirits in the Material World?' What are we even doing here?"

Message in a Bottle
Englishman in New York
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
If It's Love
Loving You
Rushing Water
If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
Fields of Gold
Brand New Day
Heavy Cloud No Rain
I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying
Shape of My Heart
Why Should I Cry for You?
All This Time
Mad About You
Invisible Sun
Walking on the Moon
So Lonely / No Woman No Cry
Desert Rose
King of Pain
Every Breath You Take

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar