Sting live in Manila

How Sting got Manila wrapped around his finger–again

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ENGLISHMAN IN MANILA Sting on lead vocals and bass, accompanied by longtime guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Photo by Angela V. Ignacio

“You could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians,” Sting’s voice boomed, wryly drawing out the last syllable, and the mostly Filipino audience half whooped, half snickered in response. Tongue in cheek, I sang the next line, “They all seemed like game show hosts to me,” along with the singer, wondering if the song hit a little too close to home for certain civil servants in the audience.

Not that it mattered, though. Activist sentiments aside, if there’s one thing Filipinos hadn’t lost faith in, it’s this man’s ability to create beautiful, introspective music that cuts through genres, generations and thematic boundaries. And to put on a rocking show. The crowd that filled the Smart Araneta Coliseum to bursting that Sunday night was actually solid proof of that. Not even the hassle of switching venues, Typhoon Pablo’s aftermath or the sting of Pacman’s defeat could deter fans from seeing the living legend and his iconic pucker in the flesh, and for good reason.

The multi-Grammy winner and former front man-bassist of New Wave band The Police had performed in Manila way back in January 1994 for his “Ten Summoner’s Tales” tour, then in October 1996 for “Mercury Falling,” both held at the Ultra (now PhilSports) Stadium.

But, looking at the understandably more mature crowd made up of families, couples, foreigners, and the occasional white-haired fan wildly waving and jumping up and down in total abandon, one would think it was his first time in the country.

Englishman in Manila

The stage was bare except for a small table, the instruments and a black cloth for a backdrop. But the moment the Englishman appeared, it was clear that there was no need for a fancy setup. Clad in a tight gray long-sleeved shirt, black vest, black leather pants, and black boots that looked like they were made for moonwalking, Sting looked remarkably fit for a 61-year-old, probably thanks to his strict yoga regimen. He didn’t even move around much; not that he needed to, anyway. All he had to do was open his mouth, and he had Manila instantly wrapped around his finger.

The 21-song setlist consisted of well-loved The Police anthems interspersed between Sting’s roster of hits spanning his 25-year solo career. Accompanied by his trusty, talented band—Dominic Miller on guitar, Peter Tickell on violin and mandolin, Jo Lawry on backing vocals, David Sancious on keyboards, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums—Sting kicked off the set with the midtempo hit “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” the crowd lustily shouting the lyrics word for word. The famous Pinoy sing-along power continued to impress the singer and his band in all-time favorites “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “Englishman In New York,” the highlight of which was when Sting let the audience sing the line “Be yourself, no matter what they say,” over and over as if to prove a point.

He brought out his “blond cop” persona in upbeat, guitar-driven ditties like “Demolition Man,” “Driven To Tears,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.” Meanwhile, the set took on a sultry tone when Sting had everyone grooving to the funk-laden “Heavy Clouds, No Rain,” waxing nostalgic in the reggae-inflected hit “Wrapped around Your Finger” and plaintively wailing for the fictional femme in “Roxanne” while bathed under red lights.

It was the more tranquil moments that highlighted the poignant beauty of the songsmith’s solo repertoire. Wistful fans swayed and waved lightsticks in the air during sweet, introspective serenades “Fields of Gold” and “Shape of My Heart.” Other chill-out performances included the humorous love song “Seven Days” from “Ten Summoner’s Tales,” the melancholy “I Hung My Head” and the lighthearted “storytelling” track “The End of the Game”; before playing the latter, he explained that it was about two foxes in love, holding up a small stuffed toy for good measure.

Throughout the concert, the bandleader made it clear that it wasn’t a one-man show. He would graciously step back on occasion to let his longtime session mates shine, particularly in his haunting howling duet with Lawry in “The Hounds of Winter” and during Miller’s exquisite chords in “Shape of My Heart,” which Sting had cowritten with the guitarist. The interlude near the end of the main set was also a nice touch; it showcased each band member’s immense talent, from Tickell’s fast and furious fiddling to Sancious’ one-hand keyboard dance to Modern Drummer Hall of Famer Colaiuta’s jaw-dropping solo display.

Encore series

For the “Bass” tour, Sting had a surprise treat ready in the form of a 3-part encore series, which counts as one of the longest encore sets in all Manila concerts to date. They started the first set with the 1999 hit “Desert Rose,” where Sting yodeled Algerian raï artist Cheb Mami’s singing parts, then brought the crowd back in full sing-along force with “King of Pain” and an extended version of “Every Breath You Take.”

The band promptly came back for the high-energy Police track “Next to You,” which showed the band’s playful side (complete with a crew member in a huge teddy bear head dancing onstage), and closed the two-hour show on a surprisingly somber note. “I’d like to dedicate this song to all of the people who had lost their lives in the typhoon,” he said solemnly, his fingers echoing his sentiments on lead guitar in the opening chords of the encore finale, “Fragile.”

Soothing yet stirring, the song tempered the general feeling of concert euphoria with a touch of humility and respect for life, one that hopefully lingered in everyone’s hearts long after the show. In light of recent events, it was the perfect way to end a phenomenal night.

After decades of great music and showmanship, Sting certainly proved he’s still got it. But it wasn’t just about a pop-rock star taking his loyal fans on a trip down memory lane. This third Manila show was about going back to the basics; it paid tribute to a time when shows were all about the music and not about production. For those of us who had been too young to remember those days, this one gave us the golden opportunity to experience—and appreciate—that dying art.

Thank you, Sting, for the early Christmas present. This is definitely one for the books.

“Back To Bass Tour: Sting Live in Manila” was presented by Ovation Productions.

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