Sting’s last two appearances at Saratoga Performing Arts Center couldn’t have been more different.
In 2010, he fronted the Royal Philharmonic, reworking his songs for orchestral arrangements. Two years earlier, he brought his reunited band the Police to the SPAC stage for a nostalgia-fueled return to the British rock trio’s late ’70s and early ’80s punkish heyday.
At SPAC on Wednesday evening, 12,000 or so fans filled the amphitheater and lawn to see what Sting would do next.
This time, he’s touring behind “57th & 9th,” his first rock album in 13 years, with a sharp band that includes his longtime guitarist Dominic Miller and highly regarded punk drummer Josh Freese, who’s played with Devo, the Vandals, Weezer and Nine Inch Nails.
Aside from Bruce Springsteen, few rockers in their 60s glow with the health and vigor of Sting, and the 65-year-old bassist looked supremely fit when he came on stage at 9 p.m., wearing a tight-fitting T-shirt and black pants. Surely the secrets to his diet and exercise regimen would sell, bigtime.
It turns out that Sting’s current incarnation finds him at his best. For over 90 minutes, including 24 songs and two encores, he offered a selection of Police hits, fan favorites from his solo career, and a few of his newer tunes, with little fuss or pompousness. Just sharp arrangements, a playful interaction with the adoring crowd, and a voice that sounded in fine form.
He kicked things off with “Synchronicity II” from his Police days, a dark, moody tune that sounded sufficiently edgy in the hands of Freese and Miller, while members of the opening band the Last Bandoleros added harmony and tambourine, as did Sting’s son Joe Sumner, another opener.
The band sounded organic and loose but perfectly tight on Police classics “Spirits in the Material World,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Walking on the Moon” and “Message in a Bottle,” which turned into a call and response with the audience.
Sting’s reggae-like lilt — appropriated by any number of white modern rock singers (and of course originally appropriated from Jamaica) — sounded great on “Englishman in New York,” a reminder that few rockers have pulled off that appropriation as well as Sting has over the years.
The line “You could say I lost my faith in politicians” drew cheers from the crowd when Sting sang his 1993 solo hit, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” But he mostly kept quiet on the political front until introducing “One Fine Day,” a climate change warning from his latest album.
“In light of what’s happening in Houston,” he said of the flood devastating Texas, it wasn’t that smart to gut the EPA or pull out of the Paris Accord.
Other highlights from the night included a cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.”
Sting’s son Joe Sumner, who looks and sounds quite a bit like his father, the Tex Mex flavored opening set of the Last Bandoleros, and Sting’s closing number “Roxanne,” which got the crowd going in a rousing call and response before seguing mid-song into Bill Wither’s classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Sting closed with encores of the Police songs “Next to You” and “Every Breath You Take” before finishing the night with the delicate “Fragile.”