When people talk about phenomenal live artists, the conversation doesn’t often turn toward Sting’s solo career. The Police were a hell of a live act – they built their career on constant touring all over the world – but Sting’s solo career, however good, always has an air of stuffiness to it. How could the same singer currently on tour with a symphony orchestra ever be considered a loose, must-see live act?
There’s a few pieces of evidence to the contrary; unsurprisingly, they’re from the beginning of the onetime Gordon Sumner’s solo career. It’s all too easy to forget that in 1985, when recording The Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting had some of the best jazz-fusion sidemen in his camp. Having moved to guitar from his usual bass, he employed then-twentysomething Darryl Jones, from Miles Davis’ backing band, to keep the bass grooves limber. (Jones would of course become the unofficial bassist for The Rolling Stones after Bill Wyman retired in 1993.) Omar Hakim, who’d played in Weather Report and on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance LP, was given the heavy task of banging the skins after Stewart Copeland gave The Police its inimitable rhythm. Kenny Kirkland, the bespectacled, youthful keyboardist, was plucked from Wynton Marsalis’ ensemble to play piano and synths (he in fact held down this duty during The Police’s last shows in 1986).
It’s known that Wynton Marsalis was vocally upset about a white Briton co-opting so many jazz musicians for pop purposes. Part of that anger may have stemmed from the fact that Sting recruited not only Kirkland from the elder statesman’s employ, but his older brother Branford on saxophone. Branford Marsalis became Sting’s secret weapon, capable of drawing out the most smoldering solos on not only Sting’s new songs (“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “We Work the Black Seam,” “Fortress Around Your Heart”) but some of the many second-tier Police songs Sting brought from hibernation on his new tour.
That tour was rather greatly chronicled on the double-live set Bring On the Night in 1986. While Sting was the main draw for most concertgoers, it’s safe to guess that many of them left with some of the other musicians’ names on their tongues. When most of that core ensemble reconvened for the follow-up, …Nothing Like the Sun (1988) (less Jones and Hakim – Sting went mostly back to bass alongside Mark Egan of Pat Metheny Group fame, while Manu Katche – still a close collaborator with Sting – began his tenure at the drum kit), the result was less commercial but even better – arguably some of Sting’s strongest work lives on this record.
What less people discuss was the tour – a sprawling affair that saw Sting take many diverse side players along with him. In addition to Marsalis, Kirkland, percussionist Mino Cinelu and vocalist Dolette McDonald (all of whom had worked with Sting on at least one of his first two solo LPs), Sting had drummer J.T. Lewis (an early drummer for Living Colour), Tracy Wormworth (ex-bassist for The Waitresses), session guitarist Jeffrey Lee Campbell and Delmar Brown as a second keyboardist. The sets were long, focusing mostly on …Nothing Like the Sun material but also delving into interesting covers and even solo turns from other members.
When the ensemble performed at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on July 27, 1988, Sting apparently decided that this show should get a good recording for possible release as a live record. As a result, the band were in rare form, diving into an hours-long set with plenty of vigor. Of course, as is usually the case, the live record – provisionally titled The Art of the Heart by some – never happened, but in the early 1990s the soundboard feed was leaked and heavily bootlegged.
Releasing the complete set – itself about three discs as a bootleg – would probably be a stretch. But an edited portion from these shows would be a fitting tribute to the underrated nature of Sting’s prowess as a live artist. Have a look at the track list after the jump and share what you’d want to release in the comments.
Sting, The Art of the Heart (A&M, 2010 – recorded 1988)
- Someone to Watch Over Me
- Sister Moon
- The Lazarus Heart/ Too Much Information
- Englishman in New York
- Rock Steady
- Straight to My Heart
- One World (Not Three)
- If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
Disc 1, Track 1 is a cover of the Gershwin standard. Was released as a B-side during the Sun era.
Disc 1, Tracks 2, 3a and 4-6 from …Nothing Like the Sun (A&M, 1987)
Disc 1, Tracks 3b and 8 from The Police’s Ghost in the Machine (A&M, 1981)
Disc 1, Track 7 is a cover of the Squeeze song. A version from Japan was released as a B-side during the Sun era.
Disc 1, Track 9 from The Dream of the Blue Turtles (A&M, 1985)
- Bring on the Night/ When the World is Running Down
- Lonely House
- The Idiot Bastard Son
- I Don’t Wanna Be – Dolette McDonald
- The Promise – Delmar Brown
- Blasphemy – Kenny Kirkland & Branford Marsalis
- They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo)
- Consider Me Gone
- King of Pain
Disc 2, Track 1a from The Police’s Regatta de Blanc (A&M, 1979). Track 1b from Zenyatta Mondatta (A&M, 1980). The same medley was performed live on Bring on the Night (A&M, 1986)
Disc 2, Tracks 2, 4-6 discographical information is unclear. Does anyone know if these are originals – or, as the author currently lacks a copy of the bootleg, if Track 5 is a cover of the Arcadia song which Sting sang background vocals?
Disc 2, Track 3 is a cover of the Frank Zappa song
Disc 2, Track 7 from …Nothing Like the Sun
Disc 2, Track 8 from The Dream of the Blue Turtles
Disc 2, Track 9 from The Police’s Synchronicity (A&M, 1983)
- Be Still My Beating Heart
- Walking in Your Footsteps
- Little Wing/From Me to You
- The Secret Marriage
- Don’t Stand So Close To Me
- Mack the Knife
- Caro Mio Ben
- Ne Me Quitte Pas
- Home on the Range
- Every Breath You Take
Disc 3, Tracks 1 and 5 from …Nothing Like the Sun
Disc 3, Tracks 2 and 11 from Synchronicity
Disc 3, Track 3 is a Portuguese version of the song from …Nothing Like the Sun. A recorded version later released on the …Nada Como El Sol EP (A&M, 1988)
Disc 3, Track 4 is a medley of two covers – Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. Track 3a appeared on …Nothing Like the Sun
Disc 3, Track 6 from Zenyatta Mondatta
Disc 3, Track 7 is a cover of the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht song sung in English and German. Sting would later appear in the musical this song is from, The Threepenny Opera, on Broadway.
Disc 3, Track 8 is a cover of the Italian song
Disc 3, Track 9 is a cover of the Jacques Brel song