Massey Hall, Toronto - November 1, 2011

JANE STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:28 PM ET

TORONTO - The last time I saw Sting in Toronto -- in July, 2010 at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre -- he had a full orchestra playing with him in a performance that didn't always click.

My what a difference a year and a bit makes.

The singer-bassist returned to T.O. on Tuesday night for the first of two shows at Massey Hall with his Back to Bass Tour in support of his 25th anniversary as a solo artist.

The trek sees him playing with an ace five-piece band including father-son guitarists Dominic and Rufus Miller and British electric fiddle virtuoso Peter Tickell (more on him later).

Maybe after the so-so orchestral treatment Sting realized it was time to go back-to-basics.

Whatever the reason, the simpler, stripped-down approach better suited his songs, both solo and hits with his famed British New Wave band The Police, with such wide-ranging influences as pop, rock, ska, reggae, country and jazz.

And that was just the first half-hour.

Sting, who turned 60 years old a month ago but still looks remarkably lean and muscular with his sexy rasp of a voice still strong too, kicked off the night with his solo hit, All This time, dressed down in a snug-fitting lavender top, zippered black pants and pale coloured sneakers, with his head shaven clean. He looked positively aerodynamic as he performed for two hours and 10 minutes with the best of the songs coming in the show's final stretch beginning with Never Coming Home, which featured an impressive, moody light show and killer playing by Tickell, who brought the audience to its feet.

That was followed by three -- count 'em -- encores including a sentimental solo version of the Police hit, Message in a Bottle, featuring just Sting on acoustic guitar as the show wound to a close, plus such fan favourites as Desert Rose (a solo chart-topper with Algerian singer Cheb Mami) -- with Sting doing his best hip-shaking moves -- and more Police classics as Every Breath You Take and Next to You.

Seemingly jazzed by playing in such an esteemed theatre ("My dressing room is haunted by I don't know who," he said gleefully, also pointing out The Police first played Toronto's Horseshoe in '78), Sting hit his peak early in the night with such Police chestnuts as Every Little Thing She Does is Magic and Demolition Man.

It would take a while before he hit such heights again as he turned his attention to more somber and countryfied songs as I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying -- "Divorce is a season in hell," he explained -- and I Hung My Head.

"I have a problem with authenticity," the Newcastle-born singer joked of writing country music. "I'm not from the south. I'm not even from the south of England."

It would be yet another Police song, Driven to Tears, that would bring the energy level right back up, along with his solo songs Fortress Around Your Heart, Fields of Gold and Sacred Love.

Of the latter song, he joked: "It's about my two favourite subjects -- sex and religion."

He also got personal, dedicating Ghost Story to his father, who passed away 20 years ago, and with whom he had a difficult relationship, and Inside about his successful 32-year marriage to Trudie Styler.

"She mended me when I was broken," he said of Styler.

Sting also returned to his country obsession with Love is Stronger Than Justice, explaining he had combined his love of the western, The Magnificent Seven, with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but this time it was the electrifying playing of Tickell -- who also hails from Newcastle -- that wowed the crowd.

SET LIST:

All This Time

Every Little Thing She Does is Magic

Seven Days

Demolition Man

I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying

I Hung My Head

Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)

Driven to Tears

Fortress Around Your Heart

Fields of Gold

Sacred Love

Ghost Story

Heavy Cloud No Rain

Inside

Love is Stronger Than Justice

The Hounds of Winter

End of the Game

Never Coming Home

ENCORE:

Desert Rose

Every Breath You Take

SECOND ENCORE

Next to You

THIRD ENCORE

Message in a Bottle (Sting alone)


Videos

Photos