It was fun seeing who in the audience recognized “rockstar” violinist Caroline Campbell’s version of Kashmir. My mom, who was sitting beside me, enamored by the intensity with which Campbell was hitting the strings, whispered, “I don’t know this song, Stairway to Heaven is the only (Led Zeppelin) song I know.” It’s okay mom, I don’t know all of them either. (Who does?) Campbell joined Chris Botti, contemporary jazz trumpeter and composer, onstage a few times and, frankly, stole the show whenever she took the stage. Her presence has the same effect as that of a deranged person having a meltdown — you are drawn to her, you become transfixed, except she’s anything but a trainwreck and all is well in the world. She has recorded film scores for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Spider-Man, and is featured on Botti’s latest album, “Impressions.”
Still, the audience at Marriott Manila Ballroom behaved themselves, keeping their phones in their pockets, but only until Sting finally comes out. He sings Every Little Thing and everyone loses their minds, consequently, whipping out their phones to take a video, a photo, or a very violet selfie. You would think the people around you, wearing their suits and gowns and expensive watches, couldn’t be bothered with frivolities like Instagram, but put Sting in front of them and they become savages (myself included, sans expensive watch). Nobody behave, Sting is in the house.
I followed the social media commentary of friends among the audience, and it was almost as entertaining as the show. Almost. Sting is magnetic. His presence rivals that of Madonna’s herself (as does his ticket prices, with Stage tickets at over P60,000). That’s the price tag on breathing the same circulating ballroom air as a rock ‘n’ roll music legend, watching him perform songs you grew up listening to, songs you know by heart and hate every cover version of. A friend posted about Sting making cutesy faces the whole time. Another about him not performing King of Pain (a sentiment I share).
The moment the first chords started to play, it was, magic, magic, magic. Eyo-oh. It made me feel like the biggest idiot for trading my copy of “Ghost in the Machine” for a record of some grunge one-hit wonder that shall not be named. While it’s not The Police, Sting’s “background” musicians and vocals do the classic justice. I put that in quotes because they really were more than, what Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous calls “the out-of-focus guys.” They were real characters in the emotional unfolding of events that night.
Chris Botti’s vocalist, Sy Smith, is probably the most fabulous woman I have ever seen. Lively and funny onstage, she can match-pitch with anything Botti plays on the trumpet with her insane range. (I would love to challenge her to a Through the Fire duel; she will win, I will have fun.) Sting’s backup singer, Jo Lawry, is nothing less than captivating. I use superlatives because there is really no other way to describe their singing. While Sting doesn’t belt out the words “Put on the red light,” someone does. At one point, you really will have to look for where the voice is coming from, and there’s Lawry, hitting notes while dancing like it’s nothing.
Chris Botti met Sting in 1999 and have been friends since. Their onstage characters complement each other. Botti is the mysterious, silent type, while Sting is the jacket-over-the-shoulder audience charmer. Musically, their partnership has given birth many unforgettable performances around the world. It’s also been a smooth transition for Sting, now a solo artist, to perform The Police songs as well as his own hits with a jazz twist, without completely abandoning the rockstar aspect of it all. You would think his voice has changed, become lower, more raspy, more jazzy, but he still hits notes like it’s 1979.
Every Breath You Take, Desert Rose, Seven Days, Shape of My Heart, Roxanne, Fields of Gold, If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, and Englishman in New York, were among the songs on the set list. The audience lost it when he performed Message in a Bottle. It’s the type of song you can’t take sitting down — that song that every faux-goth kid sulking in the corner of the gym at prom can’t ignore. Sting performs it with such dedication, not like someone who’s been-there-done-that. He must’ve sung that song a thousand times. We’ve heard it a thousand times (radio, karaoke, reality TV), but hearing it live is hands-down, far, far better and much more fun.
It looked like Sting and Botti and the rest of the band and singers were really amused by the audience. The crowd took a bit of time to warm up. In our defense, we were in a ballroom of a hotel, not in an arena where concert etiquette was more or less universally understood. Towards the end of the night, though, it made no difference where we were. Fun is going to be had wherever good music goes.