There’s a certain symmetry to this A Day on the Green line-up that features both Sting and James Reyne. Almost forty years ago the pair shared a stage fronting their respective bands, The Police and Australian Crawl.
The former were wrapping up their Synchronicity Tour, before Sting pensioned The Police off for decades; once free of band constraints, both men dived headlong into formidable solo careers.
According to Sting, the previous night’s show in the Hunter Valley was curtailed due to “the mother and father of all storms.” Today fans have to deal with long lines of traffic that would rival your worst Westfield on Christmas Eve nightmare.
In 2023, Reyne is permanently match fit, and as a songwriter, the man is a national treasure. His setlist, in Australia at least, has very few peers and – with a full band in tow – he has the crowd joining him in full voice as he rattles through highlights from his solo career and his time with Australian Crawl.
“A Little Ol’ Town South of Bakersfield” is a reminder that Reyne is still in the business of writing new songs, before it’s on to “Slave”, “Downhearted”, “Reckless”, a reggae-infused “Boys Light Up”, “Errol”, and the stinging closer “Fall Of Rome”.
By the time the sun drops, Sting’s mighty band are on stage and laying the foundations for “Message in a Bottle”. Armed with his 1954 Fender Precision bass, he clears his throat in the opening bars and is subsequently in fine voice for the rest of the night. The crowd are too as they sing back to the author of one of the best choruses of the entire ’80s.
“An Englishman in New York” is next, followed by the reggae-tinged “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. As is his wont, Sting fiddles with tempo and feel and only ‘replicates’ his classic records when it suits him.
The tour is dubbed ‘My Songs’ and after an anecdote about the headliner realising he’d made it when he heard a window cleaner whistling “Roxanne”, he informs the crowd that it’s time to hear some new material; at this point, 90% of the audience sit down to witness Sting give a masterclass in contemporary songwriting.
Ed Sheeran might be playing a stadium forty-five minutes up the road but there was a time – a generation or two ago – when Sting was the guy. Out here tonight, though, it really feels like he still is.
And as you’d expect, the musicianship is exemplary. The vocal harmonies from Melissa Musique and Gene Noble are velvet, harmonica player Shane Sager shines, as does long-time sonic ally, guitarist Dominic Miller.
Alongside “If It’s Love” and “Rushing Water” from 2021’s The Bridge, older standouts include “Brand New Day” and “Fields of Gold”.
Watching Sting play at a winery is fine, but it’s when he cranks it up a gear that the show gets exciting. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” leads into “Walking on the Moon”, and the crowd are soon back on their feet. A knock down and drag ‘em out “So Lonely” is full of new wave vim, while “Desert Rose” lifts everything another notch. “King of Pain” and – you guessed it – “Every Breath You Take” close the main set.
Soon Sting’s back for the encore and knocking out a jazzier version of the tune the aforementioned window cleaner paid homage to all those decades earlier.
Stacking the songs up alongside each other, it really is a one hell of a setlist. To hear them performed so well by this band and the man that wrote them remains a privilege.
Sting has several dates left on his Australia and New Zealand, beginning in Adelaide on Tuesday, February 21st. More information is available here.
Sean Sennett is a Brisbane based writer. You can find him on Instagram.