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Delhi's sacred love for Sting!

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February 08, 2005 16:18 IST
We'll remember Sting, when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of Delhi…

The long queues snaked outside the gates more than three hours before they were scheduled to open. This is, after all, Delhi, a city alien to most concert schedules, and its music lovers were not going to pass up the man Rolling Stone calls arguably the greatest rocker alive.

The crowds were atypical for a rock concert: most of the demographic leaned towards people in their forties, esoterically clad in technicolour ponchos and florid kaftans. Flower children, hung over from a period long gone, when The Police came along and shattered eardrums and sensibilities with lyrical condescension and fabulous disdain. They nostalgically jostled in line with the young bloods, stubbled youths who memorised the words from Shape of my heart. The excitement, as the spoilsport raindrops that threatened to mar the concert vanished right on cue, was palpable.

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The show began abruptly. There was no opening act, and legs were collectively beginning to ache as we stood around, bursting into desperate mock applause as stagehands came and fiddled with the equipment, and unveiled the instruments.

Suddenly, lights plunged off, the stadium hushed into a silent, stunned darkness, and the band sauntered casually on stage. The bassline throbbed recognisingly as they took their positions: A thousand years, from Brand New Day. The intro turned out to be a red herring, a clash of cymbals kicking them off into the frantic rhythm of the single from the new album: Send your love.

Before the audience could recover, the band had launched into their act, and, despite ourselves, we were all suddenly mouthing the words from a new song few knew, in total addiction to the rhythm.

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Fifteen feet away from Gordon Matthew Sumner, all I did was goggle. The opening track was a new song allowing the band to fall into their comfort zones, and one madly fast enough to kick up the adrenaline in the waiting crowds. Mr Sting, as Frank Zappa called him, gyrated furiously on stage, a visible Indianness in his dancing, one arm raised high above his head, shaking an invisible tambourine, the other stretched out, hips swinging. The show was on.

Sting in DelhiAnd what better way to segue a great beginning than follow up a new song with a Police classic? The song he dedicated to tsunami relief was next, the incredible Message in a bottle, and this time the crowd gleefully plunged in, Delhi yelling out the lyrics.

The rocker, with great élan, beckoned the audience to usher in the legendary chorus with him, raising a can't-hear-you hand to his ear in a successful bid to raise decibel levels as an excited, eclectic mix of voices repeatedly screamed, 'I'll send an SOS to the world.' Guitarist Dominic Miller characteristically gave the frontman plucking room for the solo, the Regatta De Blanc number being as Sting a song as can be, and the mood was set.

Half the fun at a concert where the legend on stage is a Hall of Famer who's been around for over 25 years is trying to predict, quite wistfully, which gem his next track is going to be. Here, the only real hints were picked up when Sting traded his guitars: the Fender Precision 'Sting' signature bass for a strangely skeletal nylon string guitar. The otherwise-familiar intros were improvised upon, furthering the happy confusion among the masses. All to be cleared with a yell of ecstasy seconds before the vocals broke through, and the utterly recognisable tunes filtered out loudly.

The playlist was predictable, yet flawless. A few tracks obviously from the showcased new album, 'dedicated to India, because it's about sex and religion' -- Sacred Love; the old classics everyone knows he has to play; and a few relative surprises, tracks you wouldn't expect to hear at a show of this limited duration, including All this time, the song about his father's death.

The show was full of moments -- the raucous audience shushing reverently to an awed, swooning, shoulder-swaying silence as the singer sang Fragile; the smile of recognition on all the faces as Miller outlined the Shape of my heart; the war-whoops of ecstasy as the audience became aware that they were actually listening to the man sing Englishman in New York, his arms outstretched and the groove blissfully funky; the Whenever I say your name duet with fabulous vocalist Joy Rose, where he generously gave her spotlight, and she belted out some serious brilliance; and the way he adlibbed the 'maaaa-gic' chorus during the utterly unexpected Every little thing she does is magic.

Yet, the absolute highlights of the night were two tracks made marvelously long with fabulous improvisations. Never coming home, a new track, explores the story of a disillusioned girl leaving her lover, and traverses three different perspectives while at it. Here, the song also aptly rammed through a gazillion musical styles, as pianist Jason Rebello hammered honky-tonk and blues with equal panache, and percussionist Rhani Krija went wild on the skins. The song stretched beyond ten minutes, in a utopian jazz-based frenzy, where Sting again grabbed the spotlight, and not because of his vocals. As a bass guitarist, Sting is in the absolute elite, like Paul McCartney and Bill Wyman, and here he let loose, bigtime, his face strained with glorious effort as the bass guitar flew ethereally in the throes of delicious insanity. And we stood there gaping, in a semi-faint, thankful to be witnessing genius in action.

Then, without much ado, he plunked the most famous G minor chord in history. The audience yelled madly. Ladies and gents, we stood a few feet away from Sting and his band bathed in red light, embarking on a song quite simply titled Roxanne.

Great insanity, pure and unadulterated, swept overwhelmingly across the grounds, as the performers again thwacked the song into orbit, Kipper's tambourine firmly placing the mythic track firmly into pure chaos. Again, Sting the bassist treated us to an exquisite solo, stealing – momentarily – the thunder from Sting the vocalist, and his awesome impromptu takes on words engraved forever in our collective consciousness.

We never wanted the night to end, but when singing along to the fabulous Every breath you take, the fadeout was imminent. The crowds began to deal with the loss, with the fact that the evening was winding up. The track, Sting's most successful single from The Police's last album, Synchronicity, is a fantastic song, one of the most 'perfect' singles ever crafted, an instantly-appealing classic often misunderstood as a love song, but an actually dark and macabre ditty about an obsessive stalker.

The chorus went on forever, rising in tempo and pitch to feverish, impossible highs, and the audience loyally sung along, trying its best to keep the rhythm in order while Sting introduced his band one last time, and the bows were made. Then, silently, they walked off stage.

Of course, goodbyes can't be that casual, and the air was instantly made heavy with encore chants. We-want-Sting echoed across the grounds, 20,000 people demanding more. Obediently, without much fanfare, his band walked back onto stage and started plugging in their instruments, Sting himself suddenly appearing on one side, all set with his guitar. The show began as it had teasingly promised, with an inch-perfect rendition of A thousand years, the song this time destined for completion as the night came full circle.

Encore chants began anew, but the bows were made and finalised. Sting smiled and namasted for the very last time, and his eyes twinkled as he yelled a "Goodnight, Delhi!" And then, in a much-needed rejuvenating gesture to his fans, threw them a line of hope: "We'll see you again!"

Raja Sen in New Delhi