Sting sharp in return to rock roots at Aragon...
March 05, 2017 

On the surface, Sting's sold-out concert Friday at the Aragon could be interpreted as a long-overdue return to his roots. The singer's appearance at the midsize venue marked a departure from his usual arena circuit and returned him to a space he played with his former group, the Police, during its heyday.

The show also came on the heels of the recent "57th & 9th," Sting's first rock/pop album in more than a decade. It features material a world removed from the stuffy theatrical, classical and adult-contemporary fare that held his interest for the majority of the 21st century.

Yet the performance went beyond the notion of an aging star proving he connected to the youthful-minded style that originally brought him fame. Primarily consisting of selections from his new record and Police favorites, the 105-minute set illuminated the economy and sharpness Sting can provide songs when not preoccupied with fussy arrangements and ornate instrumentation. Just as significant, it revealed the famously serious artist still knows how to have fun. Who knew?

The looseness of guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Josh Freese, who allowed some of the force gleaned from his stint with Nine Inch Nails seep into the music, helped. Ditto the presence of Last Bandoleros. The opening band supplied harmony vocals and enhanced several works ("She's Too Good for Me," "Fields of Gold") with accordion accents. Sting's focus did the rest of the heavy lifting. When introducing "I Hung My Head," the vocalist talked about seeing a country band last week in Nashville. He expressed admiration for its "craft" and "dignity." The same could be said for Sting's melodic devices and taut finesse.

Wearing a tight-fitting T-shirt, and not at all looking 65 years old, Sting largely resisted making grand statements. He kept the approaches lean, frequently grinned and even took a few shots at his prestige. Save for the highest regions, his voice seemed immune to age, particularly when belting out up-tempo numbers such as "So Lonely." Sting's fluid, flexible, albeit grounded, bass lines reflected the uncluttered construction and innate catchiness of the songs.

"I Can't Stop Thinking About You" unfolded as a series of crisp hooks. The hard-driving "Petrol Head" accelerated around racetrack curves. Guided by Freese's punch-drunk percussion, "Walking on the Moon" instigated call-and-response audience chants. Only the pedestrian "Down, Down, Down" felt out of place.

Sting saved the weightiest moment for last, closing with the Oscar-nominated "The Empty Chair," written about murdered journalist James Foley. The quiet ballad sounded an alarm for the importance of seeking out truth—and conveyed the consequences in a society that fails to do so.

On the surface, Sting's sold-out concert Friday at the Aragon could be interpreted as a long-overdue return to his roots. The singer's appearance at the midsize venue marked a departure from his usual arena circuit and returned him to a space he played with his former group, the Police, during its heyday.

The show also came on the heels of the recent "57th & 9th," Sting's first rock/pop album in more than a decade. It features material a world removed from the stuffy theatrical, classical and adult-contemporary fare that held his interest for the majority of the 21st century.

Yet the performance went beyond the notion of an aging star proving he connected to the youthful-minded style that originally brought him fame. Primarily consisting of selections from his new record and Police favorites, the 105-minute set illuminated the economy and sharpness Sting can provide songs when not preoccupied with fussy arrangements and ornate instrumentation. Just as significant, it revealed the famously serious artist still knows how to have fun. Who knew?

The looseness of guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Josh Freese, who allowed some of the force gleaned from his stint with Nine Inch Nails seep into the music, helped. Ditto the presence of Last Bandoleros. The opening band supplied harmony vocals and enhanced several works ("She's Too Good for Me," "Fields of Gold") with accordion accents. Sting's focus did the rest of the heavy lifting. When introducing "I Hung My Head," the vocalist talked about seeing a country band last week in Nashville. He expressed admiration for its "craft" and "dignity." The same could be said for Sting's melodic devices and taut finesse.

Wearing a tight-fitting T-shirt, and not at all looking 65 years old, Sting largely resisted making grand statements. He kept the approaches lean, frequently grinned and even took a few shots at his prestige. Save for the highest regions, his voice seemed immune to age, particularly when belting out up-tempo numbers such as "So Lonely." Sting's fluid, flexible, albeit grounded, bass lines reflected the uncluttered construction and innate catchiness of the songs.

"I Can't Stop Thinking About You" unfolded as a series of crisp hooks. The hard-driving "Petrol Head" accelerated around racetrack curves. Guided by Freese's punch-drunk percussion, "Walking on the Moon" instigated call-and-response audience chants. Only the pedestrian "Down, Down, Down" felt out of place.

Sting saved the weightiest moment for last, closing with the Oscar-nominated "The Empty Chair," written about murdered journalist James Foley. The quiet ballad sounded an alarm for the importance of seeking out truth - and conveyed the consequences in a society that fails to do so.

(c) The Chicago Tribune by Bob Gendron

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