04.06.05 Another San Jose review...

Sting delivers musical lesson in San Jose...

Sting parked the Jaguar, left his "Important Artist" hat at home and came out rocking at the San Jose State University Events Center.

What a relief.

Friday's show was exactly the type of straightforward, no-frills evening of music that many longtime fans have longed for during the past decade.

The concert was a vast improvement over the show at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland in early 2004. Those February shows were bloated affairs that featured an unnecessarily large band, iffy set lists and too many stylistic left turns.

On the opening night of the Broken Music Tour, Sting managed to fix every aspect of his ailing live show. The former chief of Police turned back the clock, punched up the hits and delivered his most powerful Bay Area concert in years.

"I'm glad to be at the university of San Jose," Sting said to the crowd after opening with a solid version of the Police's 'Message in a Bottle'. "I haven't played a college or university in 25 years."

Given the glorious results, perhaps the former teacher should think about only playing before student bodies. The setting definitely helped strengthen the old-school vibe. The bare-bones Event Center, which doesn't serve sushi, mojitos or other such luxuries found at modern amphitheaters or arenas, somewhat resembles a miniature Cow Palace. It's a place nearly devoid of distractions, which means it's easy for fans to focus on the performer.

Sting was full of personality and good humor, introducing the raucous 'Spirits in the Material World' as a song "that was ripped off by Madonna," but mainly he let the music do the talking.

Sting is known to shake up his hits and deliver them in completely new stylistic settings. At last year's Paramount shows in Oakland, he was guilty of that to a fault. The finger-snapping-cool jazzy makeover of 'Walking on the Moon', which featured Sting on upright bass, worked well. But the watered-down takes on 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take' in Oakland fell far short of their original greatness.

In contrast, Sting played by the books in San Jose and delivered very faithful renditions of such old favorites as 'Synchronicity II' and 'Roxanne'. The few makeovers that the 53-year-old vocalist-bassist did attempt were hardly extreme. The one exception was the haunting, spacey version of 'Invisible Sun', which came across as a Police track as played by Pink Floyd.

Although the set was built around fan favorites, the show wasn't just a greatest-hits collection.

"Tonight, we are doing a lot of songs we haven't played in many, many years," Sting said.

The artist definitely unearthed some true gems, including 'The End of the Game', which was never officially released on CD in the United States, and 'I Hung My Head', a track Johnny Cash recorded on 'American IV: The Man Comes Around'.

Sting was backed by a superb band that features long-time guitarist Dominic Miller, rhythm-guitar-ace Shane Fontayne and drummer Josh Freese from A Perfect Circle. Freese, in particular, helped rock the boat with a style that closely resembles the Police's hard-hitting Stewart Copeland.

The band would prove its strength to the capacity crowd of 4,500 during the cover of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'. Not many acts can get away with playing this complex song live - it's just the type of zigzagging number that helped persuade the Fab Four to quit touring. Phish used to do a great job with it, and Sting's band was nearly as good.

As the concert drew to a close, the musical intensity grew greater. It's been a long time since Sting has sounded as urgent as he did on this evening's versions of 'Next to You' and 'Every Breath You Take'.

The one knock on the concert was its length. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, the show was too short. However, to be fair, Sting sounded so good in San Jose that he could have played all night and it still wouldn't have been enough.

© insidebayarea.com by Jim Harrington