A stripped-down Sting concert turns out to be the best kind of Sting concert.
The Broken Music Tour - of which Monday's Spokane concert was only the third stop - is a back-to-basics tour with only two guitars, a drummer and Sting on bass.
In other words, it's a throwback to the days when Sting fronted a rock band (they were called the Police, if I recall correctly).
The result: a simplified concert refreshingly free of Sting-like pretension.
This concert had a larger than usual Police presence, beginning with the first two songs out of the box: a delirious version of 'Message in a Bottle' followed by a searing 'Spirits in the Material World.'
Guitarists Dominic Miller and Shane Fontayne, along with drummer Josh Freese, professionally channeled the spirit, if not the exact letter, of the original Police recordings. Sting, looking trim and tough in black suit and blacker T-shirt, sounded like his 1981 self, although with a slightly lower vocal register.
The wild response to these songs made it clear: These folks love Sting, but what they really love is the Police. These were clearly people who grew up on 'Every Breath You Take'.
Yeah, he did a fine version of that, too.
Sting's solo work represented, too, at least the songs that lent themselves to an all-guitar attack. The highlights were a languorous version of 'Heavy Cloud, No Rain' and a touching and delicate 'Fields of Gold', which showed off Sting's considerable gifts as a songwriter.
Even with the absence of horns or keyboard, the band had little trouble re-creating some of these complex sounds. It's amazing what a good guitarist can do with an effects box and (in Fontayne's case) a harmonica slung around his neck.
One of the highlights was 'Synchronicity II', one of the best Police songs, which showed off Sting's strengths in vocal phrasing. When he really wants to punch a lyric, as in the line 'shiny metal boxes,' he delivers the words in exaggerated, clipped precision - an effective contrast to his looser, more characteristic slur.
Another high point was a cover of what should be the most uncoverable of Beatles songs, 'A Day in the Life'. Sans orchestra, sans piano, the song was still a revelation. As the guitarists built the crescendo, we got a taste of how overwhelming this song would have been if the Beatles had ever played it live.
Sting bantered briefly with the crowd, congratulating himself on pronouncing "Spokane" right (he did). He also joked about how Sylvester Stallone appropriated the song 'Demolition Man' with "all the irony removed" and that Madonna had "ripped off" 'Spirits in the Material World'.
A minor quibble: The classic "turn on the red light" chorus to 'Roxanne' was not rendered in Sting's familiar high-pitched wail, but in a far lower register. The chorus falls relatively flat without it.
And it would have been nice to see more interplay between Sting and the band. They stood far apart from each other on stage and generally concentrated on their own business.
This was particularly noticeable after watching the enjoyable opening act, Phantom Planet. Those four young Los Angeles guys were like one high-energy unit, feeding off one another with evident delight.
© The Spokesman Review by Jim Kershner