SHOW REVIEW

Production keeps meandering Sting show together...

There are two Stings. The first is the charismatic former leader of the most enchanting rock band of the 1980s, the Police. A musician with a rare gift for writing songs that wed the energy of punk-rock with the warm-hearted bounce of reggae.

Then there's Sting the solo artist: brooding, enigmatic, cerebral and often given to pretension. This Sting takes his cues from more restrained - and implicitly brainier - musics like jazz and classical.

Both personas are appealing in their own right, but never should the twain meet. Unfortunately, they did meet at Sting's sold-out performance at the Forum Sunday night - and the results marred a potentially perfect show.

The singer, backed by a precise eight-piece band, performed a workmanlike concert, low on energy but high on aristocratic atmosphere. Dressed in black, his face framed in tousled blond hair, Sting looked like some sinister mad scientist as he alternated between guitar and keyboards.

And befitting his new restrained musical bent, Sting stood cemented behind the microphone, barely moving on most of his songs. This laid-back performing style was acceptable during the singer's new jazz-tinged compositions. The Brazilian-flavored ballad 'Fragile' concluded with a classical guitar solo that borrowed from Jimi Hendrix's 'Voodoo Chile'. That solo flight segued into a soaring version of Hendrix' 'Little Wing'.

During the sweltering ballad 'Sister Moon', the singer tripped the light fantastic with singer Dolette MacDonald. He even offered the crowd a lesson in musical time signatures during the bubbling 'Straight to My Heart' - the tune is performed in 7/4 time, the throng learned.

But the show lost steam when Sting performed his old Police songs. Surely encouraged by the strength of his new band, which included pianist Kenny Kirkland and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, the singer jazzed up most of the Police's charmingly spare hits.

The results were seldom revelatory. The once exotic 'Bring on the Night' featured a sprawling chorus far removed from its modest Police version. 'King of Pain' was similarly fattened with a percolating solo
break.

But the most annoying reinvention of all was the band's rendition of the Police's breakthrough hit 'Don't Stand So Close to Me'. Originally a modest production, Sunday night's arrangement was shapeless and confused. The tune commenced contemplatively, snowballed in a jazz foray and ended as a rocking rave-up. What was the point?

The crowd didn't seem to mind all the tinkering, responding to virtually every tune with enthusiasm. In fact, they sang along to the baroque-influenced 'Englishman in New York' as if it were a camp song.

Its few musical shortcomings aside, the Sunday night performance (the first of two nights at the Forum) was highly enjoyable. The singer spared no expense, providing video screens for folks with obscured views. The use of super slow-motion photography made much of the on-stage action look like a staged music-video production. And an exceptionally clear sound system sweetened each nuance of the singer's music.

(c) The Daily News of Los Angeles of Bruce Britt

Jazzy Sting plays to the camera and crowd...

Perhaps Sting and his camera crew need to have a little talk. The ex-Policeman's Sunday night show at the Forum was being magnified on a giant video screen hung above the stage for those unfortunate thousands of us in the more distant climes of the arena. And, as often happens at these ''televised'' events, the biggest cheers Sunday had less to do with performance than with camera angles: The crowd went wild when the camera focused in several times on the bare, hairy chest of this most sober of pop sex symbols after he took his shirt off toward the end of the show.

Singing the delicate 'The Secret Marriage', a paean to vows of commitment made without benefit of clergy or government, Sting cocked his head askew and looked a little perturbed as howls of female delight rose up repeatedly. He even tried to calm the racket, making a gesture for quiet - unaware that his right nipple was being magnified thousands of times for all to see. Or was he? Sting's culpability or innocence in the matter of his televised chest was a subject of much amused debate after the show, with at least a few customers simply refusing to believe that the singer - for all his high-mindedness - didn't know what all the yelping during those last few numbers was about.

''It's hard to believe that he's not aware of and in control of everything that goes on in that concert,'' said one fan.

Good point.

Sunday's concert was the very model of tightness and precision, with all the attendant pluses and occasional minuses that entails. Sting's post-Police mixture of pop, rock, jazz and funk styles was flawlessly executed by his current crop of players, and the illusion of looseness was created with some well-planned dance steps and stage moves - yet no real risks were taken, and fans got few further clues as to what thoughts lie behind that cool mask. The man was definitely in control.

Once again Sting has gathered some of the best players money and a good reputation can buy; sax master Branford Marsalis, keyboard king Kenny Kirkland and singer Dolette McDonald are all holdovers from his previous (1985-86) solo tour, joined by five stellar newcomers, all of whom are allowed to play like real, live jazz musicians.

But there was no mistaking this for a jazz show. Jazz players bounce off each other, but these musicians bounce off only Sting (who plays only a little guitar and keyboard in the show) - if anyone. Mostly they bounce off no one, exercising their considerable chops at great lengths apart from one another on the huge stage - even a subdued Marsalis, who on the previous tour seemed to be emerging as such a live wire in his own right.

But things do have the appearance of being looser, more spirited and inspired than on the last tour - namely because every time a player starts to solo, some sort of visual choreography breaks out somewhere else on stage, presumably to hold a TV-trained audience's attention.

Come every instrumental break, Sting might do the twist with McDonald, or perhaps just walk to the rear risers in solitude - accompanied by a phalanx of ready spotlights, of course. Perhaps the feeling is that jazz-oriented solos must compete with mugging and dancing to go over in a basketball arena.

As for any overriding sense of purpose or vision or personality in concert from the man who made the lovely, well-paced '...Nothing Like the Sun' album last year, well, there's nothing like the record. Between-song consciousness-raising here was largely confined to swipes at Jimmy Swaggart and an explanation of what a 7/4 time signature is.

In the absence of any extraneous social commentary, unusual song choices or opportunities for these great players to really cut loose and take chances beyond their limits, what a listener was left with was 20 very good songs by Sting (seven Police oldies, three cuts from 1985's 'Dream of the Blue Turtles', 10 from the 'Sun' album) very well played by a world-class combo ...and, oh yes, at the end - for the patient, and love-struck - the very hairy chest of a control freak. After a second night at the Forum on Monday, Sting moves south tonight for a show at the San Diego Sports Arena.

(c) The Los Angeles Times by Chris Wilman

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