SHOW REVIEW

Sting's music speaks for itself...

Reviewers do love to hate Sting. Something about his pompous, arrogant manner strikes a bad nerve, but, damn, his show Thursday at the Concord Pavilion proved so thoroughly persuasive, it is difficult to cavil.

The sound could have been a little better. His band of virtuosos got carried away with themselves every so often, but that is often the case with virtuosos. Sting kept the grand gestures and bull to a minimum. It was, regrettably, a great show.

Now what am I going to write?

His eight-piece band of jazz-rock musicians blurred the arbitrary distinctions between the idioms and fashioned a churning, hard funk sound that could accommodate the spellbinding inventions of keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and the blinding rock flash of guitarist Jeff Campbell with equal ease. The rhythm section tackled their chores with a searing intensity that kept Sting's songs under a full boil.

Sting sang with passion and hot-blooded feeling, lending even his most arcane lyrics a genuine fervor. He goofed with the band, seemed loose and even good-natured, and generally disported himself with both conviction and cordiality. He had enough humor to bring the band back to encore with a spirited version of 'Home On the Range'.

Some of his solo efforts may be stronger than others, but his former band, the Police, never could have put together a song like 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', at once simple and engaging while also intricate and dense. His new band sounded somewhat over-qualified reproducing the old Police hits, although Sting still put his heart into the vocals, even if he clearly preferred the solo works. He dug into his 'Bring On the Night' with uncommon power, deftly plucking a nylon-string electric guitar, and letting keyboardist Kirkland light the instrumental passage with a solo that was nothing short of mind-boggling.

He brought the show to a stunning climax with the Jimi Hendrix classic, 'Little Wing', scorching the warm summer night with his band's supersonic firepower.

Throughout the 90-minute show - Sting eschewed his customary intermission - he gave these magnificent musicians extensive space to sketch on his canvas, without ever giving way to chaos or anarchy. Letting these players have a relatively free hand may be his most impressive stroke because they became much more than mere support, but actually had a fundamental role in the show.

The whole thing was so solidly musical and brilliantly realized. The only thing to complain about is that now I'm not going to get a nasty letter from Sting.

(c) The San Francisco Chronicle by Joel Selvin

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