Sting strips away too much in Grand Prairie...
Like a retrospective box set made flesh, Sting's performance Wednesday at the Verizon Theatre was passionate, precise and pleasing, particularly to those who ponied up to hear the hits faithfully rendered.
Which is to say it was a diffident affair, largely devoid of emotion, a series of songs chosen to highlight all phases of Sting's four-decade career, as a member of the influential trio the Police and as a solo singer-songwriter after that group's implosion in the early '80s. Make no mistake: Sting can write a masterful piece of pop music when he puts his mind to it and the set list, deftly cherry-picking the deep cuts ('Sacred Love', 'Love is Stronger Than Justice') and placing them alongside the staples ('Fields of Gold', 'Fortress Around Your Heart'), bore that assertion out.
Despite the separation of decades, there's a clear through-line from the still-great 'All This Time' (from Sting's wildly underrated 1991 album 'The Soul Cages') to the spare, elegiac 'Ghost Story'. Although he's become more of a commodity in recent years, his talent has scarcely abandoned him.
But after dominating soft-rock radio in the '80s and '90s, Sting took his foot off the gas as the '00s dawned, electing to spend much of the decade reflecting, first with the Police (the trio reunited in 2007 to much fanfare) and then, with his solo catalog (the three-disc 25 Years arrived in stores just as this "Back to Bass" tour was getting underway).
Sting's current affinity for nostalgia is - surprise, surprise - nothing short of a gold mine, an opportunity to pry loose some more cash from fans' wallets, who've already overpaid for primo Police reunion tickets, that tour's attendant tchtochkes and, now, admission to this victory lap, with its $40 T-shirts or - hey, go crazy - the full $125 version of 25 Years, available to grab on your way out to the parking lot.
All of the cynical moneygrubbing might be slightly more tolerable if Sting and his duly impressive backing band (five in number; they range from the merely spectacular - guitarist Dominic Miller and his son Rufus - to the occasionally sublime: backing vocalist Jo Lawry and fiddler Peter Tickell) could muster something approaching vigor. Even the between-song banter, intended to pull back the curtain a little, never rose above banal observations: "I know it's a bit of a cheek, me doing a country song," said Sting, prior to launching into 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying', "but it's a very pungent way of telling a story." Yup. And?
There were moments where the two-hour show, unfolding before a vociferous crowd goosed with cocktails and fond memories, sprang to life - Tickell unleashed a full-on fiddle freak-out at the end of 'Love is Stronger Than Justice' - but too often, the players would hit their marks for solos that felt compulsory rather than conjured from fleeting inspiration. What should have felt (or appeared to feel) organic instead felt mechanical. The spartan stage set-up didn't help matters; there was precious little to distract, leaving the focus solely upon Sting and his studied impassivity.
On some level, it's commendable that Sting, at an impossibly lithe 60, still possesses the vocal chops and instrumental prowess to render these songs without embarrassing himself. And while there were a few subtle reworkings of well-known songs - the crack band had some fun with Seven Days and its unconventional stop-start structure - Sting appears to have abandoned his penchant for taking classics and all but rewriting them, as occasionally happened on the initial Police reunion jaunt. He's acquiesced to the marketplace, packaging up the past and selling it right back to the same people who eagerly bought it 25 years ago.
It's not quite a mercenary operation, but if Sting's pleased to be rifling through his greatest hits, the least he could do is appear engaged beyond the perfunctory rock star moves. But then, for some, a little hip wiggling and eye contact is all that's necessary. Just leave the money on the merch table.
(c) DFW.com by Preston Jones