Sting goes Back to Bass in S.F.
The genius of Sting, at least as a solo artist, is he can delve into any musical genre and emerge with a song that would fit for a luxury car commercial.
There's a glossy sheen to everything he touches, be it R&B ('Sacred Love'), blues ('Heavy Cloud No Rain'), country ('I Hung My Head') or pop (take your pick). It's not necessary a bad thing, but it's so different from the rough-and-tumble rock 'n' roll he created in his early years leading the Police.
Call it maturing as an artist, if you want to be kind Yet the fact remains that the two sides of Sting - which divide at the Police's last album, 1983's blockbuster 'Synchronicity' - are so vastly dissimilar that it's hard to understand how the same fan could cherish both the Police's 1978 debut, 'Outlandos d'Amour', and a solo offering such as 1999's 'Brand New Day'.
Having enjoyed the retro side of Sting a few years back, as the vocalist-bassist twice brought the Police reunion tour through the Bay Area, local fans got the flip side on Friday night at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco.
And the thing made abundantly clear at this show - the first half of a sold-out two-night stand at the hilltop venue - is that Sting is far more comfortable as a solo artist than he is as the chief of Police.
Of course, the set list wasn't as strong as the ones featured at the Police stops in 2007 at Oakland Coliseum and in 2008 at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View and Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord. But Sting's vocals and bass work were certainly better during this date of his Back to Bass Tour.
Most of all, Sting looked like he was having a blast onstage. There was a charmingly casual air to the show, which deflated Sting's usual persona of "important rock star," as he joked with the crowd and chatted about the music.
He even proved capable of rolling with the punches. For instance, there was a woman near the front of the stage who was waving a handmade sign, asking that Sting bring her up onstage to sing with him. Ridiculous request, right? Yet, his answer was simply, "Yeah, sure, come on up."
The woman then shared the star's microphone for the laid-back country rambler 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying', a Sting-penned divorce ditty that was a major hit for Toby Keith. The guest vocalist did a fine job during her five minutes of fame, making hundreds of others in the house wish they'd drawn up similar signs.
That moment underscored what's really special about the Masonic. The venue's relatively low-to-the-ground stage, without any real barriers erected around it, means that those fans seated on the floor level get a surprisingly up-close-and-personal concert experience. The only thing keeping a fan from walking onstage with Sting was courage - that and, of course, some security guards.
Opening the evening with the 1991 single 'All This Time', from 'The Soul Cages', Sting and his versatile five-piece band took fans on a two-hour-plus tour throughout his catalog. The 21-song set was built primarily from his solo material, but he did include six Police cuts - all of which, not surprisingly, ranked as highlights of the show.
It initially seemed like he might strike a more-Police-heavy balance, given that three of the first eight tunes were from his old band - a bouncy 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', a rollicking 'Demolition Man' and a fast-paced 'Driven to Tears'. Yet, the next 10 offerings were all from his solo songbook.
It grew dull at times, even though the vocals and musicianship never slipped, as the band delivered one numbingly pastoral ditty after another. So much of his solo material has been inspired by the English countryside, where his family has lived now for roughly 25 years, and that's made him a kind of Henry David Thoreau of pop. The lyrical imagery is often quite pretty, but, really, there's only so much 'Fields of Gold' one can take.
The crowd members politely enjoyed the solo songs, even such dull numbers as 'Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)' and 'Never Coming Home', but they showed the greatest enthusiasm for the old Police numbers. Fortunately, Sting would lay down the law at the show's end and perform three straight Police classics - 'Every Breath You Take', 'Message in a Bottle' and, best of all, 'Next to You'.
(c) Oakland Tribune by Jim Harrington