Brand New Day
Jul
21
2000
Chicago, USUnited Center
With Tracy Chapman
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Sting without bite - Artist's flair only a glimmer at the United Center...

While fronting The Police in the late '70s and early '80s, Sting introduced a strikingly original fusion of rock and reggae that continues to influence dozens of young bands.

Now, with more years and albums accrued as a solo artist than while he was chief of The Police, Sting makes the kind of muck that one might expect from a middle-aged multimillionaire with nothing left to prove.

From dubious blue eyed soul to watered-down world music to ersatz jazz, no genre is too sacred for Sting to wrap his rock star ego around, a complacent attitude that has resulted in some rather staid and uneven releases.

Yet something usually happens to Sting when he's set in front of thousands of fans. Maybe it's the energy of the crowd and the added vibrancy of his live band, but typically Sting springs into action, earning his status as an icon and making one forget about the sterility of his recent studio efforts in one fell swoop.

Yet at the United Center Friday night the music was surprisingly tepid. Could it be that Sting's high-profile corporate sponsorship has sapped the musician of the urge to work for his money?

Even on a strictly musical level, a corporate sponsorship can be damaging. 'Brand New Day' and 'Desert Rose', two of the catchier songs from Sting's most recent album, 'Brand New Day', and ostensibly highlights of the show, have been transformed into ''that song from the computer ad'' and ''that song form the car commercial,'' respectively.

And what are the benefits of a sponsor, anyway, when top ticket prices are still high enough to just about cover the combined store cost of every one of Sting's solo discs?

Humbugging aside, Sting's latest band struck an initially intriguing balance between his past faux jazz outings and his more pared down rock exercises.

Many of Sting's older songs, such as 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and 'We'll Be Together' were given fresh arrangements, even if it sometimes seemed the new renditions were designed to keep Sting engaged as much as the audience entertained.

'Fill Her Up' and 'Fields of Gold' made the most of Sting's maudlin pretensions, while regular sideman Dominic Miller provided the kind of atmospheric guitar discharges that Andy Summers specialized in with The Police.

Still, Sting's ambitions continue to get the better of him. His Louis Armstrong inspired vocal affection during 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' came precariously close to tipping from tribute to parody, especially considering that trumpeter Chris Botti is no Satchmo.

While retooled old Police nuggets such as 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'Roxanne', and the 'Bring On The Night/When The World Is Running Down' medley were predictably resplendent, Sting just didn't seem that interested in putting in more than the most minimal effort.

It's as if he's finally become the dinosaur he pretended to disdain while posing as a punk in The Police, only to find that he likes the perks.

(c) Chicago Tribune by Joshua Klein



Sting's toned down concert has no bite...

Sting is a lot of things to a lot of people: Philosopher, actor, rain-forest activist, and - of course - Le Grand Rock Star.

But one thing he wasn't Friday night at Chicago's United Center was an electrifying performer, as he and his capable backup band provided a lukewarm show that seemed more rote performance than exhilarating concert.

Looking ever the tousle-haired part, Sting took the stage wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt that showed off the blond bassist's bulging biceps.

(Judging from the crowd's agog reaction, he certainly knows on what side his beefcake is buttered.) He began the set with a promising, hypnotic version of 'A Thousand Years', the opening track from his latest album, 'Brand New Day'. But things didn't take off from there as the rollicking 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' never, well, rollicked.

The proceedings continued at a listless level as both 'After the Rain Has Fallen' and 'We'll Be Together' failed to reach the elevated, if not dizzying, heights of the original versions. The latter song picked up the energy for a minute or two, but an extended Jason Rebello keyboard solo took the air out of the lively tune. Things really slowed during the ballads

'Moon Over Bourbon Street' and 'Englishman in New York', with not even a whimsical Tom Waits-croak during 'Bourbon Street', injected intensity into the show.

On some level, though, it's difficult to criticize Sting. The music was certainly pleasant enough and the well-coifed musicians who flanked him - and whose tony duds made them look like they belonged in a Banana Republic catalog - obviously were talented. (Especially brilliant drummer Manu Katche, whose spirited French rapping momentarily lifted the somnambulant show during 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong'.)

And let's not forget Sting is 48. People get older, they change, they mellow. He's not the energetic rocker who fronted The Police anymore, and he's been touring for a while now. So ripping him for not being more exciting might be akin to attending a Englebert Humperdink concert and getting angry because he's not Kid Rock.

But there was something so perfunctory, so dialed-in, so VH-1 about this show. Even the between-song banter seemed canned: ''How nice to be back in Chicago!'' and ''Hey Chicago!'' are lifted straight from the ''Are you ready to rock?'' chapter of obligatory concert chat.

Plus, we know he can do better. His December 1999 show at the Chicago Theater filled the place with his impish, mischievous dynamism. This wasn't that Sting; this was the Sting who now does Jaguar commercials. (I mean, come on - does he really need the money? Is this really the same guy who once sang 'Be My Girl - Sally', a paean to a blow-up doll?) Worst of all, Sting's erzatz jazz/world music band took all the fire out of the Police songs he covered: A ho-hum instrumental break sapped the intensity from 'Roxanne' and the obsessive tension of 'Every Breath You Take' became a jaunty campfire tune.

As people streamed to the exits before the show was over, it was obvious: Sting wasn't sending out an SOS (to quote an early Police song), he was sending out Z-Z-Zs.

(c) Chicago Daily Herald by Joel Reese



Sting without bite - Artist's flair only a glimmer at the United Center...

While fronting The Police in the late '70s and early '80s, Sting introduced a strikingly original fusion of rock and reggae that continues to influence dozens of young bands. Now, with more years and albums accrued as a solo artist than while he was chief of The Police, Sting makes the kind of muck that one might expect from a middle-aged multimillionaire with nothing left to prove.

From dubious blue eyed soul to watered-down world music to ersatz jazz, no genre is too sacred for Sting to wrap his rock star ego around, a complacent attitude that has resulted in some rather staid and uneven releases.

Yet something usually happens to Sting when he's set in front of thousands of fans. Maybe it's the energy of the crowd and the added vibrancy of his live band, but typically Sting springs into action, earning his status as an icon and making one forget about the sterility of his recent studio efforts in one fell swoop.

Yet at the United Center Friday night the music was surprisingly tepid. Could it be that Sting's high-profile corporate sponsorship has sapped the musician of the urge to work for his money?

Even on a strictly musical level, a corporate sponsorship can be damaging. 'Brand New Day' and 'Desert Rose', two of the catchier songs from Sting's most recent album, 'Brand New Day', and ostensibly highlights of the show, have been transformed into ''that song from the computer ad'' and ''that song form the car commercial,'' respectively.

And what are the benefits of a sponsor, anyway, when top ticket prices are still high enough to just about cover the combined store cost of every one of Sting's solo discs?

Humbugging aside, Sting's latest band struck an initially intriguing balance between his past faux jazz outings and his more pared down rock exercises.

Many of Sting's older songs, such as 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and 'We'll Be Together' were given fresh arrangements, even if it sometimes seemed the new renditions were designed to keep Sting engaged as much as the audience entertained.

'Fill Her Up' and 'Fields of Gold' made the most of Sting's maudlin pretensions, while regular sideman Dominic Miller provided the kind of atmospheric guitar discharges that Andy Summers specialized in with The Police.

Still, Sting's ambitions continue to get the better of him. His Louis Armstrong inspired vocal affection during 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' came precariously close to tipping from tribute to parody, especially considering that trumpeter Chris Botti is no Satchmo.

While retooled old Police nuggets such as 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'Roxanne', and the Bring On The Night'/'When The World Is Running Down' medley were predictably resplendent, Sting just didn't seem that interested in putting in more than the most minimal effort.

It's as if he's finally become the dinosaur he pretended to disdain while posing as a punk in The Police, only to find that he likes the perks.

(c) Chicago Metromix website by Joshua Klein



Staid Sting avoids risks, lacks passion...

Gordon Sumner achieved fame fairly late in life. For a rock star, that is. At the ripe old age of 27, Sumner - better known by the stage name Sting - reached a wide audience when the Police scored an international hit with 'Roxanne'.

That was back in 1979, and most of the fans at Sting's Friday night concert remember it quite well. A predominantly middle-aged crowd filled the United Center to see their hero mix solo hits with tunes from his days as a Police-man. A sense of nostalgia permeated the air, as the Police songs engendered the loudest applause.

Sting walked away from the Police when they were one of the most popular bands on the planet. Many scoffed at this bass-playing rocker's desire to forge a solo career with music that is heavily influenced by jazz. But it's hard to argue with success. Sting has now won 14 Grammy awards.

His two latest phonograph statuettes were for the 1999 album 'Brand New Day' (A&M). The disc won pop album of the year, and the title track was named best pop male vocal performance.

The difference between ''pop'' music and ''rock'' music is sometimes confusing on the night that the Grammys are handed out. This distinction was made clear on Friday as Sting led six backing musicians through a night of dull but finely executed pop and smooth jazz music. Everyone hit the right notes, but the passion was absent.

One would never know that Sting is 48 by looking at him. He still has a full head of blonde locks, and his sleeveless black T-shirt revealed biceps finely sculpted by years of yoga. Yet his performance showed a timidity and avoidance of risks.

The band's reading of 'Roxanne' came across more as an aural allusion to an energetic song than a genuinely inspired rendition.

At the song's conclusion, Sting stepped up onto the drum riser. He carefully glanced right and left before gingerly hopping downward. In the Police's heyday, Sting bounced around the stage like a rubber ball with a rocket booster.

While it's not entirely fair to expect Sting to have the same stage persona he did 17 years ago, one can hope his music evolves in compelling ways. To that end, 'Brand New Day' is a complex, satisfying album that incorporates many textures and musical genres. In the live setting, however, tunes such as 'Tomorrow We'll See' and 'After the Rain Has Fallen' were staid, covered in a tasteful gauze that muffled their energy.

Even the soaring hit single 'Desert Rose' (popularized by a television ad for a luxury car) fell a bit flat. Trumpeter Chris Botti and guitarist Dominic Miller are technically proficient players who demonstrated wonderful tone but little imagination. We can't prevent our rock'n'roll heroes from growing old and stodgy, but we don't have to like it when it happens.

Opening act Tracy Chapman won over the crowd with her folk-rock. She closed her set with an extended version of 'Give Me One Reason' that morphed into a Chicago blues-style stomp. On this tune, guitarist Steve Hunter, an Illinois native, showed off some licks indicative of one who has studied masters like Buddy Guy. The tune got Chapman a standing ovation, which was shocking, since many in the crowd doggedly ignored her at first.

(c) The Chicago Sun Times by Bobby Reed

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