Sting is king for a day...
A few bars into his current hit single, 'Desert Rose', it became clear to the nearly sold-out audience at the Frank Erwin Center that something a bit unusual was going on in Sting's performance. The song was missing one very important ingredient: African singer Cheb Mami's distinct and beautiful Rai-inspired vocals. They make the song what it is and helped make it one of Sting's biggest hits in years. But alas, it was a missing element in the performance.
This was the common thread among all the songs performed during the Aug. 26 show. Sting played hit after hit, both from his popular solo career as well as a few nuggets from his days with The Police. But the evening didn't play like the standard greatest hits fest that many would have predicted. Sting actually did something brave and unorthodox. He played with the arrangements and structures of each song. He added a texture here and omitted a layer there.
The 'Brand New Day' tour, supporting Sting's recent album of the same name, focused heavily on his new batch of songs. The popular singer/songwriter has made his career consistent in the past, keeping the sound anchored by pop-punk and new wave hooks. But nowadays, Sting's solo career and the record 'Brand New Day', are rooted in jazz atmospheres. It's a matured sound, older and mellower.
So the Austin audience got this new side of Sting. Hits like 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' were given an alternate life, growing with varied arrangements. This was, by all accounts and expectations, supposed to be a pop-rock greatest hits showcase. Instead, Sting turned it into the most unlikely jazz and blues show of the year. Who would have guessed it to happen? What's more, who would have guessed it would have actually worked?
Forming a bridge between the gap of his earlier hits like 'We'll Be Together' and 'Englishman In New York', and latter-day successes with 'After The Rain Has Fallen' and 'Thousand Years', Sting used nearly every trick in the musical book. Trumpets blared while piano keys bounced up and down. There was no stopping the band from converting these pop-rock songs into jazzy R&B. There were small moments of improv, Coltrane-inspired tangents into shattering jams that soon found their way back to the original form.
In a performance that could have grown stale, Sting livened it up with creativity and exploration. A certain punch was occasionally missing, though in some expected spots. 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', with its anthemic chorus, was muted by a minimalist interpretation. Even hit single 'Brand New Day' the tour's battle cry was restricted to a loungey feel when the studio version gives promise to more energetic possibilities.
Sting brought out the electric arsenal for early Police hits like 'Roxanne' with a mesmerizing 10-minute version and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'. The baby-boomer and Gen X crowd were on their feet, singing along and loving it. But it was apparent that these same fans, who were likely following Sting's pursuits since day one, wanted more of that feeling throughout the night.
Even the final song of the evening, the massive Police hit 'Every Breath You Take', was revamped. The somber and slow song was given a heavy beat and a rock 'n' roll tempo. The courage that Sting must have, to take some of the most pop-oriented hits in recent history and tear them apart. He's one of the best British pop songwriters since Lennon/McCartney. But unlike Pete Townshend or Elton John, Sting appears willing to reinvent and explore. For those open to an unexpected and brave evening, it was a stunning event.
(c) The University Wire by Matt Dentler (Daily Texan)