Sting, Jonny Lang bridge musical generation gap...
A good double bill should be rich with complements and contrasts, and by that measure, last night's AmSouth Amphitheater at Starwood show featuring Sting and Jonny Lang was a knockout by one-two punch.
It was a chance to watch two generations of sincere and skilled musicians at work and glimpse both forward and backward across a wide swath of pop music.
Lang, a 19-year-old guitarist and frighteningly mature singer, opened with a rangy set of blues and soul. Not stuck in the Chicago 12-bar formula, his songs coursed from slippery grooves reminiscent of Little Feat to a tender Irish-tinged ballad. Fronting a six-piece band and wielding a hollow-body Telecaster like a veteran, Lang completely involved the audience.
At one point he traded measures with his saxophone player, growing progressively spooky and rich. His hit 'Lie to Me' made for a fireball conclusion to a set that was like a clarion call to future generations of music lovers. Young rock doesn't have to be gimmicky or cute.
Sting's lush and worldly pop supported a performance that was joyful, unpretentious and gracious toward his Tennessee surroundings. He entered with a guitar but shifted to his battered bass after working through the Arabic strains of A Thousand Years, off his newest CD, 'Brand New Day', a double Grammy-winner.
Also from that album, 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong' is a jealousy song full of dog jokes that featured a rap in French by the drummer and the first of several forays into deep jazz territory by the stellar pianist and trumpeter.
'Fill Her Up' is a bright song about a petty theft that begins as close to country music as anything Sting has recorded and evolves into a rousing gospel romp. At that point, Lang came onstage and threw his guitar into the fray, further elevating the energy level.
In many ways, though, old Sting is still the best Sting. 'All This Time' from the 'Soul Cages' album came off as one of the most thrilling passages of the evening, with its rich historical allusions, well-penned imagery and rock-hard backbeat. 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' from his first solo outing was spidery and romantic, played beneath a three-dimensional glowing moon that hung over the backdrop.
And, oh yes, Sting was in this band called the Police. 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Roxanne' brought the house down, even though the added keyboards and horn didn't help these tunes, originally arranged brilliantly by one of the tightest trios that ever played together.
With a passion for rhythm and involving soundscapes, Sting comes off after all these years as one of rock's thinkers. In the past, he's struck thinker-like poses that were a bit much. But there was none of that last night, just good music well played.
(c) The Tennessean by Craig Havighurst