Dec
14
2001

Las Vegas, NV, US (Aladdin Theatre)

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With Rufus Wainright

SHOW REVIEW

Opening act outshines headliner at Aladdin concert...

Wainwright enthralling, Sting passionless, but you'd never know it from audience's reaction.

There is not always justice in the world. Friday night, Rufus Wainwright performed a beautiful set of his smart and creative songs as the opening act for Sting. But when he said he had only one more song left to sing, a large contingent of Sting fans cheered for his departure.

''Thank you, you've been a great audience,'' he said, anyway. Maybe he was thanking his appreciative fans who shelled out up to $150 to see him, or the kinder Sting fans who seemed to be won over, as opposed to the cackling future fogy talking on her cell phone in my row.

Fortunately, the rude people with bad taste didn't matter in the big scheme of things, since art was its own reward, and we were treated to Wainwright's art.

The 28-year-old stringy brunette is a classically trained musician who inherited tuneful genes from his parents, the big-name folkies Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, and who then developed his talents in music school and in the years afterward.

He is no folkie like his mom and dad, although his songs have a storytelling soul of folk, minus folk's repetitive-chorus nature.

At the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts, Wainwright sang mostly from his new, second album, 'Poses', vocalizing almost nonstop, using his voice as a confident instrument, as in opera and Broadway, but with an echo through the microphone that made his lyrics sound like secret thoughts escaping from his bedtime contemplations.

He had no band. He played songs alternately on piano and acoustic guitar, hopscotching over a variety of melodies that were likely influenced by his taste in pop, Broadway, singer-songwriting, opera and blues.

My favorite was 'Complainte de la Butte', an English-language and French-language pop aria from the 'Moulin Rouge' soundtrack, that allowed Wainwright (born in the States, raised in Canada) to use many of his vocal styles in one song. He slurred and belted out interesting arpeggios on and off the song's ghostly beat, like a time-signature bandit. He sang earnestly, then playfully, skipping around quick and low half-step notes, then rising up to long, purposefully flat/sharp notes near the top of his sweet octaves.

Earlier in the set, when Wainwright was trying to interest latent Sting fans, he alluded to his penchant for singing pop songs with classical structures.

''This next song is sort of like a Sting song. There are a lot of chords nobody's ever heard,'' he cracked.

A few songs later, he tried again.

''This next song is a Scottish song, which is kind of like Sting, since he's from England. I'm trying to connect with you people. I think I'm doing a pretty good job.''

A lot of people laughed and applauded. Wainwright was flamboyantly charming. Once, a burly stage hand walked up to him to fix a technical glitch, and Wainwright teased, ''This is one of my dancers, my Vegas showgirls.''

Others in the crowd, primarily well-coifed women for some reason, kept cackling on their phones and saying things behind me, like, ''This is a waste of my time.'' Would they have booed the young brilliance of Nick Drake in 1972? Or the Police in 1980? Or Radiohead in 1997? Or Fiona Apple in 2000? Gawah!

They were waiting for the main event, as Sting was billed, naturally, given his amazing oeuvre of great early 1980s songs with the Police, those reggae-rhythmic alternative-rockers, and his banner jazz-pop solo work of the late 1980s.

But there's not much to say about Sting's nearly two-hour set. The stage looked pretty in a VH1 way, with purple-ish backdrops and soft lighting glowing around the 50-year-old tantric star/yogi. And the music sounded VH1, with Sting and his nine-piece band performing tame, challengeless, gray revisions of prior glory, as if he'd thrown all his whites, colors and darks in a hot washer for a few days.

'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', that magically happy song from 1981, was rote. ''Every Breath You Take'' seemed like a faster run-through of the compelling original. The cool edges of 'An Englishman in New York' were rounded down to keep anyone from getting hurt.

There were rare moments of good, but not great, soft-jazz breakdowns throughout the night. And the last two songs of Sting's encore were excellent, first 'Message in a Bottle', with Sting singing solo plaintively while playing bass, then the gorgeous keeper 'Fragile', with the whole band in tow, as Sting picked a lucid, emotional guitar line.

But I got the impression that Sting has played all these songs so many hundreds, or thousands, of times that he had lost his passion for them and, so, was falling back on big band arrangements that were Vegas-ish crowd pleasers for the Sting-inclined.

This theory was bolstered by his introduction of 'Roxanne', the beginning of which he sang in a bored double-time or so. He said he's never forgotten to play the classic song at the thousands of concerts he's performed in the past few decades.

Whether my theory is right or wrong, his domesticated routine was a crowd pleaser. People clapped to the beat en masse, danced in the aisles, and walked out saying things like, ''That was awesome!'' I am glad they enjoyed the show. A few of them were my dear friends. But I couldn't help but wish that Sting would take a break after this, his tour's finale, and find the inspiration to robustly live up to his staggering potential again.

(c) The Las Vegas Review-Journal by Doug Elfman



'I wanted to send out a love letter...'

''I wanted to send out a love letter,'' has been Sting's simple declaration for why he decided to release 'All This Time', a live album commemorating a highly successful two-year tour. While most love letters are exchanged between two people, Sting's figurative missive was meant for a global audience. And on Friday night in Las Vegas, he personally delivered it to more than 6,000 in attendance at the sold out show.

But for those who took their seats well before the opening act started, the rewards were handed out early. Uncharacteristically, several members of the band including - Dominic Miller (guitar), Jason Rebello, Kipper (both on keyboards), walked out of a door adjacent to the stage and made their way single file up the aisle to the bar just outside the venue doors. A few eagle-eyed fans spotted them and were able to exchange greetings. The word quickly spread that the band was in great spirits and that the final show of the two-year, two-month tour, would be a memorable one.

From the very first note of the set opener, 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', it was clear that Sting had turned the energy knob well beyond ''ten.'' That put the audience on notice to fasten their seat belts and hang on for one final, emotional ride.

Leading into the 'A Thousand Years'/'Perfect Love Gone Wrong' medley, Sting delivered the first of many personal and emotional messages to the crowd. When asked about the meaning behind 'A Thousand Years', he usually explains it as being about a love that is able to survive through many reincarnations through the ages. But at this final show, he used it as a symbol of the love between audience and performer and as a subliminal thank you, by saying, ''People ask me what this song is about. It's about you.''

The jazzier, reworked 'All This Time' was next with outstanding drum work by Abe Laboriel, Jr. Hounds of Winter, the first cut from Sting's 'Mercury Falling' album followed, having gotten new life in this final tour leg and on the new live album.

And just to prove that his sense of humor was also intact, Sting asked the crowd if he was losing weight as he tugged repeatedly throughout the night at his slipping trousers. ''I've had this shirt on for seven days. Is it smelly?'' It was no surprise to the serious Sting followers that there could only be one song that could follow that introduction - 'Seven Days'.

Sting wasn't the only one handing out personal messages and gestures that night. When it was time for Dominic Miller to take his place at the front of the stage for his 'Fields of Gold' guitar solo, he searched the audience for a favorite fan to lob his guitar pick to. He found her and played to her amidst cheers from the down front crowd. The toss was successfully completed and the guitar pick found its way to a secure place to be added later to the pile of Sting memorabilia.

The next twist was technical in nature. During the middle of the set, Kipper's keyboard refused to cooperate. As the keyboard tech Pete ''Hopps'' Lorimer worked on the connections, Kipper sat in his chair helplessly. In between one of the songs, Sting turned around, looked at him and jokingly asked if the man working on his keyboard was his father-in-law. They bantered back and forth, with Kipper offering to play the show for free.

Not to be deterred, Kipper contributed his usual backup vocals (while Hopps crawled around beneath him) even joining backup singer Janice Pendarvis on the back podium during 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'. He and Janice improvised Dixieland dance steps to the crowd's amusement.

In a night punctuated by unusual song intros, the following one brought the house down. Sting asked the audience if they had seen the just-released videotape of Osama bin Laden commenting on the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. ''I am a man of peace,'' Sting said. ''But Osama bin Laden is a f****** prick!''

'Englishman in New York' began to thunderous applause as a show of support for Sting's sentiment and for the city he holds near to his heart.

'Desert Rose' was up next and Sting handed out another fan reward. Recently featured on VH1's Fan Club episode on Sting, was a woman from Utah who has belly danced several times on stage during 'Desert Rose'. On this last show of the tour, he called her up again and asked when the last time was that they ''did this.'' She answered ''Boston in May.'' Sting replied much to the crowd's amusement, ''Boston in Maine?'' Laughing he said, ''I know Boston is in Massachusetts!''

And since this was a night of audience participation, even the Aladdin Hotel staff was not immune. Sting invited a surprised Aladdin Hotel usher on stage to dance with him during the 'Bring On The Night'/'When the World is Running Down' medley. (At this rate, some of us wondered if he was about to go out into the casino and grab a stunned gambler away from a Black Jack table to sing backup.)

With the regular set concluded, the band left the stage to a thunderous standing ovation. Sting quickly returned to the stage with yet another surprise - this one, more of a shocker for him than for anyone else.

He took the microphone and quietly told the audience, ''I must have done thousands of shows in the past 23 years, and I've never forgotten to sing 'Roxanne', until tonight.'' And like a lover who has wronged his partner, Sting made it up to the girl who he's frequently personified by saying, ''she's been ery, very good to me.''

On this last night of a 26-month tour which began in Las Vegas on October 14, 1999 and was ending in Las Vegas on December 14, 2001, Sting delivered an amazing 'Roxanne'. He stretched, he played with his voice and he improvised. And he laced it with a heavier-than-normal reggae infusion. All the while, you had the sense that he was apologizing to his lady of the night for forgetting her. And we were the beneficiaries of a public ''kiss and makeup'' between the author and his leading mythical lady.

The next sentence from the public love letter was delivered when Sting told the audience, ''Here is another song about you.'' 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Every Breath You Take', were sung to a body of people who refused to take their seats. Singing, dancing, waving to the band, all knew that the performance was coming to an end. The band left the stage and Sting returned alone for the second encore set. It was time for him to deliver his final personal message.

''I don't know when I'm going to see you again. I'm going home tomorrow and watch the grass grow. I'm going to do a song I don't normally do.'' With his guitar slung over his shoulder, 'Message in a Bottle' was delivered from one voice to 6,000 back up singers.

The band quickly joined him on stage for the customary final song - 'Fragile'. As he plucked the final chord, we knew that the tour, which seemingly had no end, was truly and finally really over. His love letter to his fans had been written, mailed and received. In return, we hope that the author knows how much his ''his hundred billion castaways'' love him back.

(c) Sophia Dilberakis for Sting.com

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