A measured Sting...
Say what you want about British pop meister Sting - he's definitely an artist who knows his audience.
For proof, consider his near-sold out show Saturday at Legends Field. Backed by a crack six-piece band, he twisted and reinvented a host of hit tunes from his past, putting a new spin on classic jams like 'Set Them Free', 'Synchronicity II' and 'Bring on the Night'.
But when it came time to whip out the big hit, The Police's 'Roxanne', he gave it a pretty straight reading - reminiscent of the version heard at his former band's shows over a decade ago.
I guess even Sting knows; don't mess with what works.
Still, for an artist known as a musician's musician, the ex-Policeman seemed to keep his impressive backing band including players who have performed with Wynton Marsalis, Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell - on a short leash.
Opening with the obligatory deluge of material from his latest album, Sting delivered majestic versions of new tunes like the moody 'Hounds of Winter' and off-time, R&B-flavoured jaunt, 'I Hung My Head'.
The crowd of more than 13,800 put up with this stuff patiently enough, but it was clear what they were interested in when the band reached the first chestnut of the night, 'Set Them Free'.
Faced with a song they recognized, the fans jumped from their seats, with one devoted admirer holding a cellular phone aloft presumably carrying the sounds to someone who couldn't cough up the dough to get there himself.
To be sure, there were some surprises. A trombone solo stuck midway through 'Roxanne' (Sting brought a sax player, too) brought fond memories of The Specials' 'Ghost Town', while an inspired melding of 'Bring on the Night' and 'When the World Is Running Down' brought new life to two of The Police's best tunes.
Balancing new songs like the country-drenched weeper 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' with old faves such as 'Englishman In New York' (complete with a game attempt at rap by Sting himself) and 'When the World Is Running Down' (the only place where monster keyboardist Kenny Kirkland really got to stretch), Sting offered an impressive, if measured show.
Opener Natalie Merchant offered a lazily offhand atmosphere during her 45-minute set, winding through her songs with the detached, art-school vibe she cultivates so well.
Still, with spot-on backing by her own well-chosen six-piece band, the former 10,000 Maniacs vocalist matched anything her former group could offer.
Recasting the Maniacs' hit 'These Are Days' as a New Orleans second-line groove and digging into recent solo hits like 'Carnival', the raven-haired singer whirled like a dervish - casting her hypnotic vocals toward an appreciative crowd.
The show's only hitch came courtesy of an early beginning singer/songwriter Soraya started 30 minutes before the concert's scheduled 8 p.m. start - confounding many fans who filed into the venue halfway through Merchant's performance.
(c) The St. Petersburg Times by Eric Deggans