Feb
03
2004

Minneapolis, MN, US (Northrop Auditorium)

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With Chris Botti

SHOW REVIEW

Concert gets at the Sting of success...

Like Paul McCartney, Sting will always have to contend with what he did with his first band.

In concert, the Police had a magical chemistry, with the interaction among the three players elevating the group on most nights to something that was greater - and more exciting - than the individual parts.

As a solo artist, Sting had a special connection with his first touring band, featuring Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland. However, with his more recent groups, including the one he brought Tuesday to sold-out Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis, it has been about Sting, the star, and his songs rather than about an ensemble playing the songs he is singing.

McCartney understands the difference, and that's why he had a terrific road band a couple of years ago. It wasn't the ex-Beatle and a bunch of young hired guns; it was a hot band of simpatico players, and the lead singer/bassist just happened to be famous.

The singer/bassist at Northrop on Tuesday started out as if it were Sting and his sidemen. And that made for a mediocre first hour. But the players and their boss found a synchronicity, and the second hour turned into a very, very good concert.

As has been Sting's practice in his post-Police career, he concentrated on material from his current album and did some solo hits and a few Police pieces (some obscure, some obvious).

The 52-year-old tackled nine of the 10 tunes on his 'Sacred Love' CD, and that became his downfall. It's not that the material is inferior; in fact, it's alluringly soulful with, as always, thoughtful and sometimes provocative lyrics. Even though all the musicians onstage save the drummer played on the CD, the band just never got cooking on these new tunes. And Sting left no room for spontaneity, making for some suffocatingly sterile soul.

Even when Sting tore into something familiar, the Police's 'Synchronicity II', with audience-invigorating ebullience, the band was merely efficient. Things turned around surprisingly on something quiet as 'I Was Brought to My Senses' started like an Irish ballad and built into a Al Jarreau-like jazz-soul fusion during which the band finally found a groove.

Then the Sting solo hits - the subtle, soulful 'Fragile' and the sweet 'Fields of Gold' - transformed the concert. He had a proud bounce in his step on the reggae-infused 'Englishman in New York' and tore it up on 'Roxanne', the funky 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Every Breath You Take', his badge of honor - with or without the Police.

(c) The Star Tribune by Jon Bream



Audience left to judge Sting's past and present...

Call it a tale of two Stings. Doing battle for the affections of a sold-out Northrop Auditorium on Tuesday night were the young Englishman who emerged as a reggae-loving punk popster during the ''new wave'' of the late '70s and the effete, mellow composer of ambling songs that don't go to any particular musical extremes.

Hence, Sting, his five-piece band and two backup singers gave the devoted audience something of a case of whiplash, alternating between spirited renditions of older fare and tepid recent numbers. The concert consistently alternated between up-tempo numbers and slower songs, and the crowd was in and out of its seats accordingly. But the strong band's unflagging energy provided satisfying moments amidst even the weakest material.

Clad in a loose-fitting gray suit for most of the night, Sting was much the smirking flirt he's always been. But he didn't dwell in the pained earnestness or cool arrogance that's sometimes marred his past performances, instead seeming a relaxed and amiable host for the concert. Pausing to chat only when he felt a new song needed an introduction, the svelte blond frontman was at his best when throwing his sterling bass work into the extended jams that accompanied a handful of numbers.

After a quarter century in the business, the 52-year-old Sting still is an engaging performer. Unlike some artists who deliver their new material with far more spirit than the perfunctorily performed older songs, Sting and band put a lot of oomph into the blasts from the past provided by the Police era. 'Synchronicity II' was the night's best rocker, while the reggae rhythms of 'Roxanne' were stretched out on a Wailer-esque vamp before finishing with a note-perfect rendition of the original on the way out.

Other highlights were a pair of soft, flamenco-flavored ballads in mid-show, 'Fragile' and 'Fields of Gold', with Sting taking the guitar solos on the former and top-flight picker Dominic Miller the latter. But then, as was customary throughout the evening, the mood was defused by one of the unimpressive tunes from Sting's latest, 'Sacred Love'. If one were to judge by his latest songs, you may assume that he's not the writer he once was, and that the drop in popularity that's made more intimate shows like Tuesday's possible may be deserved.

But Sting's nasal siren of a voice was as strong as ever, and his band was in fine form throughout. Deserving special mention are Miller's atmospheric solos, a couple of impressive extended piano solos by Jason Rebello, and a standout stand-in job by Joy Rose as she outdid Mary J. Blige's contribution to the latest album on 'Whenever I Say Your Name'.

(c) The Pioneer Press by Rob Hubbard

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