Mercury Falling
Jun
30
1996
Charlotte, USBlockbuster Pavilion
With Natalie Merchant
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Natalie and Sting: The view from way back on the lawn...

Hot day Sunday. Too hot down front. People too close together. Some loser with a cellular phone two seats over. ''Hey Jimmy, guess where I am?''

So head back to the lawn. Way back. People back here might be closer to their cars than the stage. But the sound system is good. Sting is the headliner. Natalie Merchant is the opening act.

From back here we will have to take their word for it. Merchant takes the stage and immediately starts dancing. This is Natalie Merchant? She never moved like this when she was with 10,000 Maniacs. (That's 10kM to you die-hard fans.) Merchant used to swirl around a little and mumble into the mike. Now she grinds like one of the 'Soul Train' dancers. Once or twice she almost breaks into the Lambada, The Forbidden Dance.

She used to be Serious. She used to be Deep. Now she has Fun. This is a Good Thing. Her music is looser too. 'Carnival' slithers. 'These Are Days' (an old 10kM song) has grown a groove. For the encore Merchant does a medley of Aretha Franklin's 'Baby, I Love You' and Dusty Springfield's 'Son of a Preacher Man'.

Back on the lawn we cheer just behind the beat. The image on the big-screen projectors isn't quite in sync with the sound. Sort of like a Godzilla movie. Back here you can dance and nobody tells you to sit down. Back here you can play football with a water bottle. Back here you can roll around on the grass with your date. Hey! Get a room! The orange sun goes down. The orange moon comes up. Cool.

Sting takes the stage just after dark. The folks up front start rhythmic clapping. The folks up front will start rhythmic clapping at the drop of a drumstick. Not back here on the lawn. Back here you have to earn it.

Sting. An interesting guy. Split from the Police, maybe the smartest pop band ever. Big risk. Now he plays this pop-jazz hybrid. Still smart. Maybe too smart. Hard to argue with Sting's skills. Tricky time signatures. Nifty sax solos.

'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot' bounces right along. 'I Was Brought to My Senses' induces some rhythmic clapping back here. If you landed on the planet yesterday you would think Sting makes great music. And he does, sort of. But nothing crackles like those old Police songs. Nothing pops like 'Driven to Tears' or even 'Canary in a Coal Mine'.

Back here on the lawn, people are napping.

(c) The Charlotte Observer by Tommy Tomlinson

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