Painless Sting - Ex-Police chief wraps audience around his finger effortlessly...
Sting is so good, he doesn't have to try. And sometimes, he doesn't.
Blessed with one of pop music's most distinctive voices, first-rate instrumental chops and many years of hits to draw from, he presented a set Wednesday night at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel that was effortlessly appealing. But he rarely displayed the kind of drive or friction that's at the heart of a truly great rock show.
The former Police frontman, 52, showed few signs of artistic life on his last album, 2003's 'Sacred Love', and the new songs didn't add much to Wednesday's show. The title track and 'Send Your Love' were full of big statements (''It all comes down to love,'' ''Send your love into the future''), but the music rarely conveyed much urgency.
'Whenever I Say Your Name', at least, gave backing vocalist Joy Rose a chance to add to some soul shouting to the musical mix. (Mary J. Blige duetted on this song, on the album.) And the protest song, 'This War', showed some bite.
It started out sedately. But as Sting lashed out on a variety of political fronts (''I could see right through all the lies you told / When you smiled for the television,'' ''There's a war on our democracy / A war on our dissent''), his band built to a near-frenzy. At the end of the song, he spat out, sarcastically: ''Make it easy on yourself... don't do nothing.''
There were also sparks in 'We'll Be Together' - a duet with co-headliner Annie Lennox - and 'Synchronicity II', which showcased drummer Keith Carlock, an explosive player when given the opportunity to do more than keep a beat. Carlock and the band handled the slippery shuffle of 'Englishman in New York' and the tricky tempo shifts of 'Seven Days' with impressive ease.
But Sting stayed on cruise control for too many songs ('Every Breath You Take', 'Desert Rose', 'A Thousand Years', 'Fields of Gold'). And his Police-era signature song, 'Roxanne' was so bloated - with solos, chants and even a bit of the song 'Invisible Sun' - it seemed like he had no interest in it except as a launching pad for other things.
There was a visual theme for the evening: Several songs were accompanied by videos of mysterious women (angels, dancers and so on). There was a neat visual trick to 'Never Coming Home'. A projection seemed to show a painting of a woman looking out a window, but it was really a film. Toward the end of the song, the woman came to life and danced for a while before freezing again.
Lennox, 49, presented a shorter set - 65 minutes as opposed to 105 - but was more dependably dynamic. Few singers approach her ability to go to extremes: Since her days as half of the duo, Eurythmics, she has proved herself equally capable of icy precision or gospelly grit.
On Wednesday, she sang numbers such as 'Missionary Man', 'Little Bird', 'Loneliness' and 'I Need a Man' with a fervor that made them seem intensely personal. 'Here Comes the Rain Again' was presented as a slowed-down, piano-and-vocals ballad, while 'Walking on Broken Glass' became a joyous statement of purpose - and her take on Bob Marley's 'Waiting in Vain' couldn't have been sweeter or more soulful.
Sting graciously introduced Lennox, mentioning that they're neighbors as well as friends. Earlier in the evening, he also accomplished the unusual feat of making a cameo at his own show.
His guitarist, Dominic Miller, kicked the night off with a 15-minute solo set and Sting joined him to sing a warm, relaxed version of 'Shape of My Heart'. It was an obvious song choice for the two longtime collaborators. They co-wrote it and recorded it for Sting's 1993 album 'Ten Summoner's Tales', then redid it for Miller's recent CD, 'Shapes'.
(c) The Star Ledger by Jay Lustig