Oct
07
2003

Chicago, IL, US (Grant Park)

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With Keb' Mo', Jonny Lang

SHOW REVIEW

Sting in Chicago...

On a balmy moonlit night Tuesday in Grant Park, Sting interrupted a performance of 'Englishman in New York' and threw his arms wide. ''Wait a minute! Where are we? Are we in Chicago?''

An audience estimated at 40,000 - cut slightly by a conflict with a certain baseball game on the North Side - whooped it up as the bassist dropped the New York references and segued into his signature Police hit 'Roxanne'.

Earlier, Sting acknowledged the luminous presence overhead with a syncopated interpretation of 'Walking on the Moon', accompanied by Jason Rebello's be-bopping piano.

Otherwise, the peroxide-blond singer might as well have been at his Italian villa for all the sense of occasion he brought to a free concert in the shadow of the downtown skyline on a perfect autumn evening.

Sting's a marvelous bassist, a lavishly rewarded songwriter (16 Grammys) and a suave, svelte stage presence. He brought the musical chops and the indelible songs, but he didn't bring much spontaneity.

The show played out with autopilot efficiency on a 140-foot stage that took eight days, 150 laborers, 24 trucks and $2 million to construct.

Sting glided through a mix of 19 songs that stretched back to his first album with the Police in 1978, but he also touched heavily on his mediocre new album, 'Sacred Love'.

'Send Your Love' tipped its hat to the Bollywood flair of India's movie soundtracks, but the rest of the 'Sacred Love' tracks lacked the effortless melodies and swinging grooves that the singer dishes at his best. 'Inside' was less a song than rant, building to a histrionic finish with singer Joy Rose. 'Whenever I Say Your Name' vamped as it struggled to find the funk and the album's title song slogged while Sting wallowed in save-the-world earnestness: ''I've been thinking about the things people need.''

Memo to Sting: How about spending a little more time thinking about what the song needs? The ''people'' would probably prefer that anyway.

Sting's eight-piece band favored technique over personality. If the sound was pristine, the passion was reserved; these were professionals at work, and their competence verged on watching a skilled golfer practice at the driving range: precise, admirable, bland.

There was little solo room for the instrumentalists, though guitarist Dominic Miller distinguished himself by strafing Sting's attack on apathy, 'This War', with King Crimson-like sheets of sound; playing intricate counterpoint lines underneath the vocals on 'All This Time'; and bringing a harp-like tone to his acoustic picking on 'Fields of Gold'.

Sting's Police-era hits still hold up remarkably well, and the singer pulled them out at strategic intervals to keep the concert buoyant: a reggae-accented 'Message in a Bottle'; a bubbly 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'; a fierce, if not quite rampaging, 'Synchronicity II'; a celebratory 'Roxanne'; and the shimmering stalker's ode, 'Every Breath You Take'.

Here's one reunion that needs to happen: Sting back with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. They may not like one another much, but they made potent music together. And Sting, who gets slacker by the year, could stand a little feistiness in his music right about now.

(c) The Chicago Tribune by Greg Kot



Sting painful when focus is on the new, but classics rock...

Forget the competing entertainment up north in Wrigleyville: The place to be in Chicago on Tuesday night was Grant Park.

There was much to be cynical about as Sting performed a ''free'' concert that in fact required tickets handed out in advance by aggressive street teams as part of a giant corporate marketing blitz.

While I'm firmly opposed to artists living in the past, it's still difficult to accept Sting's transformation from a high-octane New Wave pop-punk with the Police into an easy-listening faux-jazzbo solo artist shilling for sports cars, designer clothes and credit cards.

Advertising was ubiquitous throughout the show. And fans who've been following the history of rock music in the park had to wonder why this concert - and a recent show by Shania Twain that was also a corporate event - were allowed to happen while the Smashing Pumpkins, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead and a return appearance by Radiohead were all barred by the city.

Maybe it had something to do with the $300,000 check that the sponsors handed to city officials to support music in the schools. (Everything is for sale in Chicago.)

The reason why music fans should question the city's attitude about rock in the park is because it is our finest venue to hear live music. The sound system was pristine, the backdrop of city lights was brilliant, and even the weather cooperated, with a slight breeze wafting off Lake Michigan on a warm Indian Summer night complete with a blazing harvest moon.

All of this combined for such a pleasant evening that you had to forgive Sting even his most egregious overindulgences - and there were plenty of those.

The unnaturally buff, artfully unshaven, peroxide-blond crooner used the show to launch his newest album, 'Sacred Love', which finds him taking the coffeehouse pop of recent solo discs to the Middle East via the addition of an odd trance drone here, a little doumbek or tabla there, and some obnoxiously artsy video projections of naked belly dancers splashed up behind his eight-piece band as it performed.

New songs such as the album's title track, the VH1/adult contemporary single 'Send Your Love' and the ponderously self-important political toss-off, 'Let's Forget About the Future', are, in a word, dreadful - tuneless, pretentious, overwrought and (despite the best efforts of master drummer Vinnie Colaiuta) positively leaden in the groove department.

With the exception of 'Walking on the Moon', which opened the show and was ruined by a rendition that found it reconfigured as a cabaret ditty featuring only Sting on bass and vocals and pianist Jason Rebello tinkling behind him, the songs of the Police were by far the highlight of the two-hour set.

Nearly a third of the show was devoted to that timeless, energizing material: 'Message in a Bottle', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'Synchronicity II' and of course 'Roxanne' (which Sting offered almost as an apology for a truncated version of 'Englishman in New York' - apparently he forgot where he was for a minute, mistaking Grant Park for Central Park).

When you compare twee solo fare such as 'Fields of Gold', All This Time' and the new tunes from 'Sacred Love' to these Police classics, you can't help but ask: Sting, what the heck happened? Perhaps if you spent a little less time on those marathon Tantric sex sessions that you brag about and saved a little of that energy for your current music, you'd still be an artist that matters.

Opening the concert were two modern bluesmen: Keb' Mo', who tries so hard to be ''authentic'' that he ought to confine his performances to museums, and Jonny Lang, who errs too far to the other extreme, churning out a hopelessly generic brand of frat-party chooglin' that is distinguishable from countless mediocre bar bands only by the fact that Jonny is the one with the major-label hype behind him.

(c) The Chicago Sun-Times by Jim Derogatis



Sting and the guys crackled on this one!

OK - where to start... WOW. Sting and the guys crackled on this one!

This might be a bit difficult for me to review objectively here. I'm one of those folks who normally gets tickets that are in the building NEXT DOOR to the concert venue. I'm not saying my seats are usually far away but when I go to see Sting and the guys play, it could be anyone on stage as I can't really see who they are. This time was different. I managed to win Sting.com tickets for the concert and this was the kick in the butt that I needed to finally book flights. I was sad to not make it to Paris for the concert there - too much work to do. Ditto for New York - a weekend of software support rather than going to watch the concert SUX! Through some very friendly folks who shall remain nameless (but who are on my chocolate list for ever more) I managed to acquire a VIP ticket.

Lets back up here - who has read Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory? Hands up who secretly wished they could find the golden wrapper? Me too - well this is what it felt like!

The day started off well - I arrived in Chicago at three am from CalEEforgnia (as our new Governor pronounces it) I staggered to my hotel for a few hours sleep before heading off to pick up my ticket. There was no winning chocolate bar this time (well actually there was but that's another story), just an amazing fan who was generous enough to share!

Ticket in hand I wandered off towards the show location in Grant park. I planned to take some pictures of the concert venue ahead of time as I heard that there was a complete veto on cameras for the concert. (Painful as I just bought a digital SLR for the trip!) As luck would have it Sting and the guys were doing a sound check as I got there, so those hardy folks who were braving the freezing Chicago 80 degree temperatures were treated to an hour-long impromptu concert there and then. I was chatting with lots of the locals in the area - including one of the security guards who it turns out is actually from where I now live in Orange County. I also had a long chat with a horse-mounted policeman - I never managed to get his name but his horse really appreciated the 'Synchronicity II' rehearsal. I'll post a picture sometime soon! In spite of trying my Welsh accent on the horse, the policeman and a friendly guard I was not able to wrangle my way inside the venue so I had to make do with some long-distance shots of the sound checks.

After heading off to a lonely late lunch at the Essex (so much for the get-together , I headed back to the Hotel to drop off my camera (mutter mutter mutter) then came back to the concert field to chit-chat with anyone from the fan club that I could find.

First one I managed to find was Jen (jdierker) who was sat about 5 back from the front of the line. She was sat there in running spikes and was doing athletic stretches that Carl Lewis would be proud of! She WAS however all ready for the sprint to the front of the crowd. It was nice to meet you Jen! Later Diane and her husband walked by and recognized me by my sunglasses! Hey guys - sorry we didn't meet up afterwards!

As an aside - D, W and T - we sooo need some Sting.com T-shirts or something more up market so that all the new guys can recognize each other. I'm sure the ''royal circle'' fans all are recognizable to many, but the new faces need some help!

I then wandered around to the VIP entrance to see what was going on there. I met a nice couple from Motorola, and two ladies called the PAMs! I then met Leelin, who was sat in front of me in the VIP line. Then I was introduced to some of the stalwarts of the Royal Circle of sting fans whose experience and concert attendance are truly awe inspiring. And they are all such nice people with it!

When we were eventually let in at 5pm we were greeted by the Amex teams and given our nice VIP lanyards, and were channelled into a particularly impressive tent filled with a bar, lots of tables covered with hors d'oeuvres, big screens and a very impressive ice sculpture. More importantly there was a doorway out to the VIP area. You could spot the true fans from the VIPs here - the Fans made a dash for the front to ''bags'' their spots. This was initially an amazing position as we were a mere 10' from the front of the stage, unfortunately the very nice security guards moved us all back 20 feet. So you lucky General Admission guys really scored big-time! However it was still an awesome viewing place. A few water-bottle runs later we were firmly installed and waiting in anticipation for the first act.

OK to the concert! First, Keb Mo - very good blues singer-songwriter - had a very good reception from the crowd for a warm-up act! Very enjoyable.

Next came Johnny Lang. What an amazing talent! I think he is only 20, but he has a guitar style that is potent to say the least. I tried to describe his voice, sometimes he sounded a bit Michael Bolton, other times his range was just amazing! He did a great job of warming the crowd up - I'd recommend getting his new album!

Then it was time. After some check handing-over from Amex and some speeches from some City dignitaries, Gary Sinese introduced Sting. The new one-by-one walk on took place, and Sting bashed straight in to the jazzy rendition of 'Walking On The Moon'.

Sting was in good voice if a little hoarse mid way through - not sure if all the Chicago cigarette smoke was agreeing with him! There you go Sting - a west coast concert would have avoided that. The energy level of the concert was way up there - lots of snap! This has to qualify as one of the loudest Sting concerts I've been to - maybe just a side effect of being at the front of an open-air venue, but as a result there was a great buzz in the crowd.

To address the screens - yes there are naked and semi naked women on them, yes they are a bit distracting, no they are not inappropriate. My opinion is that they add something a bit different to the whole presentation and are not used with video footage on every track. For example - the overhead shot of Jason's solo was a fantastic demonstration of just how talented he really is. It would be nice if we could get a similar fret board view from Dominic's guitar (as seen on Mark King's bass), or of the percussion areas too, all superimposed on the backdrops.

The concert finished with the now traditional Fragile before the guys said goodbye, with Dominic and blowing kisses to a special person in the VIP section!

Hoarse from all the singing, ears ringing, I then headed off to get my bags from the hotel before heading back to the airport for my flight early the next morning.

Total trip time 39 hours; Total sleep time 6 hours; Air miles earned 3400; Total new friends made - Lots; Seeing Sting play again - Priceless!

Hehehe - just realized this is probably not the best way to end the Amex-sponsored concert review - with a MasterCard spoof ah well...)

(c) Rob Elliott for Sting.com



CHICAGOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Wow. Wow. Can I say it again? I'll wait.

Much love to my new friend Heidi, who endured my crazy self for the entire show. She has her own tale to tell. As for me, well, best to start at the beginning...

After a frantic taxi ride downtown from my apartment on the north side of Chicago, I made it to the Essex Inn and met Heidi. We walked through Grant Park to the venue entrance, skipping across traffic and through the security gates. We found a spot on the left side of the stage area, which was okay, but I thought we could get closer. A bit of reconnaissance verified this, and I called Heidi on her mobile to get her to come over. We ended up standing stage right, and could see everything except Kipper and the background singers (and we saw them on the handy five-story video monitors). We saw three (count 'em, kids) wonderful artists this evening. Surprise guest Keb Mo opened with an acoustic blues set at 6pm or so, and was a great start. For those who don't know him, check him out. He's a wonderful writer and an excellent player who deserves wider recognition. If anyone can hand that out, it's a group of Sting fans. Jonny Lang was the advertised opening act, and he and his five piece band would have torn the roof off of any building that contained them tonight! He has a new album coming out next week, so fans of electric blues, get on over to your local record emporium and buy some music!

Heidi and I also kept a lookout for folks from the fanclub, but without photos or email plans, we were pretty much on our own to find them, and 40,000 people makes for a difficult time of finding someone. Nevertheless, we finished listening to Jonny Lang and waited for Sting to show. People were calling friends and family on mobiles everywhere, announcing Cubs scores (they were winning early on), and generally buzzing with anticipation. There was some hoohah about the money American Express Blue was donating to Chicago Public Schools for the Save the Music program. $300,000 is a lot of money, but not nearly enough when you consider that only provides instruments for 12 schools. TWELVE. Makes it pretty hard to fund a band program when you don't have that kind of money to begin with. I love what they're doing, but it's kind of depressing that it even has to happen, if you stop to think about it. Gary Sinise, the movie actor who co-founded Chicago's acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, introduced Sting. From there, the concert is a blur.

Heidi and I tried to reconstruct the set list in the bar at the Essex afterward, and the best we could come up with was the fact that he played at least one song from every Police album except 'Zenyatta Mondatta', and from every solo album except 'Mercury Falling'. Most songs were played in their original recorded arrangement, and he played several songs from 'Sacred Love', but not the following: 'Stolen Car', 'Book Of My Life', 'Dead Man's Rope', and 'Forget About The Future'. He opened with 'Walking On The Moon', closed with 'Fragile', and played a lot of music in between.

The VIP tent was full of folks who seemed not to be as interested in the concert as the chance to be seen. On the other hand, the crowd was full of people of all ages, races, creeds, genders, orientations, and tax brackets. And all of them rocked out to Dominic Miller's solos.

Impressions? The new songs were a little rusty sometimes, and Sting seemed to have trouble getting his voice under him. 'Message In A Bottle' cured that, for the most part. Vinnie was solid, though a tricky time signature would have been nice to hear - it's what I think he does best. Dom - he's the man. Nice soloing on 'Fields Of Gold'. Jason - really coming into his own in this band, and it was wonderful to hear him play organ. Kipper - solid playing and singing, a real journeyman in the band. Joy and Donna - ladies, you can SING! Rhani - here it comes: WOW. What an incredible musician. That said, watch out for this band. They are going to blow the roof off of an enclosed stadium near you very soon. Mark my words. I can't wait to see the show again. To everyone both onstage and off, thank you for a job well done. Namaste.

(c) Ecobox for Sting.com



Sting sings, strums, shills in free concert...

Sting helped 40,000 Chicagoans kiss away Indian summer Tuesday at a free concert in Grant Park.

The concert was part promotion (his newest album 'Sacred Love' arrived in stores last week) and part charity event (a $300,000 check was given to Chicago Public Schools). But mostly it served as a megabucks marketing bonanza, launching that instrument so often associated with rock - a credit card.

The large-scale multimedia show required a specially-built stage, constructed on the park's north border. Lights, fog machines and video screens were scattered throughout the park amid fans who were spread all the way south to Buckingham Fountain.

Sting kicked off the 19-song, 90-minute set first with a slow jazz interpretation of the Police nugget 'Walking on the Moon', followed by an update on the Cubs score.

His seven-piece band stylishly dug into songs spanning his 20-plus year history, from his Police days ('Synchronicity II', 'Everything She Does is Magic') to his lengthy solo career.

The heavy-handed corporate backdrop didn't help spike the show's somewhat lackluster energy. At this point in his career, a song like 'Roxanne' is Sting's 'Freebird' and can't be renewed, even as an extended jam.

Sting played bass the entire night, working through his catalog highlights with polished precision. His new song 'Whenever I Say Your Name' - a duet with a backup singer substituting for Mary J. Blige - riffed upon a single musical phrase with little else.

Quasi religious and environmental images accompanied the show from beginning to end. Although mellower fare ('Fragile', 'Fields of Gold') were sprinkled in the set list, Sting stuck to mostly his livelier hits, giving them an extended life, even if this time they became music to rack up finance charges with.

(c) The Daily Herald by Mark Guarino

SET LIST

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