The World's Police-Man Sting thinks globally, sings locally in concert...
Sting turned a cloudy night into a 'Brand New Day' at New Jersey's PNC Bank Arts Center on Tuesday, as he worked the summer leg of a long tour.
After Shawn Colvin warmed up the crowd, the rocker's septet eased the audience into the mood with A Thousand Years, which opens his most recent album. The song's moody atmospherics and insistent rhythms borrow from Moroccan rai, a dance-music hybrid of Islamic vocals, rock and rap that has been popular in Europe for a decade. It worked its hypnotic effect on his fans.
It was natural that the show's kickoff would flash Sting's credentials as a pop innovator who combines different sounds from rai and Kurt Weill to Bob Marley and Miles Davis - but still sells millions of records.
Yes, at times his lyrics tilt toward the trite or smug, but his music is consistently provocative and liberating. Sting translates his many musical influences - unusual and world-beat rhythms, and offbeat sounds like rai - into his own sophisticated signature. At his best, he's kind of a pop-rock Cole Porter. But like any true pop star, he also knows what his listeners like. So, backed by an adept outfit that included trumpeter Chris Botti and two keyboardists who could swing into the jazz-infused jams that have become a Sting concert standard, he gave the capacity crowd a craftily plotted 90-minute show perfectly shaped for arenas.
Past tunes anchored the set. 'If You Love Somebody', with a hard funk edge, was the show's second number. 'Fields of Gold', nicely flecked with flamenco guitar, clocked in at seventh, followed by a surging 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', a surefire crowd-pleaser that really delivered.
Flowing around these and 'Englishman in New York' were current hits like 'After the Rain Has Fallen', 'Tomorrow We'll See and, of course, Brand New Day'.
After a blistering, solo-driven version of 'Roxanne' that drove the crowd wild, Sting introduced rai pioneer Cheb Mami to duet on 'Desert Rose', which was being taped at the concert for an IMAX movie. Mami's gorgeously supple singing wound in counterpoint to Sting's, and he watched with traces of a smile as the audience danced in their seats to a melancholy tune with roots in the Sahara.
(c) New York Daily News by Gene Santoro
'Desert Rose' abloom...
Fans at Sting's concert Tuesday at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel did not have to yell for an encore because the rock star was eager to perform.
In fact, Sting performed his current single, 'Desert Rose', twice.
''We're going to be filming 'Desert Rose' tonight for an IMAX movie,'' Sting told the crowd early in the evening. ''They want me to do the song twice, but I told them you wouldn't go for it.''
As fans cheered to let him know they'd be happy to hear the song twice, Sting pondered the concept of an IMAX movie - which is shown on oversize screens and often requires the use of goggles, like in a 3-D movie - and how he would look in that format.
''The great Miles Davis once told me, 'Sting, you've got the biggest f***ing head in the world,''' Sting said, wondering what Davis would make of his IMAX-size head.
Davis was not the only person to accuse Sting of having a big head - literally or figuratively. As far back as his days with The Police in the late '70s and '80s, the songwriter has suffered from bouts of pretentiousness, peppering his lyrics with evidence of a fine education.
But he was so clever about it, and so downright musical, that fans had no problem singing along to lines such as ''Mephistopheles is not your name, but I know what you're up to just the same.''
Sting has grown less stuffy as the years have passed, without ''dumbing down'' his lyrics. He can write searing tales in plain language, as in 'Tomorrow We'll See', from the perspective of a prostitute: ''Don't judge me, You could be me, in another life, in another set of circumstances.''
In concert, he has never been less than stellar. Tuesday's show was no exception, as Sting performed much of his 1999 album, 'Brand New Day', and many favourites from his jazz-inflected solo career - 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', 'All This Time' and 'Fragile', among others.
An extended keyboard solo enlivened 'Englishman in New York', from the 1987 album '...Nothing Like the Sun'. The song's Caribbean influence blended smoothly with the jazzy improvisations.
The Algerian singer Cheb Mami lent his silvery vocals to the band for both performances of 'Desert Rose', an evocative love song with a serpentine melody.
Before the concert, Sting presented the Francis Albert Sinatra Tribute award to promoter Ron Delsener at a dinner hosted by the Garden State Arts Center Foundation. Delsener was honoured for raising money for the foundation, which organises free concerts at the arts center for schoolchildren, senior citizens and the general public.
(c) Asbury Park Press by Kelly Jane Cotter