Sting shows he still has bite...
Elegant, textured pop has been Sting's forte since the glory days of The Police, and he offered numerous examples of that kind of musicmaking Saturday night, in front of about 8,500 fans at the Ice Palace.
'Fields of Gold', one of the most-gorgeous pop ballads of the '90s, was beautifully sung and played, as were the awkwardly titled 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', the funk-edged 'We'll Be Together', the chiming 'All This Time', the moody 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', the bouncy 'Englishman in New York' and the soaring 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'.
Still, too much of Sting's recent work sounds stale and formulaic. A reunion with old bandmates Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland might not be such a bad idea after all, especially if the ex-Police chief continues down the path of exceedingly safe adult-contemporary music.
Perhaps that's why Sting, despite 15 years of success as a solo artist, occasionally gives the impression that, deep down, he believes his creative output with The Police might be as good as it gets. That was the unspoken message he sent out during his second Tampa appearance in nine months. The crowd, in return, saved their most-boisterous applause for hits dating back to the late-'70s and early '80s.
The singer, songwriter and sometime-actor offered a playful version of 'Roxanne', equipped with a trick intro, a segment inspired by dub reggae and an extended sing-along. The other Police tunes, beginning with 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', were similarly pumped up. 'When the World is Running Down' opened up for a riveting display by Jason Rebello, a jazz-rooted pianist urged on by his boss's ever-reliable bass playing, Manu Katche's propulsive drumming and the resourceful guitar work of Dominic Miller.
'Every Breath You Take', still the most romantic song ever written from the point of view of a stalker, had nearly every audience member standing and singing every word of the massive 1983 hit. And Sting accompanied himself on guitar for a moving solo version of 'Message in a Bottle'. Last year's suddenly ascendant 'Brand New Day' CD, of course, was aired out, and its middle-of-the-road tunes made easy transitions to the stage. 'A Thousand Years', the concert opener, was breathy and mellow, built on a loping beat and augmented with the smart, sensitive playing of trumpeter Chris Botti.
'After the Rain Has Fallen' was a tad more urgent, and the hip-hop midsection of 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong' sounded even more contrived live than it does on the recording. Miller used his slide to imitate the sound of a pedal-steel guitar on the two-beating 'Fill Her Up'. 'Desert Rose' (aka: the Jaguar commercial) offered exotic Middle Eastern rhythms and a stage adorned with 10 mock bonfires, but it suffered from the absence of Cheb Mami, the Algerian singer heard on the single.
Jonny Lang, whose playing sometimes is reminiscent of Luther Allison and Albert Collins, fronted five capable musicians for an energetic performance of music partly drawn from his two major-label releases. 'Lie to Me', the title track from his 1997 debut disc, was the sole tune that gained much attention from the chattering crowd.
Lang, the best-known teen-age blues singer and guitar slinger of the '90s, is now 19, three years older than when he released his much-hyped debut CD. And he still has a long way to go toward finding an original voice, if his set of rather-ordinary blues-rock was any indication.
(c) Sarasota Herald Tribune by Philip Booth