An Englishman in New York...
Fans started lining up as early as 5:30 a.m., for what was to be Sting's first public appearance since recording the live album in Tuscany on September 11th. As the sun began to rise over the city, people took their places one-by-one in front of two different entrances to New York City's Bryant Park - a midtown grassy venue nestled between office high rises and the New York Public Library.
The first reward for their nocturnal arrival was a mid-morning sound check. Although a direct view of the stage was blocked by the sponsor's (Microsoft) tent that had been set up near the entrance, two giant video screens on either side allowed many to see close ups of Sting and the band running through the set list while waiting for security to open the gates.
The Bryant Park concert had been positioned by Sting as an opportunity to finish what he had started in Tuscany on September 11th. The intimate, starlit concert and recording session in the courtyard of his villa was supposed to have been a joyous event for the 200 fans, friends and record industry executives in attendance. Instead, the terrorist attacks on American targets dramatically altered the events of that night, resulting in an abbreviated web cast and concert.
For the handful who were at the Tuscany event and for those New Yorkers who had been grieving, this concert was an opportunity to help turn pain into joy and sorrow into hope. On September 11th Sting said to those gathered in his courtyard, ''We have been put on this earth to be happy. No one can kill our joy. We can't let them do that.'' And on October 25th, in New York City, he showed us how.
From the second the band took their places, it was clear that this was going to be a very uplifting event. Gone were the downcast looks and sad faces of September 11th. Instead they were replaced by smiles, waves and mouthed greetings to the fans they had come to know over the two-year tour.
And Sting's appearance on the stage, which normally follows the band's, was preceded by an introduction by Microsoft's Bill Gates. Gates was in the city launching his firm's new XP operating system and wanted to ''do something to thank New York. We are amazed at the spirit of community New York has shown every day since September 11th. It is in that spirit that Sting is here - to honor all of you. So, let me introduce an Englishman in New York. Ladies and gentlemen, Sting!''
Bounding across the stage, Sting slipped his bass strap over his head and stood before the microphone with a broad, infectious smile. He led the set list with Englishman in New York. The 4,000-person crowd immediately picked up on the energy and started singing along, some holding cell phones high above their heads to share the music with friends unable to attend.
Before leading into the next song - 'A Thousand Years' - Sting said to the crowd and to those around the world watching on the web cast, ''I'd like to say how incredibly proud I am to be a New Yorker. There's a flag flying up there on the scaffolding,'' he said, as he pointed to a building across from the park. ''This is the greatest city in the world. This is the greatest country in the world. You should all be proud.''
As the band launched into 'A Thousand Years', the audience mood became a little more somber, reflecting on Sting's words which have taken on new meaning in recent weeks.
An endless turning stairway climbs
To a tower of souls
If it takes another thousand years, a thousand wars,
The towers rise to numberless floors in space
Just as quickly, Sting lifted the mood as 'A Thousand Years' melded into 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong', the playful song written from a pampered dog's perspective who is annoyed when his owner brings home a new pet.
And not only was the music a wonderful balm for what New Yorkers have endured during the previous month, but the band's happy demeanor also contributed to the audience's upbeat mood. During the performance they exchanged grins, nods and knowing looks. Even their clothes reflected their attitude and their energy. Chris Botti (trumpet) debuted a new concert shirt with bold, vertical red, blue and purple stripes, while Dominic (guitar) wore his favorite color - electric blue. Sting had on brown/black camouflage pants, topped with a sheer, light blue shirt and Kipper (keyboards) displayed his trademark, megawatt smile.
It was the perfect backdrop for the reworked, jazzier version of 'All This Time', which followed next. Most were hearing the new rendition for the first time and the crowd reaction was extremely positive.
Afterward, Sting posed his standard audience question, ''How do you feel out there!'' Hardly necessary, because the wild applause and beaming faces of the New Yorkers in attendance could not have left the answer in doubt.
And suddenly, as Dominic started picking away at 'Fields of Gold', the clouds that had been threatening rain all morning, started giving way to the sun. It was almost as if the concert was taking place in a Hollywood backlot versus a city park in the middle of Manhattan. By the time 'Brand New Day' began, the rays were actually bathing portions of the audience - paralleling the song's video.
Next came the selection that Sting used as the final number for everyone of his concerts over the past two years. It was the only song that was performed for a global audience before the web cast was shut down on September 11th - 'Fragile'.
Jason Rebello brought new emotion to the song with the tinkling interludes on the piano. Again the crowd became more pensive, some locking arms, remembering how this was the piece that was broadcast over and over again on U.S. television in honor of those who had lost their lives.
On a building across the way, the temperature gauge reflected 86 degrees - an unseasonably warm fall day in New York City - causing Sting to wipe his brow and palms frequently during the song. The moisture undoubtedly assisted by the many jumps and dance moves an exuberant Sting exhibited during the short, 45 minute set.
And once more, in his role as mood control master, Sting launched into an upbeat version of 'Every Breath You Take', taking everyone to a happy place and keeping them there. The audience assisted with the backup vocals by adding their own ''too roops'' in between verses. At the conclusion, Sting was joined was again by Bill Gates and said to the crowd, ''Thank you New York. See you later.''
He, and the band, were quickly brought back for an encore. The final song was 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. Sting's heartfelt message to the New York audience was, ''This song is about you.'' The next message to the crowd was in the form of an omission. He elected not to sing one line from the song, ''I never saw no military solution.'' The significance of which was left to individual interpretation.
As he took his final bow, Sting's parting words to the city were, ''Keep doing what you're doing - Stand Tall.''
As the fans slowly filed out of Bryant Park, there was a sense of completion. An ending to a concert begun six weeks prior. As he said on September 11th, ''We all deserve to be happy.'' And we were.
(c) Sophia Dilberakis for Sting.com