SHOW REVIEW

In concert, Sting retains his power sound...

He may no longer have top star status, but singer-bassist Sting and his five-piece band remain high-energy and high-quality performers.

He shot to fame fronting the '70s most celebrated trio, so it should come as no surprise that Sting can still make a fairly small band sound like a fully armed artillery unit.

The English country gentleman, who comes across as alarmingly comfortable on his more recent albums, was anything but laid back Wednesday during a musically meticulous, high-energy performance at the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford.

Sting's mega-star status has diminished in recent years, as evidenced by the fact that he drew a respectable yet relatively moderate crowd of approximately 7,500 fans to the show. Compare that to the more than 25,000 who packed the same venue for the ultra-hot Dave Matthews Band in June and one can clearly see that the changing of the guards is at hand.

Still, Sting isn't making concessions to anyone on stage, as he proved during this hour-and-45-minute, career-spanning concert.

The singer-bassist was backed by a superb five-piece band, powered by longtime accompanist Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and guitarist Dominic Miller.

Together, they spun through a 20-song, double-encore set that reached back as far as Sting's breakthrough hit with the Police, 'Roxanne', to a host of cuts from his latest solo disc 'Mercury Falling'.

From the first moments of the first song, the new album's 'Hounds of Winter', the band sounded absolutely huge, as if twice as many players were on stage. After 'I Hung My Head', 'I Was Brought to My Senses', and a horn-tinged 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot', they pumped up the intensity level with a torrid take of 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'.

Besides the aforementioned 'Roxanne' - which proved he's lost nothing off the high end of his voice in nearly 20 years, Sting reached back into the Police catalog for cuts that included 'Demolition Man', a surging 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', a powerhouse 'Synchronicity II', and a mildly disappointing, seemingly perfunctory run through the classic 'Every Breath You Take'.

Yet the highlight of the entire performance was a dramatically reworked version of the old Police track 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around'. Stretched out to nearly 15 minutes, the song built to a stunning conclusion, thanks to the combination of a Latin-fueled horn arrangement and a lengthy improvisational segment that featured some brilliant piano work courtesy of Kirkland.

There also were some heart-tugging quieter moments in the show as well, most notably the Celtic-flavored ballad 'Fields of Gold', and the country-styled divorce saga 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying'. Sting played audience participation during the latter, inviting a fan by the name of Anthony up on stage to sing the chorus with him. Such seemingly spontaneous efforts often tend to backfire, but this guest vocalist did a commendable job and no doubt had the thrill of a lifetime.

Opening the night were Canada's Cowboy Junkies. While more upbeat than usual, they still proved morose, lumbering through a monotonous and dreary hour set, that included songs such as 'Lay It Down', 'A Common Disaster', 'Misguided Angel', and their hit remake of the Velvet Underground's 'Sweet Jane'. Frontwoman Margo Timmins remains the very best thing about this band, but the deliberately dark tone and dynamic sameness is wearing increasingly thin.


(c) The Union-News by Kevin O'Hare



Concert shows there's no Sting like a live Sting...

Surrounding himself with top-notch musicians, Sting's solo tours have often created better music than the albums he is out to promote.

That is doubly true on his current swing, which stopped for a splendid show Wednesday at the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford.

Not only is the new album he is plugging, 'Mercury Falling', better and sunnier than the more-brooding, introspective titles that preceded it this decade, the outdoor amphitheater touring suits his breezy style.

A jazz player long before he dyed his hair blond to become a star as frontman for the Police, the former Gordon Sumner knows how to make a song breathe in live performance. He tinkers with time signatures and encourages improvisation.

Seasoned by a European run, Sting and his band made the four straight songs from 'Mercury Falling' that opened the nearly two-hour show all sound better, more relaxed and swinging than they did in the studio. And why not?

The band knows the tunes better and has taken them further each night. By now, Sting has worked with most of his musicians longer than he was in the Police. Kenny Kirkland, who played keyboards on Sting's first solo album 11 years ago, is back; longtime guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta round out the core. Adding extra verve this time is the horn duo of Clark Gayton and Butch Thomas, who were used on nearly every song.

Sting, himself, is a match for any musician on bass, and his distinctive, high, keening voice was in exceptionally good shape. Many may have also noticed that he was, at 44, in pretty good physical shape. Perhaps he is exuding the joy in his music, such as the songs of devotion and renewed commitment 'You Still Touch Me' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. Yet he had room for wry observation, such as his amusingly self-depricating tune about breakup - made more amusing by singing it with a fan named Anthony - 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying'.

The Meadows may be having a tiff with local police, but Sting nearly celebrated the Police by playing a half dozen of the band's classics, each with a little twist, a shifted emphasis or new direction that made them as fresh as his newer material. 'Synchronicity II' and 'Demolition Man' had the backing punch of the horns, a trombone solo gave a ska boost to 'Roxanne', and 'When the World is Running Down' provided a platform for a sparkling solo from Kirkland.

Canada's Cowboy Junkies were made a bit noisier for the amphitheater setting, but their songs were a fine accompaniment to the sunset.

(c) The Hartford Courant by Roger Catlin

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