Sting-y with feeling...
Great performances can turn even the most limp material luminous.
By introducing more nuanced vocals, newly dynamic beats, or a rethought arrangement, stultifying songs can become something stirring.
Sting needed something that transforming at his Beacon Theater concert Tuesday, the first of four sold-out performances, because he favored songs from his new album, 'Sacred Love', the least melodic and most predictable work of his career.
Instead, he rarely brought a heightened sense of engagement to the table.
While New York shows commonly arrive late in a tour, leaving the star on the ragged side, the Beacon dates come near the start of Sting's roadshow. He should have seemed especially fresh since he wasn't trudging through old material.
But an emotional distance defined much of the show.
Sting started with a matured version of The Police's 'Walking on the Moon'. By performing it with a stand-up bass, and ditching its reggae beat, he gave it a jazzy new ease.
But that soon gave way to a long slog through songs that sounded even more pallid than their already blanched studio versions.
Part of the problem was his small band. With just five players, the more adventurous sounds from the studio had to be reproduced on a synthesizer, giving the songs an inorganic feel.
It also deepened the sense that Sting's world beats keep veering closer to New Age music.
The leaner the arrangements, the more feeling it brought from Sting. In his best new song, 'Dead Man's Rope', the delicate chords flattered him. He found equal life in spare old songs like 'Fragile' and 'Fields of Gold'.
But he overplayed meandering pieces like 'Never Coming Home' or 'This War'. And he showed a surprising lack of drama by closing the night with the torpid 'A Thousand Years'.
While it's admirable for a long-running performer like Sting to shake things up with new songs, it would help if they weren't so undefined and his delivery so indifferent.
(c) Daily News by Jim Farber
Sting leaves rock behind...
For his first song Tuesday night, Sting, the former front man for The Police, took his old group's new-wave gem, 'Walking on the Moon', and turned it into a mildly swinging jazz number. Gone were the atmospheric guitars and spiky beat, replaced by Sting's upright bass and a big, multicultural band. A song that once sounded ambitious and restless now felt comfortable and familiar.
Sting, 53, has undergone a similar transformation. With The Police in the late '70s and early '80s, he was afire with ideas and strove to mesh angular rock with jazz chords and literate lyrics. These days, the rock part of that equation has dropped out. Sting now mainly writes highbrow love songs and pleasant odes to spirituality and activism. (He does put his money where his mouth is: During Grammy week, he received a humanitarian award from the Recording Academy for his devotion to various causes.)
Sting's two-hour concert - the first of a four-night run at the Beacon Theatre - gave only the occasional nod to his Police days. 'Walking on the Moon' was followed by 'Send Your Love', an energetic, rave-style number from his latest disc, 'Sacred Love'. On 'Inside', he proved he could still conjure up evocative images. ''Love me like a virgin, love me like a courtesan,'' he sang in his distinctive, keening voice. ''Love me like a sinner, love me like a dying man.''
But the material grew ever- mellower as the night progressed. The sardonic lyrics of 'Forget About the Future' were drowned out by gooey keyboards. The band smoothed out the edges of another Police song, 'Synchronicity', and Sting backed away from the microphone on the line ending with ''a humiliating kick in the crotch,'' as if afraid to discomfort his audience. Many songs were smothered by generic ''world beat'' rhythms whose origins were indistinct - India? Brazil? After a while, all those exotic colors turned a blurry gray.
On three video panels, a series of trite images spoke as loudly as the music: A tranquil forest, computer-generated butterflies, dancing wraiths. Only on 'This War' did Sting shake things up with images of falling bombs and lyrics about ''guns and body bags.''
For the most part, though, Sting didn't seem to care whether his audience was up on their feet or relaxing in their seats. He strolled through each number as easily as the jaunty, slightly arrogant character in his song 'Englishman in New York'. That song, rather than edgy Police tunes such as 'Roxanne' or 'Driven to Tears', best suits the Sting of today: ''It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile / Be yourself no matter what they say.''
Opening act Chris Botti, a trumpeter, played a half-hour of meaningless jazz-pop with fussy drums and insipid synthesizers. Here's hoping he was chosen because he's a former Sting side man and not because Sting is becoming a smooth jazz fan.
(c) Newsday by Rafer Guzman
Sting brings jazz to his razzmatazz...
After a concert like his Beacon Theatre show, it's no wonder Sting ranks among the most misunderstood, loved and abused artists in music.
At the Tuesday opener of his four-night stand, the Englishman in New York came off as too brainy for pop, too soft for rock and too square for jazz.
But love him or not, Sting is a charismatic showman.
The tip-off that this wasn't going to be your typical rock show was right up front in the first song when Sting, fronting a seven-piece ensemble, took center stage to work an atmospheric version of 'Walking on the Moon' as he played a stand-up bass.
The instrumentation and the arrangement were clearly a nod to his pre-Police years as a hipster jazzman playing bass in smoky English clubs.
That finger-clicking Beat attitude and sound - the nuts and bolts of this gig - appealed to the older, very male audience.
Yet when they were applied to 'Let's Forget About the Future,' the song's great syncopated funk-line fell victim to jazzy bop solos.
Where Sting's jazz jones best satisfied the crowd was in his vocal, as he spat out lyrics more for sound than meaning. That was nicely demonstrated in the tune 'Inside,' where he defined love in rapid-fire, rhyme-time lyrics that could have been a vocabulary flashcard exercise.
Sting and company were their strongest on the songs that toyed with the world music movement, like the pretty 'Fragile.'
By the time he was toying with the crowd with sudden-stop false endings on 'Every Breath You Take,' he was unmistakably a performer having a fine time, in total control of the music and the audience - despite all that jazz.
(c) The New York Post by Dan Aquitalane
Sting once referred to himself as the Sting once referred to himself as the 'King of Pain'...
Sting once referred to himself as the ''King of Pain,'' but 20 years since the demise of the Police and the ascent of his chart-topping solo career, the artist born Gordon Sumner still exudes the kind of effortless charm it takes to woo the masses. One gets the impression that the man could write a symphony or record an entire album in 24 hours, without so much as pausing for tea in the garden of his country mansion.
That's all fine and good in the studio and on record, as evidenced by the fact that Sting has been more popular than ever since 1999's 'Brand New Day' and its ubiquitous single, 'Desert Rose'. But the artist's utter professionalism walks a delicate line in a live setting, at times making it look too easy to the point of frustration.
Such was the case at the first of four shows last night (March 2) at New York's Beacon Theatre, as part of the tour in support of Sting's latest Interscope album, 'Sacred Love'. While by no means unenjoyable, the 20-song set featured nary a spontaneous moment over the course of two hours, in some ways resembling a cabaret-style revue that hardly scratched the surface of Sting's considerable back catalog (the ultimate tease: there were fleeting moments, but never full renditions of, 'Walking in Your Footsteps', 'We'll Be Together' and 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around').
The evening began as Sting thwacked his stand-up bass on 'Walking on the Moon', the first of many songs that have been transformed from their original incarnations into mature, jazzy arrangements. Doffing his jacket before 'Send Your Love', the artist drew a loud applause from the female contingent in the house, then led his crack five-piece band through four consecutive songs from the new album.
And while there's nothing particularly wrong with tracks like 'Inside', the soulfully bopping 'Forget About the Future' and the pretty, acoustic guitar-tinged 'Dead Man's Rope', did the audience really need to hear nine songs from 'Sacred Love?' It seems particularly hard to justify in light of the fact that solo albums like 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' and 'The Soul Cages' were completely ignored, and even masterworks such as 'Ten Summoner's Tales' mined for just two cuts.
The crowd certainly did respond to some of the newer tracks, particularly 'Whenever I Say Your Name,' which featured a strong vocal performance from backup singer Joy Rose and drew a standing ovation. But there was no mistaking the delight in the room when the band stormed through the Police's 'Synchronicity II,' which rocked hard even though the arrangement denied guitarist Dominic Miller a chance to solo.
As the show wound on, Sting wove oldies like 'I Was Brought to My Senses' (featuring an appearance by opening act Chris Botti on trumpet) and 'Fragile' through the new selections, doing his best to maintain a range of moods and styles. But it was tough to get excited about the standard-issue Sting of 'Stolen Car' (where he imagines himself as a car thief who channels the private lives of his victims) or 'Sacred Love' (about ''my two favorite subjects: sex and religion''). We've surely heard those before.
Indeed, the best moments came when the pace was peppier, especially an amped-up, sing-a-long-style 'Englishman in New York', the eternal crowd-pleaser 'Roxanne' (replete with reggae breakdown) and the foot-stomping 'Never Coming Home', which closed the main set. On these tunes, Sting finally brought forth the rock and proved he could still produce great music in this motif if he really wanted.
The audience didn't leave its feet during the three-song encore of 'Desert Rose', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Every Breath You Take', the latter of which now seems so far removed from the Police original that it's like hearing it played by a cover band. Still, it was an appropriate high note to end on, but the upbeat vibe was upended when the band returned for one final song, the hushed, haunted 'A Thousand Years'.
One certainly has to respect Sting's unwillingness to simply play all of his biggest hits (or even to play them like their recorded versions). It is also refreshing that a 52-year-old artist can continue to appeal to an audience of all ages and to the fickle tastes of pop radio as well. But wouldn't it be nice to see Sting really delve into his repertoire, or even change the set list from night to night? It's the rough edges that truly reveal the man behind the music, and on this night, Sting seemed content to keep the good stuff hidden.
(c) Billboard by Jonathan Cohen