"It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile... be yourself no matter what they say."
I'm gonna confess something right up front. I've been a fan of Sting since he was with The Police, and they were still playing their signature badass reggae-punk mix in dives with names like CBGBs, the Whisky and Jay's Longhorn. So perhaps I'm not the most impartial judge of his music. That said, I am certainly an expert. And I'll forever carry a serious grudge against the man for breaking up the coolest three-piece band in rock history... so maybe I can maintain a critical ear after all.
I missed my only chance to see The Police in concert when I was unable to make a Synchronicity tour date in Minneapolis, way back in 1983. "No worries..." I thought, "they'll be back again soon." A year later, the band was history. Who'd have guessed To make up for such a grievous error in judgement, I've seen Sting on just about every solo tour he's done since. When I heard he was coming to L.A. to play a series of dates at the Universal Amphitheatre to promote his new album 'Brand New Day', I dutifully logged on to Ticketmaster like all good fans... and was shocked to learn that good seats were going for like 0 a pair. So after an angry rant to my wife about "Mr. Jaguar Commercial rock star's effort to milk his fans for all their money," for the first time in years... I passed on seeing Sting on tour. And you know what I'm glad I didn't go, not because the show I missed wasn't good, but because - lo and behold - here it is on a pretty nice little DVD. And good seats for the DVD are only .95 each. Take that Mr. Compaq.com.
The first thing that struck me about this disc is its video quality. This is really great looking concert video. Usually with concert footage, you get lots of edgy-ringing from all the edge enhancement added because the concert was shot years ago on analog video. Not so here - I'd almost hazard a guess that this was shot fully digital in high def. The blacks are deep, contrast is excellent and color accuracy and saturation is almost perfect. And often with concert video on DVD, you get lots of digital artifacting because MPEG-2 compression has trouble with things like stage smoke and lights. Again, not so here. I spotted very little in the way of artifacting. All in all, this is a great picture.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also very good. It's not a very active 5.1 mix - most of what you hear from the rear channels is acoustic ambience. But it's musical ambience - not crowd noise. In fact, while the music plays, there's very little crowd noise in the mix at all. What that means, is that the music sounds really terrific. The soundstage is big and wide. The mix has a very natural quality to it, and Sting's vocals are crisp and clear. And, of course, his signature thumb-strumming bass pulses nicely in LFE. If you love this music, you should be very pleased with the sound of this disc (note that a 2.0 mix is also available). Too bad you can't listen in DTS as well.
As far as extras, you don't get much. You have the option to skip straight to the different songs in the concert via simple animated menus with music. The only other thing here is a 15-minute behind-the-scenes piece, where the audio is poorly mixed. The people talking are way too quiet, while the music is too loud. You'll definitely be riding your volume control while watching. But you know what Sound issues aside, this little featurette is terrific. Basically, a crew member with a video camera went around a few hours before the night's show and interviewed Sting, his band and other key members of the tour staff. You're sitting there with Sting in his dressing room as he relaxes, gets his make-up on, dresses and muses about the show, the tour and more. If you're familiar with Sting, you know that he has a definite "on camera" persona - it's hard to know if you're seeing the real deal or the rock star. Here, he's talking about his feelings, missing home, his friendships with the musicians, his relationship with manager Miles Copeland (the older brother of Police drummer Stewart) and more. It's all surprisingly personal and humanizes the guy quite a bit - it's a side of Sting that few have seen before.
And then there's the concert itself, which is pretty darned fun overall. There's no doubt that this rock star is aging just a bit. It takes the Sting-ster a little longer these days to stretch out his vocal cords, meaning that the first few songs of this set are a bit on the tame side. But once he gets going, the show really kicks up a notch. About a third of the way into the concert, the band delivers great live version of 'Fill Her Up' and follows it with a surprise rendition of the Police's 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'. Then, Sting goes on to rip out a jazzy, Satchmo/Basie-style 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' and jams through 'Englishman in New York' and 'Brand New Day'. 'Brand New Day' even features a trick musical cameo of the kind that can only happen when you're playing a gig in Tinseltown - very cool. Desert Rose sounds even more amazing live than it does on CD, with Cheb Mamni's amazing vocals filling the stage. And the concert rounds out with Sting crooning a solo acoustic version of 'Message in a Bottle' that will give you chills and remind you exactly why you liked this guy so much in the first place. Tack on an equally good, mostly acoustic 'Fragile' to close the show, and you'll definitely feel like you got your bucks worth.
This disc is a must own for Gordon Matthew Sumner fans (and if you didn't already know that that's Sting real name, what kind of fan are ya). While it's not his best show, it IS his first show on DVD... so we'll take it. And for what it is, you'll have a blast with it. The quality is there, so this no-frills DVD delivers pretty much everything you want. But before I go, let me just make a couple of pleas to the powers that be. Hey A&M - how about releasing the 'Synchronicity' concert on DVD And Sting... get your ass in gear and put the Cops back together! Reunions are all the rage, man - let's have at it! Can you imagine a new Police album or a tour God, I am so THERE...
Review by Bill Hunt, Digital Bits