Painless Sting - Ex-Police chief wraps audience around his finger effortlessly...
Sting is so good, he doesn't have to try. And sometimes, he doesn't.
Blessed with one of pop music's most distinctive voices, first-rate instrumental chops and many years of hits to draw from, he presented a set Wednesday night at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel that was effortlessly appealing. But he rarely displayed the kind of drive or friction that's at the heart of a truly great rock show.
The former Police frontman, 52, showed few signs of artistic life on his last album, 2003's 'Sacred Love', and the new songs didn't add much to Wednesday's show. The title track and 'Send Your Love' were full of big statements (''It all comes down to love,'' ''Send your love into the future''), but the music rarely conveyed much urgency.
'Whenever I Say Your Name', at least, gave backing vocalist Joy Rose a chance to add to some soul shouting to the musical mix. (Mary J. Blige duetted on this song, on the album.) And the protest song, 'This War', showed some bite.
It started out sedately. But as Sting lashed out on a variety of political fronts (''I could see right through all the lies you told / When you smiled for the television,'' ''There's a war on our democracy / A war on our dissent''), his band built to a near-frenzy. At the end of the song, he spat out, sarcastically: ''Make it easy on yourself... don't do nothing.''
There were also sparks in 'We'll Be Together' - a duet with co-headliner Annie Lennox - and 'Synchronicity II', which showcased drummer Keith Carlock, an explosive player when given the opportunity to do more than keep a beat. Carlock and the band handled the slippery shuffle of 'Englishman in New York' and the tricky tempo shifts of 'Seven Days' with impressive ease.
But Sting stayed on cruise control for too many songs ('Every Breath You Take', 'Desert Rose', 'A Thousand Years', 'Fields of Gold'). And his Police-era signature song, 'Roxanne' was so bloated - with solos, chants and even a bit of the song 'Invisible Sun' - it seemed like he had no interest in it except as a launching pad for other things.
There was a visual theme for the evening: Several songs were accompanied by videos of mysterious women (angels, dancers and so on). There was a neat visual trick to 'Never Coming Home'. A projection seemed to show a painting of a woman looking out a window, but it was really a film. Toward the end of the song, the woman came to life and danced for a while before freezing again.
Lennox, 49, presented a shorter set - 65 minutes as opposed to 105 - but was more dependably dynamic. Few singers approach her ability to go to extremes: Since her days as half of the duo, Eurythmics, she has proved herself equally capable of icy precision or gospelly grit.
On Wednesday, she sang numbers such as 'Missionary Man', 'Little Bird', 'Loneliness' and 'I Need a Man' with a fervor that made them seem intensely personal. 'Here Comes the Rain Again' was presented as a slowed-down, piano-and-vocals ballad, while 'Walking on Broken Glass' became a joyous statement of purpose - and her take on Bob Marley's 'Waiting in Vain' couldn't have been sweeter or more soulful.
Sting graciously introduced Lennox, mentioning that they're neighbors as well as friends. Earlier in the evening, he also accomplished the unusual feat of making a cameo at his own show.
His guitarist, Dominic Miller, kicked the night off with a 15-minute solo set and Sting joined him to sing a warm, relaxed version of 'Shape of My Heart'. It was an obvious song choice for the two longtime collaborators. They co-wrote it and recorded it for Sting's 1993 album 'Ten Summoner's Tales', then redid it for Miller's recent CD, 'Shapes'.
(c) The Star Ledger by Jay Lustig
Sting & Lennox give PNC fans lots of 'Sweet Dreams' and 'Sacred Love'...
The rain took a back seat as Sting performed his greatest and latest hits as part of his 'Sacred Love' tour to a sold-out crowd Wednesday at the PNC Bank Arts Center.
Concert-goers had a ''two-for-one'' deal as Annie Lennox performed a full line-up and roused the crowd with old favourites and new songs as well. Guitarist Dominic Miller, who performs with Sting, opened the show.
''It's good to be sharing the same platform as Sting,''Lennox said.
Lennox started her set with some mellow songs and turned the 1980s Eurythmics hit 'Here Comes the Rain Again' into a slow and easy song with piano. Classic hits from her pre-solo days brought roars from the crowd, including 'Missionary Man' and 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)'.
After playing a half a dozen songs, the band paused for 20 seconds before dramatically having an electric guitar (instead of a keyboard) play the first notes from 'Sweet Dreams'.
Whether solo or in a band, Lennox is known for putting soul into her music, particularly her voice. The crowd gave her a standing ovation for 'Why'. At the conclusion of her set, she plugged the Maryland-based organization Candlelighters, asking the audience to spare some change to help children with cancer.
Sting took the stage about a half hour later with a soft, unassuming guitar riff from 'Send Your Love', from his most recent album, 'Sacred Love'.
He followed up the brand new selection with the 11-year-old 'Synchronicity II', from the last album the Police made together. The singer took the audience on a roller coaster ride with his song selection, surprising fans at every turn. For his third song, Sting chose 'We'll Be Together', from the 1987 album 'Nothing Like the Sun', one of his first solo albums. Halfway through the song, Lennox came on stage to sing some parts with him.
Sting was sparse with conversation or comments on stage except for a two-minute break to introduce the band members. The music spoke for itself. The stage and background were just as simple - no laser light shows or three-fold screens; rather, lots of light playing on the audience and outdoor amphitheatre.
The band and Sting didn't stray far from the original music from his albums, especially with songs from his solo albums including 'Seven Days', 'Fields of Gold' and 'Fragile', a song that he played in 2001 after the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Toward the end of the concert, Sting and the band had a 10-minute jam session with the popular Police song 'Roxanne', a love song to a prostitute. He sang the song in its original form in the beginning and later mixed in words from 'King of Pain'. He got the audience pumped up by encouraging them to sing ''Roxanne-oh'' before launching into an impromptu jam with an emphasis on electric and bass guitars. Another song later, Sting's pianist/keyboardist did a jam.
The night couldn't have ended better with the resounding and Middle Eastern-influenced 'Desert Rose', albeit without the French-Algerian Cheb Mami singing backup.
(c) The Daily Record by Dave Minauti