A chatty Sting still has the magic...
A lot has changed in the 20 years since Sting played the Orpheum with the Police, even though the dressing room hasn't changed - down to some chewing gum he stuck there, Sting told fans Saturday at the first of two sold-out nights at the theater.
The Police became the biggest pop band of the '80s (before breaking up and turning over that honour to U2). Sting embarked on a solo career, in which he has smoothly incorporated jazz, world music, and adult pop, cultivating an older, well-heeled audience that wasn't shy to scoop up Orpheum tickets costing up to 5.
Sting's concerts can be tightly scripted to the point where even spontaneity seems rehearsed (his musicians had a play-by-the-numbers role on his last tour at Great Woods in 1996), but the singer redeemed himself in the Orpheum's intimate setting.
As casual as a performer who glances at notes on a music stand can get, Sting chatted up the crowd, talking not only about past Boston visits, but the un-English concept of Thanksgiving (relaying a nightmare about a ''giant, inflatable Garfield'' outside his New York home) and imitating fans who might be whispering,
''He looked better with the Police.''
But at 48, Sting looked and sounded great, fronting an eight-piece band that included his longtime guitarist Dominic Miller, ex-Peter Gabriel drummer Manu Katche, contemporary jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, keyboard programmer Kipper, and three female singers.
After a mere half-hour given to Me'shell Ndegeocello (whose quintet augmented her moody songs with a fluid, jazz-funk feel), Sting began his near-two-hour set on the tepid side, with the atmospheric new 'A Thousand Years', before strapping on his bass and stirring the crowd with 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'. Katche came forward for a frisky rap in 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong', then laced the seductive syncopation of 'Seven Days' with a spicy swing behind Botti's burnished trumpet lines.
Gimmicky tunes like 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' (another Botti feature, during which Sting wore a black hat and rasped like Tom Waits to a moon on the backdrop) and the country-style 'Fill Her Up' even worked. And Sting got fans chanting to Police standard 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Englishman in New York'.
Despite the lush textures of his solo material, Police songs fared best, including a deliriously extended 'Roxanne' and 'When the World Is Running Down', which found Sting dancing and stalking to a jazzy piano break. 'Every Breath You Take' approached stock nostalgia, but Sting's voice still soared, as it did during a sublime second encore of 'Message in a Bottle' (done solo on acoustic guitar) and 'Fragile', both of which found Sting working the crowd as deftly as he did his nylon strings.
(c) The Boston Globe by Paul Robicheau
Tasteful Sting strolls musical memory lane...
Standing on the Orpheum stage brought back a lot of memories of Boston for Sting last night. He reminisced during his 105-minute show about playing the now-defunct Rat in Kenmore Square and getting laryngitis and then graduating to the Paradise and finally the Orpheum.
''I played here in 1979, when I was eight,'' he joked. Actually he was 28, but even at 48 the yoga-loving, tantric-sex-having British rocker is still fighting trim both physically and musically.
Backed by a great, mainly new eight-piece band, the former Gordon Sumner played songs from every phase of his 20-year career from the Police through his most recent solo album 'Brand New Day'.
Songs from that album were a pleasant surprise, since many them sound flat and dry on record. Yet the soulful 'After the Rain is Fallen', the majestic whorl of 'Desert Rose' and the dog's eye view of romance 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong' were vibrant and captivating in a live setting, aided by Sting's ardent vocals and Dominic Miller's forceful guitar playing.
Other highlights included the sensual ballad 'Fields of Gold', a jubilantly tropical 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' and a Kurt Weill meets New Orleans pomp rendition of the vampire theme 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.
If there were disappointments they were mainly in song selection. When you play to a crowd of 20,000, a menu of the hits is appropriate. But when diehard fans have ponied up the dough to see you up close in a theater - top tickets went for a whopping 5 - it wouldn't hurt to burrow a little deeper, say to the second single.
For instance instead of the umpteenth call and response run through of 'Roxanne' and the perfunctory 'Every Breath You Take', how about the equally popular but less overplayed 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'Synchronicity II'?
In that vein, however, der Stingle gets kudos for playing the exquisitely droll marriage ultimatum 'Seven Days' from 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. Manu Katche's tasteful drumming ticked away the time as Chris Botti's frantic trumpet runs mirrored the singer's indecision.
(c) The Boston Herald by Sarah Rodman