Sting in Iowa...
It was May 13th, Mother's Day, and we had a four-hour, ''white-knuckle'' drive through pouring rain to get to Ames, Iowa from Kansas City. Unfortunately, Jill Scott was still not able to perform, but that did afford us the opportunity to hear a nice set from Dominic Miller. Sting walked on stage in a long sleeve casual sweater and did the bit about offering $20 to someone in the band to step up and ''bail him out''. He introduced Dominic who came out and sat simply in a lone chair to play. He spoke to us between every song and was quite entertaining. He talked about his CD's which were available in some remote place and that even though he wasn't selling any T-shirts (referring to all of the STING merchandise) he would sell the T-shirt off his back after the show. By the reaction of the audience,
he had many takers on that offer.
Among the highlights of the set was 'Lullaby to an Anxious Child' and 'I Was Brought To My Senses'. Dominic kept saying to the small but receptive group, ''Thank you, you're too kind.'' Before Sting joined Dominic for the last song of the set, 'Shape of My Heart', Dominic mentioned that people (even his friends) often asked him what Sting was like. He said that Sting was a friend, but more like an older brother. He quipped, ''Sting has more success, more money, a bigger house and more of them.'' Some man in the audience yelled out, ''Are you married?'' Dominic didn't answer that, but instead got an idea and added ''...more wives, more children''. The song was eloquent and touching as the duo beautifully performed it. And when the song was over, Sting pulled out a $20 bill and handed it over
to Dominic for his services. As Conan referred to it a couple of weeks ago, this was a ''comedy'' tour.
'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' opened the show with considerable vigor (a better selection than 'A Thousand Years'.) After the song, signs all over the arena went up. Sting glanced around at a few, including mine. Next, they played a sultry version of 'After The Rain'/'We'll Be Together' and afterwards he instructed everyone, ''Okay, let's see those signs again.'' He read the ones from the college girls in the row behind me. There was one with a spider's web from the entomology department, and another one (with an ear of corn on it) saying he was the ''crop to my rotation''. A guy directly in front of me stood on his chair to show him the T-shirt he was wearing (which said ''STING'') and Sting said, ''nice shirt''. The guy got down and Sting read my sign aloud. ''Brand New Day... This
song needs a female back-up singer/dancer.'' He surveyed me and thought about it for a while and said, ''This sign is intriguing... (a pause, still contemplating) I'll get back to you on that.'' I was extremely excited (and so were the people around me) because I knew that soon, I'd be up there with Sting.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear a great song that was added to the set list, 'Mad About You'. Thanks to the fabulous trumpet parts added by Chris to 'Seven Days', things really started to heat up. Sting had been wearing a short-sleeved shirt unbuttoned, but he walked stage right, handed his bass to a stagehand, and stripped down to the sleeveless shirt we all love. He has the most incredible arms! This charged the crowd even more. The audience was full of enthusiasm. We stood and danced in our places the entire time. The songs were trenchant and the band was particularly playful. Throughout the show, Dominic generously tossed his picks out to the audience and Chris showered a great deal of attention to the people in front as well as to those who were up on the side. Sting danced often,
strutting his stuff and wooing the crowd. He also provided plenty of facial expression and eye contact. With the Ally McBeal episode fresh in our minds, he reminded the husbands that they could not sue him for looking at their wives.
I saw something that I thought was so kind and wonderful. He went out of his way to give an extra-special smile to a young person who had apparently been recovering from an illness. He certainly handed out a generous amount of thrills all night. A comment had been made about this leg of the tour being ''the beer concerts''. Everyone enjoyed his or her share of the beverage. Although I drank water most of the night, I did have a ''cold one'' myself (in order to relax of course!) 'Fill Her Up' went right along with the mood of this bunch.
As the music continued, the poetic 'Fields of Gold' had everyone swaying in their places but 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' had everyone rocking. After that song Sting called me to the stage. I was surprised that he called me up before 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' because I assumed the set list was the same as before. I'd thought that I would have more time to put on some lipstick and pop in an Altoid (perish the thought of speaking to Sting with ''beer breath!''). Anyway, I went backstage and waited at the steps to the stage while the band played. The stagehands did not know what to do for a microphone for me. First they told me to stand at a mike that was in the back by the keyboards but then Sting walked over, in the middle of the song, to stage left and mouthed to them, ''Microphone!
Microphone!'' They found a hand held mike for me and so I stood and watched and waited to be called up.
My friend Christina told me that when Sting called me to come forward, Chris recognised me (I met him in December at a Jazztrax concert in Kansas City and we talked about the time I sang 'Brand New Day' with Sting last summer.) He looked happy to see me and tried to indicate to Sting that I had sung this with him before. Unable to make him understand, Chris walked over and told Sting about me. When Sting called me to come on stage I walked out, stood at his right side, and tried to discreetly put a photo and letter on the music stand.
Before this concert, I had what I thought was a stroke of genius. I had prepared a letter with a photo from the Kansas City concert in the hopes that he would autograph it for me later. He asked me my name and as I answered he pushed the microphone up from the bottom, closer to my mouth almost hitting me in the face (like a scene from the Jim Carrey movie 'Man on the Moon'.) He told me to say 'hello' to Iowa (again pushing up on the mike) and then he reached in front of me and picked up the papers. He saw the photo of us singing and said, ''I see we've done this before... where?'' I answered, ''Sandstone in Kansas City.'' And then to my quandary, he began to read the letter aloud, ''Dear Sting,... (then he improvised) ''...and you can pay me $100,000...'' (putting on a front like he was obliged
to pay me for the negative.) Thank God he didn't actually read the note aloud. He was on his toes and made a joke of it all. As the song was beginning, I asserted, ''one more thing, I'd like to say 'Hi Mom, Happy Mother's Day and hello to my daughter, Haley.''
The song started, it was very loud on stage, and I couldn't hear myself sing. I managed to gather up some confidence and sing out on the echo of ''starting up a Brand New Day.'' Jeff, on the keyboards, gave me an encouraging smile like, ''you nailed it, keep going.'' Right after singing, ''thinking in a Brand New Way,'' they went straight into the next verse. I was surprised to hear how much had been cut from the song.
I didn't know it but my mother and daughter had come down to the front of the stage. Sting saw an older woman and mouthed to her as if asking are you, ''Mom?'' She nodded 'yes.' Chris came down and played his trumpet directly to my daughter for a very long time despite the fact that she was so shy she could not keep eye contact with him. Since I had a hand held mike, I decided to make the best of it and move about the stage, trying to get everyone to clap in time. The audience participation was overwhelming.
From what I've seen, Dominic rarely smiles more than a grin. So I was quite surprised when I glanced at Dominic and he played toward me smiling the biggest smile I'd ever seen from him. I looked back over at Sting and he motioned with his head to come closer. I picked up on that cue immediately and moved over right next to him. I put the mike in my right hand and wrapped my left arm around him. He quit playing bass for a few bars and put his arm around me too. We stood arm in arm singing, ''Stand up all you lovers in the world.'' Friends tell me that the crowd went crazy at that point.
I still can't quite fathom it that I was standing there with this amazing man, singing. Unbelievable! I continued to occasionally look over Sting's shoulder to watch Jeff for cues as to when and what to sing because they had cut so much of the song. But he was new and started another back up verse apparently, one too many times. I followed him but then I heard the band winding down the song so I knew we'd blown the chance for a great, harmonious ending (and I had rehearsed that until it was thoroughly polished!)
Anyway, the first time that I sang with Sting everything went exceptionally well (my friend Lisa said she wouldn't have done anything differently) except that I missed a cue at the end of the song. When the song was over and he put out his right hand, I shook it (instead of taking his hand for a bow) but then he did give me a nice hug! This time I was waiting for that right hand to reach out to me. He extended his hand, I took a firm grip, and he raised up our arms. Another thing I missed last time (according to my friends) was not kissing him when I had the chance. So this time I took the opportunity and gave him an exuberant hug and a little kiss on each cheek. Not everything went as planned, but it went well enough and I followed through with the little things that I'd missed the first
For the rest of the concert, the intensity continued to be very high. Everyone was singing all of the songs (Kipper was really digging on that!) and the audience loved the effects on 'Desert Rose'. The vitality remained elevated as the band returned for the first encore. The second encore was even more endearing because of the tenderness shared on 'Message in a Bottle' and 'Fragile'.
The band graciously came forward at the end to shake hands. Sting passed by quickly but I didn't even try to shake his hand. I'd gotten more than my share and I wanted others to have their chance. I did however, shake hands with Chris and I received another huge smile from Jeff as I shook his hand. The kind people of Iowa were very congratulatory to me. A few asked me if I was a plant and I assured them of course not. The crowd departed gratified and high-spirited.
It seems as though a trend got started after this concert of people joining Sting on stage. There were four concerts that he called up the belly dancers and some other fans got the chance to sing 'Fill Her Up' with him.
Sting may not have remembered me that night, but I don't think he'll forget me again.
(c) Karen Seaton for Sting.com
Sting puts crowd at ease...
The English pop star's finest concert moments on Sunday night at Hilton Coliseum in Ames featured bold reinventions of his beloved back catalog - both his solo material and the more sinewy songs from his former rock band, the Police.
When the concert's loose, jazzy vibe failed to ignite, it was because singer-bassist Sting and his crack five-piece backup band were shackled by the stiff songwriting of his most recent fare - most notably a heavy sampling from 1999's 'Brand New Day'.
Regardless of song selection, Sting, 49, still wields a voice and physique that seem untouched by time. He was completely at ease in the arena, and no less charming despite a disappointing turnout of 5,300 fans - about one-third of the arena's capacity.
Sting was so relaxed, in fact, that he invited a female fan on stage to dance and sing backup vocals for 'Brand New Day'. (Sting noticed a sign that the woman held aloft, which suggested that she do just that. She was bold enough to carry off her impromptu performance with a little flair.)
The concert's mood was free and easy from the outset. Guitarist Dominic Miller, a Sting sideman for the past decade, played an opening set in place of ailing R & B singer Jill Scott. He was introduced by none other than Sting himself, whom Miller affectionately characterized as ''an older brother.''
''I usually don't come out at this time tonight,'' Sting told the audience. ''I'm usually asleep.''
The seasoned performer for Sting then made a classy move, reappearing at the end of Miller's brief set to sing a duet of 'Shape of My Heart'. He took a negative (Scott's absence) and turned it into a positive, giving fans an extra, intimate performance.
In his official set Sting made efforts to transcend most song's studio arrangements. 'After the Rain Has Fallen' segued into a funked-up version of 'We'll Be Together'. For 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong' drummer Manu Katche emerged from behind his drum kit to rap. Trumpeter Chris Botti was a welcome presence, fleshing out many of the early songs with his clear, clean tones.
'Fields of Gold' was an example of how a hit was dished out in sleepy, standard form. Here the tightness that Sting and his band have honed over the past couple of years of constant touring resulted in a slick, too-polished sound.
'Moon Over Bourbon Street', however, made the best use of Miller's elegantly subdued technique - he's by no means a flashy lead guitarist - while Sting camped up the lyrics. It took all the right chances.
The Police gems 'Roxanne' and 'When the World Is Running Down (You Make the Best of What's Still Around)' offered the best extended jams, to finish the main set; the band mined deep, satisfying grooves, and Sting's voice didn't falter when belting out the loudest ''Rooooxanne!'' he could muster.
An initial encore of one inferior song (If I Ever Lose My Faith in You) and an overplayed one (Every Breath You Take) fell flat by comparison. Thankfully, a second encore of sing-along favorite 'Message in a Bottle' and the angelic 'Fragile' ended the concert more intimately, to bring the night full circle.
Sting began his career, with the Police, in the guise of a punk rocker but has gradually developed his own jazzy, radio-friendly blend of world music. He's also become a consummate showman able to execute a concert with unparalleled dignity and class - and just the right touch of English humour.
It's only a pity that his rough edges had to be sacrificed to get here. And why can he no longer be as playful in the studio as he is on stage?
Sting in concert remains a force to be reckoned with, even if the older songs still spark his most arresting performances.
(c) The Des Moines Register by Kyle Munson