Mercury Falling

Saratoga, NY, US
Saratoga Performing Arts Centre with The Cowboy Junkies
It was Sting vs. the storm in Saratoga on Sunday night...

Unfortunately, the throng on the lawn at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center seemed to get the short end of the bargain. That didn't stop most from braving the bad weather for two very entertaining hours of music from the English pop pioneer.

Sting started out his show with healthy dose of music from his latest release, 'Mercury Falling', before moving into a brace of his own hits as well as a handful of classics by his old band, the Police. As always, the music effortlessly fused purposeful pop cliches with unexpected jazz twists, biting rock moments, and, here and there, even a bit of country.

A new number, 'I Hung My Head', was the early highlight of the show and it did all of the above in under five minutes - pushing an odd time signature against a country groove. If it all sounds tech-y on paper, it sure sounded heartfelt onstage. So did an exuberant 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' (complete with its new cheesy Brasil 66 ending) and a driving rip through 'Synchronicity'.

Since the start of his solo career Sting has surrounded himself with top-flight players; and although he sported a smaller than usual five-man band (including old friend Kenny Kirkland) on Sunday, they sure got the job done.

Acclaimed drummer Vinnie Colaiuta was particularly impressive at SPAC, creating a monster rhythm section with his boss's bass. The pair pushed 'Roxanne' with a sexy bump, and made 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' sound like it was piped down from heaven, somewhere far above the angry clouds.

Sting may have made the evening special for his entire adoring crowd, but he made it extra special for a front-row fan named Louise. She was invited onstage to sing along with her hero on the genteel 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying'. She did such a bang-up job that she won a standing ovation to rival any applause Sting garnered. I don't think he minded, though.

The Cowboy Junkies were given a generous hour to open the show, and their first note struck just as the first drop fell. Vocalist Margo Timmons joked that every time the band has ever played outdoors it's rained - she then dedicated 'A Common Disaster' to the wet ones in the back. Their music - slow, Gothic and tense country rock - fit the weather well, and the crowd, which seemed mostly unfamiliar with their stuff, was with them.

They received the best response for their cover of Lou Reed's 'Sweet Jane' (prominently featured in the film 'Natural Born Killers'), but the real jewel of their set was a brilliant, rising reading of 'Lost My Drivin' Wheel'. The tune began almost imperceptibly and then wormed its way into a primitive, desperate mantra. It's rare to hear a love song so creepy and beautiful at the same time, but that's the Junkies in a nutshell.

(c) The Times Union by Michael Eck