Sting and the Grateful Dead?
The two acts' 11 stadium shows together shaped up as one of the oddest pop pairings since Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees in the '60s, or Elvis Presley hit the road with Slim Whitman in the '50s.
It's like mixing ''milk and bourbon,'' a fan of both acts said Friday before the start of their first joint appearance at the sold-out Sam Boyd Silver Bowl here - not stopping to designate who was milk and who was bourbon.
Ever since it was announced in February that Sting would open for the Dead, music industry observers have been abuzz. Some saw the pairing as a clever move for Sting - an attempt to tap into the fiercely loyal audience that has made the Dead rock's biggest concert draw over the last decade.
Others warned of danger in an industry where perception is often everything. By agreeing to open for the Dead, Sting - who has always headlined his own shows - may be sending out a signal that he is uncertain of his own drawing power in these tough economic times.And there's the matter of ego.
How would Sting feel coming on stage with nine-tenths of the seats vacant? It has happened to some other acts at Dead shows because the crowd often just shows up for the headliner. In retrospect, there was no reason for Sting to be anxious about his foray into the land of the Living Dead. Here's a guy who had the nerve in 1985 to walk away from the Police, the hottest band in rock, to launch a solo career and later star in 'The Threepenny Opera' on Broadway. So, what was there to fear about playing before 42,000 happy hippies?
And sure enough: Things went just fine.
The Bowl was almost three-quarters filled as Sting walked on stage with his band at 2 p.m. Wearing black overalls with a Deadhead sticker on one leg, he went into a song from his new album that seemed tailored for the occasion. 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' speaks of finding something or someone to believe in during a time when most institutions - from politics to religion - seem tainted. The gentle, affectionate song seemed an ideal summary of the Dead experience - and of the Dead fans who speak as much about fellowship as music when asked why they often travel hundreds of miles to attend theshows.
Drugs, mostly pot, still seem part of the Dead experience, but far from an essential element. The key to the shows is that they provide a sanctuary from the stress of the work-and-school week by celebrating '60s values of fellowship and music in a massive communal gathering. Although the song seemed tailored to the Dead performance, it was, in fact, the same number Sting opened with last week at the Greek Theatre, where he headlined.
Similarly, he played mostly songs from his new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales' rather than hedging his bet by concentrating on his better-known Police songs. The set's most memorable moment occurred during 'Heavy Cloud No Rain', a song from the new album. To that point, the sky was clear and blue - and the heat was blistering. The song speaks of needing ''sweet rain to wash away my blues'' but hearing the TV newscaster forecast ''heavy cloud, but no rain.''
Simultaneously with the song, a cloud cover appeared over the stadium - and, within minutes, rain and lightning followed, cooling off the crowd and making the Silver Bowl a much more pleasant place.
By the time Sting got to such Police songs as 'Roxanne' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', the audience - the majority of which appeared to be younger than 25 - was cheering and dancing as much as they would at one of his own shows.
Backstage afterward, Sting's guitarist Dominic Miller appeared relieved. ''My worst scenario was there wouldn't be anyone out there. The next was they would just stare and not react. But we felt at home right from the start.''
Sting, too, was pleased.''I'm surprised at all the talk about why we agreed to do the shows,'' he said. ''...They're a great audience. I'm looking forward to the remaining shows.''
Miles Copeland, the singer's manager, said the idea for Sting to tour with the Dead came up informally at dinner with John Scher, a concert promoter. Copeland said Scher mentioned that the Dead was looking for an opening act... and Sting's came up. Copeland recalled: ''It was just something that popped out, and I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute... there's something interesting there.' As strange as it sounded at first, there was something intriguing about it.''
Scher checked with the Dead, who accepted the idea, and Copeland called Sting. ''The first thing he said was, 'What did you say?' Then about five seconds later, he said, 'That sure is a nutty idea... let's do it.'
''About Sting's decision, Copeland added, ''It's important in this business not to be predictable so that you become bored with what you do and so does the public. Lots of acts spend time worrying about what could go wrong and they end up doing nothing. Sting loves challenges... going into the unknown.''
Overhearing Copeland's remarks, Sting smiled and added, ''Now, what's this about opening for Iron Butterfly next week?''
(c) The Los Angeles Times by Robert Hilburn
Sting: raises the Dead in show-opening bid...
In a recent interview with Sting, Rolling Stone suggested that the former Police front man was one of the most famous men in the world - a status even a cursory reading of his career readily confirms. So when he opened for the Grateful Dead on Friday in the first of three sold-out shows at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl in Las Vegas, it was within a context not only puzzling - since when does a superstar open for anybody? - but contradictory - how long has it been since Sting played before more than 40,000 people, most of whom weren't there to see him?
But that role as incidental distraction is what an artist signs on for with the Grateful Dead. Outside the stadium before Friday's show, in the line of Dead fans ringing the complex waiting for the gates to open at noon, anticipation of Sting's performance was laced with something like curious but skeptical bemusement: Everyone was exclaiming over the fact he was opening, wondering what he would perform and doubting he would generate much enthusiasm.
And yet, given that Sting volunteered to open for the band during its Vegas stint, perhaps that unspoken challenge was part of his motivation. Once he and his backing trio took the stage, he certainly wasted no time in establishing his set as a loud, loose procession of songs given to extended passages of freewheeling solos - when in Rome, after all. It was a spirit and approach for which the crowd had boundless appreciation.
With Sting's bass booming way up in the mix, the band jammed its winding way through solo hits such as 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', Police faves like 'Roxanne' and an aptly chosen cover of The Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'. Although the energy and intensity of the set built steadily as the crowd's skepticism melted into hip-shaking approval, when a devastating rave-up of 'Synchronicity II' closed out the show, the crowd applauded politely but quickly settled back into the main business of the day - waiting for the Dead.
A thunderstorm that had been threatening throughout Sting's performance - and crashed down during the interim - delayed the Dead's performance for 30 minutes and perhaps contributed to the band's abbreviated and spiritless first set. Playing only seven songs, instead of the typical eight or nine, the Dead mixed in a couple of new, unrecorded songs - informally known as 'Liberty' and 'Lazy River Road' - with older fare, the only shining moment coming with 'Ramble on Rose'.
Of course, in the band's two-set format, the opener is often noodled away in adjusting the sound and finding the groove, with the second set the payoff. True to form, the Dead delivered a closing performance highlighted by surging, building deliveries of standards - 'Fire on the Mountain', 'Uncle John's Band', 'Sugar Magnolia'.
The crowd took particular delight in seeing Dead Zen master Jerry Garcia in such fine and animated form. After suffering a lifestyle- induced collapse last year, the Dead guitarist has rebounded, a slender and renewed reflection of his former self.
(c) The Dallas Morning News by Tom Maurstad