Soul Cages

Minneapolis, MN, US
Target Centerwith Special Beat, Vinx
Low-key, musical Sting rewards Target Center crowd with an arty show...

It's well-nigh impossible to be a musical artiste in a basketball arena.

But Sting came awfully close Wednesday night at Target Center. His one and three quarter hour performance was the right balance of intimate, soul-baring artistry and arena energy, radio hits and other crowd-pleasing ploys.

Easily the best of his three solo concerts in the Twin Cities, it was not the kind of performance that left you wowed. It left you nourished and rewarded, which is not something that happens often at arena concerts.

Fans might have quarrelled with the song selection - I would have liked to have heard more from Sting's second and best solo album, 'Nothing Like the Sun' - but it was hard to argue with his performance.

Having switched from rhythm guitar to bass (his original instrument), he now has a much more musical role than he did in his solo performances at the St. Paul Civic Center in '85 and at Northrop Auditorium in '88.

Moreover, he checked his ego in the limousine, because this time he didn't play the rock star onstage. No primping, no posing, no dramatic gestures, no hamminess. He was too busy being an integral member of the band and singing, of course.

Sting has a new band. Gone are the hot young jazzmen, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, who starred in his last two tours. Sting is touring with a stripped-down group: guitar, keyboards, drums and bass (with an occasional percussionist). Neither drummer Vinnie Colaiuta nor guitarist Dominic Miller of the British band King Swamp was very innovative or interesting last night but they never detracted or got in the way.

It was clearly the David Sancious and Sting Show. Keyboardist Sancious, an original member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and more recently a sideman to Peter Gabriel, was the featured soloist, propelling improvised jams that got the band cooking. Sting prudently started this tour in theatres to give the players a chance to jell before moving to the arena and amphitheater circuit. The quartet seemed tight, yet organic.

The pacing of the concert was up and down, with a couple of familiar tunes alternating with a couple of lesser known ones. Sting tried to show all of his musical sides. He played the rock star, sending out crowd-pleasing versions of the Police's 'King of Pain', 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message in a Bottle'.

He was the jazzman, doing a gentle acoustic guitar treatment of 'Fragile'.

He was the artiste, offering art songs such as 'The Wild Wild Sea'. He got bluesy on 'Jeremiah Blues' and soulful on 'The Soul Cages', title song of his new solo album. He displayed his interpretative skills on a spaced-out reading of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' (it wasn't soulful, but the pain was palpable) and Jimi Hendrix's roaring 'Purple Haze', which seemed like pandering to the arena aesthetic (I would have preferred to hear Sting's elegant treatment of Hendrix's 'Little Wing').

For better or worse, Sting and his band reworked the arrangements of nearly every number.

'Why Should I Cry for You' lacked the elegance of the recording, but was still effective. The reggae-flavoured 'Roxanne', the Police's first big hit, was translated into a spare, jazzy piece with rave-up, rocking choruses.

On the whole, Sting's band was less soulful but rocked harder than his previous groups, although there was plenty of jazzy improvising from Sting and Sancious. The light show, like Sting himself, was artful and low-key.

Opening the concert was Special Beat, which warmed up the crowd of 9,000 with its peppy ska music, and a Sting discovery who calls himself Vinx. A former world-class track star (as Vince Parrette), he showed himself to be a soulful, jazzy singer and adventurous percussionist whose music and hilarious patter make one want to hear more from him tonight at the Fine Line Music Cafe.

(c) The Minneapolis Star Tribune by Jon Bream