Atlanta, Raleigh & Charlotte roadtrip...
Christingme and I teamed up, as many of you know, for a 3-show marathon Sting Weekend. What a weekend it was! Reviewing the shows separately just doesn't make sense since they're running together in my mind anyway. It should be noted that this is a first for me. Having seen only 2 Sting shows before this tour, the total has been bumped up to 6 now. Doubling the concert total in one road trip was exhausting, exhilarating and altogether exceptional. (Please pardon any linguistic faults, as sleep deprivation is still an issue here.)
Atlanta, September 2: We got lost on the way to the venue thanks to crappy directions. This is why I leave early for everything...
Drinks: expensive. Merchandise: expensive. Tickets: not half-bad! When you consider that ClearChannel skims the best tickets off the top, I'm still thankful that we had an unobstructed view (18th row on the side). The show: Bright and fresh. Annie Lennox rocked. There's no other way to put it. Delicate gestures and innocently playful expressions combined with coquettish moves, a sultry sound and startlingly powerful vocals to make her set a unique experience. One reviewer remarked that no recording studio has been able to capture the power of her voice. After hearing 'Here Comes the Rain Again' today on the radio, I couldn't agree more. I found myself complaining to my radio that the song was lukewarm by comparison. Yes, I'm tired enough to talk to my radio...
Backing up for a moment, Dominic's opener was a virtuoso performance played to an audience that by and large couldn't have cared less. That's truly sad. People wandering in and out constantly and the ever-present murmur of a crowd not quite ready to sit down do not do the man justice. Even Sting's appearance for 'Shape of My Heart' didn't prompt nearly enough people to sit down and hush. I was gratified, however, to see long lines waiting for Dominic to sign his CD after Annie's set. It was nice to be able to meet him again (we met him in Tampa), get his autograph and have to do it all over again in CHARLOTTE after some clumsy evolutionary error spilled beer all over Tina's purse and my CD during the Atlanta show!
Sting started the set with more energy by far than the first (small venue) leg of the tour. The set list has likely been repeated ad nauseam, so I'll spare you. I'm not sure if it was a month's rest, the dynamic of a larger and more enthusiastic crowd, or the presence of such a powerhouse as Annie on the bill, but Sting seemed to take up the gauntlet and pump more life into his show. No, he didn't have the outspoken flair Annie's set showed, but the man has style and the quiet confident power of a true master of his art. Before anyone can argue, I'm by no means talking Annie down. It's a question of apples and oranges. Many have stated in this forum that the first round of double-bill shows were lackluster, even to the point of suggesting that Sting was upstaged by his co-headliner. I didn't find that at all in these shows. Sting does what he does best with a style all his own. As with his music, you can take or leave it as you will, but he's going to be himself.
I have to admit that I also found it amazing that the crowd exploded into cheers for the line ''You could say I've lost my faith in our politicians''. Yes, Sting, you could definitely say that.
It was encouraging to see people standing and dancing and see many people keeping pace with the lyrics to the newer material. The Police songs, of course, had most people up and singing along, but seeing recognition and positive reaction to the 'Sacred Love' selections was gratifying. The dynamic of a good performer and a good crowd encouraging each other and raising the energy level seems to hold true here. My only complaint is that far too many people can't decide if they want a beer or food or whatever until halfway through the set. We had countless people either excusing themselves past us in the row or wandering up and down the aisles - it gets distracting and quite annoying.
A personal note here: 'Fragile' and 'Fields of Gold' both hold deep meaning for me on many levels. I won't bore you with the particulars, but his playing them back to back literally moved me to tears. He brought a very special person back to me for a few moments, and my love's memory lives on in those songs.
OK - enough maudlin wanderings. On to CHARLOTTE.
We got lost on the way to the motel. Figures... I promise, and Tina will attest, that I'm NOT a horrible driver (Oh, lord... that ''I'm an excellent driver'' line just went wandering through my mind. I really need some sleep!).
Drinks: expensive. Merchandise: expensive (though the posters dropped from 10 to 5 dollars and stayed that way for Raleigh). Tickets: better - about 8 rows back. The crowd: enthusiastic and appreciative.
Annie's set rocked like it did in Atlanta. Her change of wardrobe for this show actually surprised me! Chalk it up to Sting's penchant for one outfit per tour.
Dominic's set (OK, so I keep backing up to Dom's set...) had the same selections, though the crowd treated him better this time. There was less wandering around and there seemed to be less conversation. Being in the front probably influenced that perception, though. One thing that struck me was that when Dominic played 'The Star Spangled Banner', the crowd rose to its feet - hands over hearts - for the duration. I glanced around to find hats being removed and people standing as they recognized what was being played. It also showed that the audience was paying attention.
Sting's set was more vibrant as the band seemed to be getting used to the idea of playing after a month's break. I noticed a couple of places where his voice cracked or warbled a bit, and Tina and I both expressed concern. He really needs to take care of his voice! He asked the crowd to ''help him out'' for 'Roxanne', just as he did in Atlanta, and we obliged. Most of the audience stood or danced for most of the set (again, my perceptions - the people up front stood and danced).
I don't see where the issues with the set list come from. Maybe it's just me, still a novice at this whole ''see Sting live'' concept, but I was just thrilled to the bone that he showed up! Perhaps I'm just easier to please, or perhaps I was just determined to enjoy whatever was going on because the tickets were so damned expensive! There were songs I'd have adored hearing, but that's not going to happen unless the concert turns into a one-man Woodstock with three full days to add every preference into the list.
I can't say I was displeased that 'This War' was removed from the set. The song just hasn't won me over. I did enjoy 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and the other Police songs in the set, and pulling 'Seven Days' into the list was a prime choice in my book. I do have one issue, and that's with pulling 1 or 2 lines from another song into 'Roxanne' and not following through with the rest of the song. Don't tease me like that! He ended up inserting the first 2 lines of 'It Ain't Necessarily So' during the Raleigh show, but no more. Again, don't tease me like that!
Raleigh, September 4
We got lost on the way to the motel. Is anyone surprised by this? If so, PM me and I'll clue you in to the reality of sleep-deprived driving in an unfamiliar city. I don't sleep well in unfamiliar places, and of course we were too keyed up and ready to talk the night away!
Drinks: $5 for a Coca Cola? Oy... Merchandise: at least the posters ere still $5, and I finally gave in and bought another tour shirt. Seats: Excellent! We were on the end of the row, so we were pretty much sitting in front of the speakers. We'd seen the screens 2 nights running anyway.
We struck up a conversation with the security guard. This was one of the most fruitful conversations I've ever had. She not only approved our cameras, but offered to escort us to a good spot at the edge of the stage to take pictures! We had free reign to wander up at will and snap pics. We were told that we couldn't go up to the very edge of the stage, though. I'd have argued if I hadn't seen several people escorted back to their seats after wandering down for the encore. Security was far less strict than at the previous shows, but fair and consistent.
Sting was back in full voice - no cracks, no warbles. Early on in the set he announced a ''special guest''. Since Annie just walked onstage for We'll Be Together, we were puzzled until the spolights caught that soprano sax. Branford walked in and sat in with the band in grand style, and the whole feel of the show changed. The feel of some of the earlier lineups came back with a vengeance as he lent his signature style and his own contribution to Sting's music with such ease that you'd think he'd been playing with that lineup all along. It was an amazing night - words fail.
I heard that ''she talks for an hour, THEN words fail!'' Sorry, folks. There's no other way to put it than ''amazing''.
We drove over 500 miles back to Alabama, only once wondering what the hell we were doing or why the hell we were doing it. Had the show been the same as CHARLOTTE's, I might have wondered a bit longer. Raleigh's show was indeed a treat between the free use of a camera and the surprise guest... It was the perfect ending to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Tina probably has more to add to this... Despite the drive and getting lost and being tired, it was an experience to treasure (mostly because I won't be able to afford to do it again!).
Regrets? I think not.
(c) Wren for Sting.com
Sting and Lennox deliver youthful sound...
It was adult night at Philips Arena Thursday.
There wasn't anything X-rated happening. It was just a concert by a couple of pop stars of a certain age, Sting and Annie Lennox.
There was no shortage of balding and gray heads among the audience, but both of the evening's main attractions looked fitter than many pop stars half their age. They sounded even more youthful than they looked, despite having a combined total of about 50 years in the music business between them.
Lennox practically glowed. The only thing flashy about her stage set was the animal print top she wore over low-riding denim jeans.
The soulful Scot seemed to be having the time of her life, posing with childlike glee during N'o More I Love You's'. It was her voice that really set the place alight. The velvety power she displayed on the slow-burning 'Cold' was enough to send shivers through every limb.
'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)', the most familiar tune from Lennox's time with '80s duo Eurythmics, stood up well to the gritty rock treatment it received, as did crowd-pleasing takes on the guitar-heavy Eurythmics tunes 'I Need a Man' and 'Missionary Man'.
Above it all, Lennox's voice soared, sounding better than any studio has ever been able to capture. ''Ooh, mama,'' she exclaimed at the end of the sprightly pop gem 'Walking on Broken Glass'. Ditto, Miss Lennox..
Then it was Sting's turn.
It didn't take long for the crowd to get what it came for: some hits. For the set's second tune, he reached all the way back to his days in the Police. His piercing tenor has lost none of its power since that song, 'Synchronicity II', was recorded more than 20 years ago.
Sting's backdrop was much flashier than the bare stage Lennox prowled earlier, with a scrim initially covering the front of the stage and video screens projecting images behind him. The images were unobtrusive yet often lovely. Don't know the quiet tune he's strumming from 2003's Sacred Love' called 'Dead Man's Rope'. Just watch the pretty pastoral pictures and drift away.
Don't drift to far, because after that it was back to the beat with 'We'll Be Together', which included a return appearance by Lennox, who had slipped what looked like a pink nightie over her jeans and a hair net on her head. Strange but riveting.
Otherwise, it was a winding and usually winning jog through Sting's solid back catalog of Police tunes ('Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic') and solo tracks ('Desert Rose', 'Englishman in New York') peppered with several numbers from the recent 'Sacred Love'.
Among the latter was 'Whenever I Say Your Name', a song recorded as a duet with Mary J. Blige. Live, her spot was filled by the more-than-capable voice of backing singer Joy Rose. Sting ceded the spotlight to Rose's powerhouse pipes as she rattled the rafters and the audience cheered her on.
And the man couldn't possibly get away without doing 'Roxanne'. It may have lost about half of its tempo since first appearing on the 1978 Police debut 'Outlandos D'Amour', but its sing-along appeal is undimmed.
It's author - and his touring partner - shine on brightly, too.
(c) The Atlanta Journal & Constitution by Shane Harrison