Brand New Day
Minneapolis, USOrpheum Theater
With Paul Thorn

Slow start, better finish for Sting...

Be suspicious when a pop star needs a cheat sheet onstage. Does it mean the singer has a bad memory, is underprepared, insecure or what?

Cher used TelePrompTers throughout her Target Center show last summer. Elton John had one, too, atop his piano this fall. Even Bruce Springsteen used one last week.

Who knows what Sting had on the music stand next to him Sunday at the soldout Historic Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. He seemed to look at the music stand when he was telling jokes - like the outdated one about Thanksgiving in his New York apartment from which he could see a giant, inflated Garfield. He inexplicably looked at the stand when he was singing 'Roxanne', the first big hit he ever had with the Police in 1979.

What the music stand signaled was that something wasn't right with this performance. And it wasn't Sting, but it was his band. For most of the night, the musicians were playing as if they were reading sheet music as opposed to just playing without thinking about it, which is the way it should be. Granted, Sting's post-Police music can be complex, with his affinity for odd meters, key changes in mid-song, cool jazz washes and world-beat rhythms.

But, for the most part, the group did not play organically, which had been a strength of Sting's past solo tours as well as his work with the Police. The band's self-conscious playing was surprising because all the musicians had played on Sting's new album, 'Brand New Day', material from which made up the core of the one and three quarter hour concert.

Older material suffered. This time around, 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', Sting's first solo hit from 1985, sounded decidedly unfunky, sort of like Steely Dan. Even the new 'Fill Her Up' started like a cute country ditty and ended up with Meat Loaf-like bombast.

Then things turned around with the simple, understated 'Fields of Gold' from 1993. The ensuing peppy Police classic 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' brought the crowd to its feet. Sting downshifted for an affected but effective Tom Waits-like delivery on 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' and a stylish 'Englishman in New York'.

Then the band finally seemed to get in the groove, which made the final 45 minutes quite rewarding. Sting showed a little attitude on 'Tomorrow We'll See', and 'Desert Rose' was fiery world pop with a Herb Alpert-like trumpet solo. Jason Rebello's rousing piano invigorated the jam on 'When the World Is Running Down'.

It was time for the Police, with a Flamenco-flavored, solo acoustic guitar version of 'Message in a Bottl'e reminding everyone not to lose their faith in Sting.

The opener was Tupelo, Miss., singer/songwriter Paul Thorn, who played the small-town rube to Sting's intellectual artiste. Coming across like a trailer park Lyle Lovett, Thorn sang humourous country-blues about Viagra, turnip greens, a Jehovah's Witness who worked as a stripper and a roadside revival tent that also sold firecrackers.

(c) The Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Jon Bream