Mercury Falling

Wantagh, NY, US
Jones Beach Amphitheater
Sting offers his predictable parade of hits...

On Sting's latest album, 'Mercury Falling', a good number of the songs find the former Mr. Sumner wallowing in grief because his love has left him and he's not sure whether she'll return.

At Jones Beach Theater Saturday night, Sting seemed to be wondering where his inspiration has gone as its presence has been notably lacking for nearly a decade. One may question how a concert featuring so many bona fide chart toppers could go astray, and it is true that Sting's hit parade made for an amiable night at the shore, but what Sting lacks is not hits, but vision.

If Sting makes another album like 'Mercury Falling' filled with jazzy middle-of-the-road ballads and mid-tempo soul, he'll risk becoming another one of the dinosaur acts that roll through Jones Beach each summer.

Although Boston has cancelled its show with Cheap Trick there should be enough other washed-up artists - such as Styx and Foreigner - playing at Jones Beach to give Sting pause. Ten years from now, will he be in Foreigner singer Lou Gramm's shoes?

An indication that even Sting isn't convinced that what he's doing is worthwhile came in the first 15 minutes of this weekend's performance. Playing them almost in the order in which they appear on 'Mercury Falling', Sting blew through 'The Hounds of Winter', 'I Hung My Head', 'I Was Brought to My Senses' and 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot'. With the exception of a playful wolf's howl at the end of 'Hounds', the songs sounded just as they do on record. There was little need to have a powerful improviser such as pianist Kenny Kirkland on stage.

Compared to all the new tunes Sting rolled out for his ground breaking 'Bring on the Night' tour, his recent set sounded like the playlist for a classic-rock station.

Getting the new material out of the way early, however, let Sting give the audience what they really wanted: the big guns.

Starting with 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', the next 15 songs featured only three from the new record. At one point, a full 35 minutes was dedicated to tunes such as 'Roxanne', 'Englishman In New York' and 'Demolition Man', all recorded by 1987. It was a successful if predictable formula that brought the audience to its feet and spurred edgy security guards to herd dancers out of the aisles.

The Police hit 'Roxanne' exemplified the best and worst of the Brit pop star's read of his own back pages. Infused with trombonist Clark Gayton's ska-tinged solo, the middle break was a joy: loose, limber and fun. But the original cheekiness of the chorus was spoiled by bombast that seemed to want to make an arena anthem out of a song that initially succeeded because of its cleverness and genuine heart.

Dominic Miller's distortion-laden guitar and a stage dominated by, of course, brightly flashing red lights almost made Sting's otherwise accomplished band look like Spinal Tap trying to slap a new coat of paint on 'Sex Farm Woman'.

Sting is still a thoughtful, graceful songwriter who effectively blends dark lyrics with breezy pop. His output of late, however, has been more appropriate for wine-and-cheese parties than the concert stage. If he wants to be the James Taylor of the New Wave generation, that's fine, but a better goal would be to write songs that break new ground instead of having to hide his latest half-formed ideas in the shadows of earlier triumphs.

(c) Newsday, by Isaac Guzman