Mercury Falling

Dallas, TX, US
Starplex Amphitheaterwith Jars of Clay
Stung: Backup band leeches awaywhat little energy there is...

The ''King of Pain'' has started to turn into the ''Duke of Dull.''

We're talking, of course, about Sting, who played Coca-Cola Starplex on Friday night in front of 18,000 rabid fans. The singer-bassist and highbrow sex symbol has made tons of compelling music in the past. He fused reggae with punk and pop brilliantly in the Police and then came up with a brave new breed of jazz-rock on his early solo albums.

But on his new album, 'Mercury Falling', and in concert, Sting trafficked in pleasant but bloodless easy-listening pop - a sort of thinking-man's version of Christopher Cross.

Sting opened the show on a bold note with 20 minutes of brand-new material. 'I Hung My Head', an intriguing narrative by a man who shoots to death a total stranger for hazy reasons, showed he's still among rock's best lyricists. But too much of his new stuff sounded like R&B Lite (such as 'You Still Touch Me' and 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot') or fodder for adult-contemporary radio ('I Was Brought to My Senses', 'The Hounds of Winter').

His five-piece band didn't add much to the songs: Guitarist Dominic Miller was competent but devoid of personality; longtime keyboardist Kenny Kirkland sapped 'When The World Is Running Down' with a long, aimless piano solo; and Clark Gayton messed up 'Roxanne' and several other songs with ill-fitting trombone solos. 'Roxanne' was actually one of the show's high points before the trombone nonsense began. Instead of playing the '79 Police classic note-for-note, Sting slowed it down and changed it from reggae into seductive funk-blues.

But his feeble versions of other Police hits made it seem as if he's grown leery of full-strength rock 'n' roll: 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' had little of the fire of the original, and a tepid version of 'Synchronicity 1' only showed what a massive gap there is between slick, faceless drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and the Police's manic percussionist, Stewart Copeland.

Jars of Clay, who opened the show, might be the only Christian rock band to have grabbed a lot of alternative-rock airplay (thanks to its hit, Flood). But there was nothing remotely alternative - nor even interesting - about the group's music. From the band's innocuous folk-pop melodies to Dan Haseltine's insufferable Mr. Sensitive vocal style, Jars of Clay sounded like a watered-down Bible-quoting version of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

(c) The Dallas Morning News by Thor Christensen

Plenty of buzz and Sting - When he tours, he still puts on dependable, strong, satisfying shows, ones that don't rely on the hits...

Back when he was with the Police, Sting once promised the band would never, ever, become an oldies act - and he made sure of it, busting up the Police at the height of the band's popularity.

All these years and solo albums later, Sting still defies the oldies-act stereotype: If the buzz around my office for his nearly sold-out show last night at Starplex was any indication (think there were more Star-Telegram employees out there than at the last staff meeting), the English pop singer could very easily pull a Steve Miller Tour every single year, dish out all his hits and all the Police's hits and not even worry about putting out a record of new material.

But unlike Miller and all the other predictable oldies bands, Sting still bangs out a decent record every few years, and when he tours (about once every three years), he still puts on dependable, strong, satisfying shows, ones that don't rely solely on the hits. Last night's show was the perfect example. The first slice of it leaned heavily on Sting's new record, the sorely-underrated 'Mercury Falling'.

Dumping the majority of a new record on a crowd that pretty much just wants to hear a hitsfest might be a death wish, but the new material he and his five-piece band effortlessly glided through last night was as inspiring and potent as his older stuff, a delicate mixture of jazz (The Hounds of Winter,) soul/R&B (Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot) and even country 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying'.

It was during 'Happy' that Sting invited a couple on stage to sing along. The pair went a little overboard, however, as they ran around the stage, shaking hands with the band, basically stealing the spotlight. To top it off, the guy proposed to his female companion, sealing it with a dance.

Sting used the couple's slow-dance routine as a launching pad into more familiar territory, such as 'Fields of Gold' and his current hit, 'You Still Touch Me'. Avoiding the obvious way out, Sting rearranged the few Police numbers he performed: 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' had a horn-driven reggae backbone; 'Roxanne' was loosened-up and jazzed-up; and 'Synchronicity II' (a nice surprise) wasn't as much of a scorcher as the studio version, but it still breathed plenty of fire.

(c) Fort Worth Star Telegram by Malcolm Mayhew