Summoner's Tales
St. Louis, USRiverport Amphitheatre

Sting redefines musical boundaries...

I give up. I've exhausted the supply of superlatives necessary to describe the live shows Sting keeps coming up with year after year.

Logic would dictate that at some point the singer/songwriter would find it difficult to surpass what he'd done before.

Yet time and again he manages to bring something fresh and vital and stunning to the concert stage. His performance at Riverport Amphitheatre Sunday was such an event.

An explosive mixture of instrumental finesse and brute force, the show featured three world-class musicians Sting worked with on his latest disc, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. The fact that guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist David Sancious were familiar with the material and also had toured with Sting in the past certainly helped bring a cohesiveness to the performance.

In addition, the energy level among the small number of players was harnessed, channelled and magnified to a greater extent than on previous solo outings when Sting utilised larger ensembles. Indeed, this is the tightest working band he's been involved with since The Police.

For those keeping count, the playlist included all but one song off the new disc, a smattering of material from 1987's 'Nothing Like the Sun', a half dozen Police tunes and a Beatles cover. It was no surprise that the dark, brooding side of Sting he showed on his last record, 'The Soul Cages', found no place in this set.

These days Sting is looking forward, not back, as he attempts to surpass himself once again. One of the ways he accomplished this in concert was simply to perform the new tunes as they were written. Well, at least as close as humanly possible.

With all the rhythmic twists and turns inherent in such numbers as 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice' and 'Seven Days', it was difficult to tell whether the band remained true to the recorded versions. Colaiuta played like a man possessed, anchoring the difficult compositions effortlessly. Another way Sting keeps moving ahead is by constantly redefining the boundaries of his material.

'Englishman in New York', for example, was given a slightly askew, somewhat jazzier reading than on previous occasions. Similarly, 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around', a non-descript little ditty that used to get lost in The Police's set, took on gigantic proportions at the very able hands of Sancious, who thrilled the crowd with his display of controlled chaos at the piano.

The players continued to sustain that driving force long after other bands would have depleted their energy reserves. Vocally, Sting was at the top of his form, putting a lot of muscle behind his delivery of 'Synchronicity II' and 'A Day in the Life', among others.

Unaccustomed as he is to performing other people's songs in concert, Sting gave an exceptionally true reading of the latter tune, which also benefited from the full orchestra sound Sancious elicited from his keyboards.

Opening the show was a trio called dada, whose debut album featured the radio hit 'Dizz Knee Land'. The group's performance was imaginative and somewhat daring, showcasing the instrumental talent of guitarist Michael Gurley, bassist Joie Calio and drummer Phil Leavitt, as well as their ability to perform their pop-rock tunes with unbridled zeal and just the right amount of slightly off-centre flamboyance.

(c) The St. Louis Post-Despatch by Louise King