Summoner's Tales
Minneapolis, USTarget Center

Sting finally relaxes his grip on music...

In other local performances, Sting has behaved alternately as a comic entertainer or a restrained, serious musician. On Tuesday night at Target Center, the man who's been accused of excess pretentiousness put on no act.

Instead, he seemed perfectly natural during a two-hour show that brought impressive musical honesty to an arena setting. After six years with the highly successful rock band the Police and seven years as a solo artist, Sting, 41, has earned the right to relax from the burdensome title of rock's reigning intellectual.

Furthermore, he's done more than his share to broaden modern pop music by incorporating elements of jazz and world music within a distinct style that retains its pop-chart power. Having proved himself as a complete artist, Sting seems ready to enjoy his music for its own sake and relive his accomplishments rather than top himself.

The first portion of the concert centred on his new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales', a more musically carefree and lyrically humorous disc than his previous album, 'The Soul Cages', a grand (and under appreciated) memorial for his late father that didn't figure at all in last night's show.

In a sign of artistic confidence, Sting opened with his current single, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. On a sparse stage, tightly surrounded by his three-piece band, Sting played six songs from the new album, all at a more leisurely tempo than most groups would dare use to open. But this lean line-up and unforced approach allowed some beautiful musical moments to shine through.

The light jazz/rock rave-up 'Seven Days' was a thrilling demonstration of the power of subtle dynamic change. It held its own against the next surprise, a version of the Beatles' epic 'A Day in the Life'. The band - keyboardist David Sancious, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and superb guitarist Dominic Miller - craftily re-created the sweeping orchestral sound of the original to create one of the concert's highlights.

If there's any drawback to the new Sting, it's that he may be a bit too comfortable. The rhythmic energy and excitement of his songs with the Police or his early solo career have been replaced by a predictability that can make for lacklustre moments, especially when the group goes through the motions during the jams and bridges.

As if to illustrate that, one of the most charged extensions took place during 'When the World is Running Down', a bubbling Police classic. But for the most part, Sting and his highly skilled group give superior large-hall rock a refreshing quiet strength. The best example was the closing song, 'Fragile', featuring Spanish guitar by Miller.

(c) The Minneapolis Star Tribune by Jim Meyer

Sting's performance free of preaching...

For all his riches and all his fame, all his hits and all his various talents, Sting has always suffered the stigma of being not exactly what a pop star is supposed to be.

Never mind the father-of-five business, or the very literate jazz that infuses most of his material these days, the man has a reputation for being, well, a mope, for lack of a better word. The Jane Fonda of rock, with as many noble causes as hit albums. Since when a social conscience was cause for antipathy I don't know. But Sting's championing the rights of imperilled Amazonian Indian tribes as well as a multitude of other causes has caused enough discomfort that otherwise avid pop music fans seem to fear a Sting concert is at least as much message as music. We're talking irrational folks.

Tuesday night's concert at the Target Center was energetic, even muscularly musical (and yes, he lost his shirt for the encore) and entirely preach-free. No imperilled Indians. No rain forest. No Amnesty International.

Performing with the same band he's worked with for the last couple years, Dominic Miller on guitar, Vinnie Colaitua on drums and the now-legendary David Sancious on keyboards, Sting thoroughly reassured the faithful that his primary message is still the music. Whatever else he may stand accused of, no one has ever doubted the man's way with a melody or his professionalism.

Opening with four songs from his latest album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales' (before charming the crowd, heavily mixed with Generation X and Baby Boomers, with a rendition of The Beatles' 'Day in the Life'), Sting, now 41, displayed his characteristic willingness to play jazzy variations of any material, new or old. A bit raspy on the opener, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', the man and the band reached cruising gear by the third song, the infectious 'Love is Stronger Than Justice, and had no problem holding the crowd of roughly 8,500.

Predictably, the hits from his years with The Police (now a cherished, but fading moment in time) drew the greatest crowd response. The bank of red lights that bathed the faithful intermittently throughout 'Roxanne' (as in ''... you don't have to turn on the red light.'') were a cheap but charming effect.

It's no credit to most pop radio formats that so little of the refreshingly eclectic music Sting has written since parting with The Police has made it into the mainstream. Not that lack of prominence on Top 40 playlists seems to bother him much. If it did, he'd be churning out more songs of adolescent alienation and fewer gorgeous ballads such as 'Fields of Gold', again off his latest recording.

The non-stop hour-and-45-minute show, including a couple encores, was a reminder as well of what his more devoted fans enjoy most about the guy, namely his abilities to breathe fresh air into the conventions of pop music (the jazz influences) and his showmanship. The mope rap is as unfair as anyone who says the guy can't rock and have a night of fun.

(c) The St Paul Pioneer Press by Brian Lambert