Summoner's Tales
Milwaukee, USMarcus Amphitheater

Sting's Summerfest show bears less bite, more heart...

The mood of Sting '93 approximates something close to merry fatalism.

As a concert premise, that's a lot more plausible than the straight-faced fatalism that was the mood of 'The Soul Cages', Sting's previous album.

So it was probably to the benefit of Thursday night's sellout crowd at the Marcus Amphitheater that 'Ten Summoner's Tales' was the heart of the show.

Sting is still pretty cynical about anything larger than a breadbox, or at least a one-on-one relationship. But now we're smiling through broken teeth.

In 'Seven Days', the milkman's son contemplates a romantic rival the size of Hulk Hogan and grimaces that a 6-foot 10-inch foe might put some fear in another man.

'Love Is Stronger Than Justice' retells the plot line of 'The Magnificent Seven' and introduces an element that might have broken up that heroic band of gun-slinging philanthropists. 'St. Augustine in Hell' is about the rapture of confronting sexual temptation and losing.

The very title of 'Ten Summoner's Tales' is a joke on Gordon's real last name Sumner and a series of stories by Chaucer. Perhaps because of that light-hearted cast, Sting seems more in a mood to entertain than on the 'Soul Cages' tour. Thursday night, he was dancing in place and playing call-and-response games with the crowd on 'Roxanne'.

Perhaps because of the playful tenor of the surrounding material, a conventional love song like 'Fields of Gold' felt all the more tender and moving. Perhaps the album's strongest track is 'Shape of My Heart', a wistful bit of introspection from the perspective of a professional gambler.

Opening for Sting was one of alternative rock's more intriguing young bands, Dada, a Los Angeles trio. Two elements raise Dada above the pack the pristine guitar stylings of Michael Gurley, who sometimes suggests a young Mark Knopfler, and a knack for writing post-modern fantasies with a streak of humor worthy of a court jester for the Manson family.

(c) The Milwaukee Sentinel by Dave Tianen

Sting rewards his fans for years of patience...

No doubt about it, Sting is a singer who tests his fans' patience.

He writes brilliant pop tunes on one hand, then turns around and peppers his lyrics with forced literary references. He adopts causes and assumes jazz pretensions that get him raked over the coals in the rock press.

Things were different for the capacity crowd of 24,000 Thursday night at Summerfest's Marcus Amphitheater. To borrow one of the many overdone card puns in Sting's new song 'The Shape of My Heart', he rewarded their years of patience in spades.

The British bassist and his tight backing trio cheerfully doled out new solo material, older solo songs and a handful of beloved Police chestnuts before ending tenderly an hour and 45 minutes later by switching to guitar for a delicate version of 'Fragile'.

The resulting show was a sure crowd-pleaser. At times, the sing-along volume rivaled that at the Pabst Showcase stage. On some of Sting's craftier melody lines, that's no small feat.

Clad in a loose, collarless white shirt that suggested poetic leanings, Sting, 41, clicked instantly by opening with the four strongest songs from his new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales': 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'; 'Heavy Cloud No Rain'; the lush, slithery-rhythmed 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)'; and 'Seven Days'.

The latter, an exquisite piece of pop craft, found the singer's voice leaping over an impressive dialog between keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Vinne Colaiuta.

After such a strong start, it probably was inevitable that the show would sag somewhat in the mid- section as Sting brought out some of his less-impressive new material. Even calling in the Police couldn't quite recapture the momentum, chiefly because the singer reached for the most obvious choices among his old band's output. To these ears, 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'Every Breath You Take' and 'King of Pain' still sound a little radio-worn after 10 years.

Even if he hadn't played sure- fire favorites and stripped to his bare chest for the first of two planned encores Sting would have been found guilty of a little pandering Thursday night.

Tossing a bit of '(Take the) A Train' into the middle of 'Englishman in New York' was the smallest sample of several self-indulgences. Likewise, the undeniable pop gem 'Roxanne' sagged under the weight of the extended anthem work-up he gave it Thursday (complete with an audience call-and-response chorus of ''Roxanne-o''). And, of course, when he got to the ''put on the red light'' part, his lighting crew did just that to roars of approval from the crowd.

The lighters were out full-force after that one and why not? After all, to his fans, every little thing Sting does is magic.

It's hard to imagine a more perfect opening act for Sting than dada, a young Los Angeles trio with a gift for facile melody and simple but devastatingly clever lyrics.

Guitarist Michael Gurley and bassist Joie Calio, both fine singers, perked up the crowd's ears with deft harmonies from their debut album, 'Puzzle'. They even upstaged the master on one count: Their slowed-down, dark version of 'California Dreamin'' was more inspired than Sting's blase reading of his cover tune, the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'.

(c) The Milwaukee Journal by Tina Maples