Soul Cages
San Francisco, USBerkeley Community Theater
With Kennedy Rose, Vinx

Sting performance leaves many stung at Berkeley concert...

For those of us who had doubted Sting's detractors, his performance Friday night at the Berkeley Community Theatre was undeniable proof: Sting, the jet-setting pinup with a social conscience, hasn't got the time or interest to do the hard work and make good music anymore.

Many of us, desiring smart, mature rock music, have resisted this characterization. After all, Sting has written a number of good songs and has consistently stretched himself. He has assembled a couple of excellent bands. And you can never have enough people saving the planet.

But Friday night's show for a sold-out house of 3,200 was a sham - a dull, mistake and cliche-ridden snooze of a concert that lasted 100 minutes and seemed twice that long. It was shockingly bad.

Playing bass with a band of three bored-looking (and for the most part, boring) professionals, Sting slogged through an unimaginative set that leaned mostly on his latest album, 'The Soul Cages', and threw in a handful of hits (mostly older numbers from his days with the Police) that lent the show a smothering, business-as-usual quality.

It's nice that Sting has some outside interests acting, human rights, the rain forests but his time spent on them has come at the neglect of his craft. Friday night's show was sloppily played, poorly paced and unimaginatively staged.

One problem was the playing, ironic considering that two of these guys drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist David Sancious, sitting in for the album's superior players, Manu Katche and Kenny Kirkland are nevertheless very good players.

But they are studio musicians, hired hands skilled, but hacks. They were technicians, cold and precise but audibly uninvolved. Guitarist Dominic Miller, the only one of the three who played on the new album, was almost invisible, and his rare solos were stadium cliches. Only on the wistful The Wild, Wild Sea, the best song of the set, did he shine. But even there, it was the written part, not his playing, that was good.

Sting was another matter. Back on bass after six years of avoiding it in concert, he made repeated mistakes during All This Time and other songs, and his sound was blurred. It's important and admirable that he attempt to get his bass chops back together but he isn't there yet.

Sting acknowledged his rustiness early on, commenting that it was odd that he was debuting a new band and new material in the high-profile Bay Area rather than, say, Montana. He had that right.

But considering that this short theater tour is a warm-up for an arena tour, this is a modest start for Sting. The problem is that while arena shows don't have to be subtle, and grand gestures and the use of cliche regularly substitute for quality, a theater show is more intimate, and Friday the lack of wit and lackadaisical playing were hard to ignore.

There were a couple of good moments: on 'Fragile' (marred by Miller's incompetent bass work while Sting played acoustic guitar) and 'Tea in the Sahara' the band coalesced. But the Police hits 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Every Breath You Take' came across with all the passion of a Reno cabaret band. Imitating his imitators, Sting has become Mr. Mister.

How does someone like Sting, with money to rent the band he needs, and no small amount of brains, produce something this poor? My best guess is that he doesn't have the time to work on his music, not to mention the interest to do it well or the humility to know that he isn't.

(c) The Sacramento Bee by David Barton