Soul Cages
Columbia, USCarolina Coliseum
With Concrete Blonde, Vinx

Sting rocks Columbia crowd with past hits and new rhythms...

During his 39 years, Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting, has changed his stripes about as many times as the New York Yankees have changed managers.

From schoolteacher to pop star, from environmentalist to freedom fighter, from movie star to jazz fusionist, Sting pursues every political and artistic passion he feels, and he's never lacking energy or confidence.

That same assurance was evident Saturday night at Carolina Coliseum, as Sting lead a gathering of about 8,000 through the pages of his 13-year pop music career.

The last time Sting was in town was more than a decade ago when he and a couple of buddies - Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland - played a gig at USC's Russell House. That trio, a reggaefied little pop band called The Police, unloaded their rented van, munched cheeseburgers in the second-floor grill, then treated a small crowd to the tunes from their first album.

Sting brought another tight little combo to Columbia last night, and they not only rocked out on a Police retrospective, but also interpreted their leader's complex solo compositions with power and precision.

Opening with four songs from his new album, 'The Soul Cages', Sting and his backing trio of guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Vince Colaiuta set a tone of musical sophistication that's seldom heard at modern rock concerts.

On 'All This Time', 'Mad About You', 'Jeremiah Blues' and 'Why Should I Cry For You', Sancious wrapped layers of ethereal chords around the melody, only to have Miller tear them to shreds with a blistering solo.

Miller played pop with World Party and hard rock with King Swamp, and last night both styles were deftly parlayed back and forth according to the song.

Sancious, the original pianist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, provided some of the show's most electric moments, like the eerie organ part he contributed to the cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine', and the time he came out of his chair during a piano solo on 'When the World Is Running Down'.

But it was Sting's night, and he reveled in the boisterous crowd participation on songs like 'Roxanne' and 'Message In a Bottle'. Dressed in all black and a pair of Doc Martens, he looked like the prototype post-1990 punk. He was a jovial master of ceremonies, a fiery, innovative bassist, and throughout the night he proved he is without a doubt one of the most compelling vocalists in rock.

Before beginning his set, Sting introduced a solo performer named Vinx, who proceeded to combine comedy, jazz vocals and African drums in a 15-minute lesson in cross-cultural expression.

Concrete Blonde, a rock/pop trio from Los Angeles, opened the show and received strong response for up-tempo numbers like 'God Is a Bullet' and 'Run Run Run'.

(c) The State by Michael Miller