Soul Cages
Phoenix, USBlockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion
With Concrete Blonde, Vinx

Sting's originality engrossing...

Stevie Nicks has a theory. You can only do one or two songs off a new album on tour. The fans don't know the songs and would rather hear your hits.

Sting has another theory. During a 17-song, 100-minute set Friday night at the Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion, he played six of the nine songs off his introspective, yet commercially successful third solo album, 'The Soul Cages'.

Although the excitement level dropped noticeably during those six songs, an adulatory audience seemed to run off the energy of Sting being near. Fans unfamiliar with 'The Soul Cages' were trapped during the first four songs. Sting thrust the new album to the forefront, performing 'Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)', the hit single 'All This Time', 'I'm Mad About You' and 'Why Should I Cry For You', a lamentation of his father's death.

Sting then followed 'The Soul Cages' block with a cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine'. It was an inexplicable selection considering the catalogue of solo and Police material he has to draw upon. Yet, 'Ain't No Sunshine' provided the gifted band an opportunity to improvise, something Sting warned fans in the 'Soul Cages Tour Book' would occur.

''It has never been my intention to reproduce albums on stage,'' the tour book cautioned. ''If we miss out on anything tonight you wanted to hear in any of my arrangements, then you'll just have to imagine it.''

Since the official disbandment of The Police in 1986, Sting has explored a sophisticated, jazz-tinged sound. Where The Police combined post-punk sensibilities with rock steady tempos, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' and '...Nothing Like the Sun' cross musical boundaries, borrowing from such diverse genres as flamenco guitar and Bourbon Street jazz.

Sting also surrounded himself with renowned jazz musicians, such as Kenny Kirkland and Branford Marsalis. Rarely was he a straightforward rocker.

Friday night, the rock 'n' roll Sting re-emerged. The stripped-down band of Sting on bass, Dominic Miller on guitar, David Sancious on keyboards and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums played riff for riff with the Van Halens of the music world. A stirring rendition of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze', complete with a background of swirling colours, sparked the audience following the diffuse 'The Wild Wild Sea' and moderately paced 'The Soul Cages'.

Police standards 'Roxanne' and 'King of Pain' became gigantic sing-alongs as a loose, jocular Sting asked for and received impromptu choral assistance. Sting appears to have created a workable hybrid of the guitar-rock and jazz fusion sound that dominates his career. Combining the improvisational latitude of jazz with repetitious rock rhythms is invigoratingly adventurous while remaining comfortably familiar.

Opening for Sting was Concrete Blonde. The trio of bassist Johnette Napolitano, drummer Paul Thompson and guitarist Jim Mankey was enticing in much the same way Dracula's hypnotic stare lures victims. Dark and brooding, Concrete Blonde's thunderous sound and Napolitano's personal lyrics were mesmerising. Meanwhile, Sting introduced percussionist Vinx, who performed four songs. Vinx's hand-drum talents, soulful voice and keen wit were impressive.

(c) The Phoenix Gazette by Dean Rhodes