Soul Cages
East Troy, USAlpine Valley Music Theater
With Susannah Hoffs, Don Henley

Sting takes chances with classics while Henley chooses to play it safe...

At first glance, Sting and Don Henley have the world in common. Both singers left the safety of hugely popular rock bands (Sting led the Police, Henley was in the Eagles) to forge successful solo careers. Both write brooding songs that owe more to classic literature than to standard rock lyrics. Both wear serious, icy personas that border on the pretentious.

If Sting and Henley were to make an album together, a perfect title would be ''Intellectual Angst.''

Yet the difference between their sets Saturday at Alpine Valley Music Theatre was as wide as the oceans that separate Sting's native England from Henley's 'Hotel California'.

Sting, who headlined the show Saturday (Henley got top-billing Sunday) took the more challenging and ultimately rewarding course. Flanked by a three-piece band, the singer-bassist opened the show with 30 minutes of aggressive jazz-rock from his latest album, 'Soul Cages'. It was a cheeky way to start the show, but he pulled it off, thanks to superb backing from his players.

Ex-Springsteen side man David Sancious sparked the trio with bebop keyboard work; former Racine resident Dominic Miller provided taut electric guitar; and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta meshed with Sting's bass work to create hard- driving jazz rhythms.

Instead of merely rehashing his Police hits, Sting dared to turn them inside out. 'King of Pain' and 'Message in a Bottle' mutated into bold funk rock. 'When the World is Running Down' became avant-garde jazz, and 'Roxanne' shed its power-pop shell and emerged as pure reggae.

The rest of the show was a series of unnerving twists and turns: 'Walking on the Moon' evolved into Ray Charles' 'Hit the Road Jack'; a jazzy version of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' changed into 'If I Were A Carpenter', then changed again into 'Be Still My Beating Heart'; and instead of ending with a bang, Sting concluded the show with the quiet, Spanish- flavored 'Fragile'.

The only thing you could expect from Sting's set was the unexpected.

By comparison, Henley took the well-traveled road. Backed by a tight but anonymous 9-piece band, he offered note-for-note versions of the obvious Eagles hits and solo tunes. The show was a virtual rerun of the one he gave in April 1990 at the Riverside Theatre, with the exception of two newly added Eagles songs: 'Victim of Love' and 'Wasted Time'.

His work with the Eagles epitomized laid-back '70s country rock, but Henley did manage to rock hard on 'I Will Not Go Quietly' and 'Dirty Laundry'. However, he kept the show in familiar mellow turf with 'The End of the Innocence', 'Sunset Grill', 'New York Minute', 'Heart of the Matter' and 'Desperado'.

Little Feat, originally slated to precede Henley and Sting, was dropped from the show in July by the financially troubled Joseph Entertainment Group, the company that runs Alpine Valley. The other promised opening act, former Bangles singer Susanna Hoffs, went on as scheduled.

(c) The Milwaukee Journal by Thor Christensen