Soul Cages
Vancouver, CAPacific National Exhibition Coliseum
With Special Beat, Vinx

Sting struts to old, new sounds...

In spite of his morose lyrics, over-reaching metaphors and Faustian fits of soul searching, Sting in concert is a pretty happy-go-lucky guy.

Bounding on stage at the Coliseum Monday night before a crowd of 9,000, the ol' Stinger looked like an extra from Terminator 2: black jeans stuffed inside black jack boots with a form-fitting black T-shirt (to better accentuate those rippling pectorals, don't cha know?).

And while he has hacked off his rock-starish blond locks in favour of a short-cropped coif (long hair proves a nuisance when hugging shrubs in the rainforest), he is still the svelte, sinewy, square-jawed hunk the world has come to know and occasionally love.

Kicking off the two-hour show with his recent single 'All This Time', Sting stuck his neck on the line by leading his impeccable three-piece band through a trio of tunes from this year's 'The Soul Cages' album. Albeit for the 'In the Midnight Hour' coda tacked onto the opening tune, few howls of ''YEEWWWWW'' erupted from the audience to greet the largely improvisational 'Jeremiah Blues' and 'Mad About You'.

But never mind about that. He's a chatterbox, that Sting, and when not regaling fans with his, shall we say, unique interpretations of biblical lore (his version of King David cannot be repeated in a family newspaper), he was busy telling them about songs he wished he'd written.

Which brought us to a wonderfully soulful workout on Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine'. At this point the band - drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, guitarist Dominic Miller and keyboardist David Sancious - really began to shine from behind.

Though Sting is a lyrical bassist (he plays sort of like Paul McCartney with an attitude), he'd never get away with those hasn't-he-grown-as-an-artist jazz noodlings if it weren't for the likes of one-time Springsteen ivory-tinkler Sancious. The guy is simply astounding and, in addition, has evidently heard one or two Thelonious Monk records in his time.

Drummer Colaiuta is a veritable powerhouse with the meter of a machine and a strong feel for melody. As for guitarist Miller, he scores points for his jagged stylings that never attempt to imitate the fluid phrasings of Police guitarist Andy Summers, even when Sting decides to pull out some old faves.

Following a poignant reading of 'Why Should I Cry For You', a song written for his late father, the Police songs came on strong. 'Roxanne', 'When the World Is Running Down' and 'King of Pain' all received howling responses from the audience before the band slipped into some more jazzish jams.

The evening's capper came in the form of 'Walking on the Moon', 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message in a Bottle' delivered bang, bang, bang by Sting and Co. with the help of opening acts Vinx and the three vocalists from Special Beat.

Special Beat, a nine-member ensemble comprised of the Specials and English Beat alumni, are the optimum warm-up band. Performing songs by both former ska-punk outfits, the band hyperkinetically made their way through songs such as 'Monkey Man', 'Concrete Jungle', 'A Message to You Rudy', 'Tears of a Clown', 'Get A Job' and 'Hypocrite'.

Ironically, the socio-political connotations of many of the songs are more relevant here today than when released a decade ago. Vinx, a solo artist who performs a cappela or accompanies himself on African drums, has a deep, rich tenor and swiftly won over the crowd during his short set. The fact that they could sing along to Day-O helped, too.

A fun-loving Sting: now there's a bizarre concept.

(c) The Vancouver Sun by Greg Potter