Soul Cages

Noblesville, IN, US
Deer Creek Music Centerwith Special Beat, Vinx
Sting leaves audience shaken and stirred...

Sting leaves audience shaken and stirred - Singer's jazzy interpretations of such old hits as 'Roxanne' keeps his fans guessing...

The Jazz S(t)inger? That phrase - question mark and all - is a rough description of Sting's set Sunday night at Deer Creek Music Center.

In an hour-and-three-quarters concert that was remarkable for its unpredictability but also its quality, Sting turned some of his best- known songs into jazz explorations and played some of his dour new songs in the style of his old band, the Police.

Oh, and then there was the full-throttle cover of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.

If the idea was to shake up the audience of 8,500, mission accomplished. If the plan was to leave people shaking their heads and commenting on what a strange show it was, that also worked.

It was a show that left you thinking. Given how stodgy pop music has become, that's reason enough to praise the concert.

'Roxanne', the Police's signature song, became a cross between jazz and rock. Sting sang off the beat while guitarist Dominic Miller thrashed out the tune's sharpened chords. Only on the lyric ''Put on the red light'' did the band follow a straight beat.

Similarly, 'Bring on the Night' segued rapidly into a version of 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' in which Sting's bass line was almost always the only recognizable element.

While it may not have been a rendering the audience would expect, keyboardist David Sancious' hammering piano style made the song a treat for eyes and ears alike.

Sancious also excelled on the jazzy cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine'.

While those songs took off in unusual directions, Sting reigned in 'Fortress Around Your Heart' and performed it the way the Police might have - with stinging guitar chords and a biting, driving beat.

The six songs from his current album, 'The Soul Cages', all had a similar feel. They were less moody and more direct than the recordings.

The quality of Sting's band had a lot to do with the liberties he was able to take. Sancious is a jazz veteran and former member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta first became known as a member of Frank Zappa's band.

They helped turn what could have been a routine show into something special.

The opening acts were mixed in quality. Special Beat - members of the Specials and English Beat - played 50 minutes of their boundlessly energetic ska music. But this hybrid of reggae, played at a frantic pace, doesn't age well.

Ska first became popular in the United States in the late '70s, and this group has done nothing to improve it.

Vinx, the other opener, only had time for three songs. But his disarming sense of humour (he sang 'I'm Dreaming of a White Girlfriend') enabled him to perform alone and get away with it in front of a rock audience.

(c) The Indianapolis Star by Marc D. Allan