Soul Cages

Columbus, OH, US
Capitol Music Centerwith Special Beat, Vinx
Sting's jazz an exercise in pain...

Oh, oh, oh, oh! Ow! Ow! Ow! Woe is Sting! Poor fella.

''I will always be. The king of pain? Oh, oh, oh, oh.'' Woe and death and pestilence and doom and woe and pain and agony and plagues and woe!

Clearly, only a musician and songwriter as talented (and popular) as Sting could get away with such self-absorbed rantings.

When he was with the Police (those were the days), Sting's enormous ego was tempered by fantastic rhythms (thanks, Stew), quirky jazz-cum-reggae guitar riffs (thanks, Andy) and infectious melodies.

Now that he's gone solo, Sting has discovered jazz (uh, how about demi-jazz?), which he infused into nearly every selection, pumping up what should have been three- or four-minute songs into meaningless seven- and eight-minute meanderings.

Though Sting has never composed jazz well, he could pull off songs from 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' and '...Nothing Like the Sun' thanks to superb sidemen such as Branford Marsalis, Omar Hakim, Kenny Kirkland and Darryl Jones.

Sting's backup band Saturday - David Sancious (keyboards), Dominic Miller (guitar) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) - was much better at rocking than it was at noodling around with jazz.

Take 'Roxanne', for instance, which Sting unleashed six songs into his set. Rocking it harder than the Police ever did, the quartet quickly had the 10,000 fans on their feet, dancing like fools.

But Sting was not content to leave well enough alone, opting instead to take a five-minute midsong detour into a numbing jam replete with pointless progressions and mundane experiments with harmony.

The jazz jams were designed, no doubt, to create that intangible ''ATMOSPHERE'' or ''MOOD'' (as were the perpetual billows of dry ice being pumped from the stage), but they served mostly as good opportunities to run off for a beer or go to the bathroom.

All of this wouldn't have been perturbing so much as merely expected if Sting hadn't shown so many shades of his earlier, more carefree (I use the term loosely) self. Remember the days of 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da'?

But mere rock'n'roll isn't good enough for Sting these days.

The only flat-out rocker the band played was Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze, which was aggressive from start to finish and seemed a natural set closer.

Sting stayed on, though, and performed another five or six songs, finishing with a down-tempo, classical guitar number. Yawn.

Special Beat opened with a superb 45-minute set that left me all teary-eyed and longing for English Beat and Specials reunions. On second thought, the set was so good, who needs one?

(c) The Columbus Dispatch by Bill Eichenberger