Soul Cages
Holmdel, USGarden State Arts Center

The many moods of Sting...

Sting's latest album, 'The Soul Cages', is a somber, reflective work. For the most part, melodies are subdued, and the overall instrumental tone is hauntingly dark.

Logic would have it, therefore, that Sting's concerts in support of that album would reflect the brooding, heady nature of this intensely personal project, prompted by the death of his father.

But Sting, to his everlasting credit, has never been an artist to follow formulas or be restrained by the recorded notes on his albums. Material from 'The Soul Cages' was the anchor for the Tuesday night show at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, but the arrangements of songs, such as the album's title track, 'Jeremiah Blues (Part I)', 'Mad About You' and 'The Wild Wild Sea', were reworked and fleshed out to tap into the fiery dynamics of his excellent three-man support team.

Energetic jazz-and blues-flavored rock replaced the album's moody, orchestral textures as Sting, on bass, teamed with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta to provide the often propulsive rhythms of new tunes as well as Sting mainstays such as 'Fortress Around Your Heart' and 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and Police hits such as 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take'.

Adding the vibrant colors and rich textures that made the arrangements leap to life were guitarist Dominic Miller (whose credentials list stints with the Pretenders, World Party, and King Swamp) and keyboardist David Sancious, a former Bruce Springsteen sideman.

Sting set the mood for the evening in the opening number, a buoyant rendition of 'All This Time', into which he improvised a few lyrics from Wilson Pickett's 'In the Midnight Hour'.

A few bars of a light, almost Celtic folk introduction belied the tale of obsessive love that is the core of 'Mad About You'. But the song's theme was reflected in the tense arrangement that quickly replaced the open, airy intro. Sancious' dark keyboard play combined with Miller's moody guitar work, and the ballad's haunting quality was heightened by Sting's reedy tenor, which took on an eerie edge in the high notes.

Touring for the better part of seven months seems to have taken little toll on Sting's voice, although he did have a bit of trouble sustaining his upper register for 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'. But this song came near the end of the more-than-90-minute concert, during which Sting, almost 40, put his voice through an intense workout as he brought harder and more impassioned inflections to the title track of 'The Soul Cages', 'Why Should I Cry' (which featured a brief bit of 'Be Still My Beating Heart'), and Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.

'Purple Haze' was the surprise Sting gave the audience when he began his tour in February with six sold-out shows at Manhattan's Beacon Theater. With Miller and Sancious, who had strapped on a guitar, trading furious leads, the song back then was transformed into a glorious jam. On this go-round, however, its role has been lessened, serving as a bridge between the rocking refrains of 'The Soul Cages' and 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'.

(c) The Bergen Record by Barbara Jaeger