SHOW REVIEW

Bewildering Sting hits most of his marks...

Sting is rather like your favourite breath mint. Or is that a candy mint? Sting is a pop star and a serious artiste; he's a silly dancer and a politically inspired songwriter; he's a stylistic synthesist and a believer in the power of a simple refrain. Want more? He's a stark-raving heavy metal freak and a cocktail jazz singer; he's Everyman and an Intellectual. He's even Johnny Cash: Sting was the man-in-white during the first set and the man-in-black during the second... symbolising man's duelling nature or just a sartorial change of mind?

Last night, Sting brought his roadshow - two sets totalling 130 minutes - to a soldout crowd at Great Woods. He was accompanied by his nearly all-black septet, and they played, for the most part, a heady, cross-cultural stew of jazz-oriented pop. They brilliantly reworked the old Police songs 'Bring On the Night' and 'When the World Is Running Down' at the close of the first set; they - especially saxophonist Branford Marsalis - played with magnificent poise and discipline. Stunning arrangements. But then, Sting tried to make this audience compete with other audiences for singalong volume - there is no more dopey trick - and there were moments, especially during the second, more melancholic, set, when it all sunk into a low-key, self-indulgent bog. The march into the bog was proudly led by the ultra-sensitive, semi-longhaired Sting. Hey, it's hard to avoid: Sting invites this love/hate - as George Bush might put it - thing.

And it's no surprise, really: When Sting shows up, critics clash: Genius or fraud? (Just to keep you up to date, Musician magazine has voted for the former and Village Voice for the latter.) It's worth noting that this sort of controversy has dogged Sting from the start; remember, the bottle-blond Policemen were not exactly the darlings of the punk rock set. The idea was floated early on that these elder gentlemen - including an ex-schoolteacher/ jazzbo (Sting) and an ex-member of progressive rockers Curved Air - were not exactly the genuine, angry young article. And, now, two albums into his solo career Sting, for all his smarts and for all his love of music, still seems a little suspect. Part of that is because of a certain smugness, something Sting has a much harder time shedding as a rocker than he does as an actor - in fact, he's earned admirable praise in his secondary career.

But that's (almost) enough carping. Second set doldrums aside, Sting hit most of his marks - from the easy, nostalgic swing of 'Englishman in New York', to the poignancy of 'They Dance Alone' and 'Sister Moon' to the hell-bent-for-glory wail of Jimi Hendrix's 'Little Wing'.

He sang for Nelson Mandela and he railed at the Republicans (''What was missing from their convention was the I-word - intelligence. What a bunch of weirdos'').

He sang a lot about love, dipped into blues, avoided Police-like reggae, and closed with an interminably long 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' - in which the black jacket came off; yes, folks he's a sex symbol too! - and a puzzling final encore of Squeeze's 'Tempted'.

Bet he does the same tonight.

(c) The Boston Globe by Jim Sullivan

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