Sting at the Beacon Theatre...
Few musicians other than Sting have managed to sustain a career spanning more than a quarter century that has found as consistent a balance between artistic integrity and innovation and popular and commercial appeal. Think for a moment of a few of Sting's pop contemporaries. Musicians like Prince, Eddie Van Halen and Billy Joel all arrived on the music scene at roughly the same time and all enjoyed the peak of their fame in the early to mid 1980s. Unfortunately though, their fame and artistic output has failed to endure. As apocalyptically funky and groundbreaking as it was in 1982, Prince's song '1999' has little relevance in 2004 and his current musical output pales in comparison. Does anyone here even know that he has released 18 albums (a number of them with as many as 3 CDs), and a string of songs online, since his last significant commercial hit 'The Most Beautiful Girl' in 1994? Probably not. Eddie Van Halen last released an album with the band that shares his name in 1998. And perhaps saddest of all, there's Billy Joel, who gave up recording new songs, and last released the classically influenced 'Fantasies and Delusions'... an aptly titled release, if it was a reference to the notion that anyone would actually buy it... especially as Joel himself only served as the composer and does not play on the disc! While Prince has taken to passing out Watchtower pamphlets in suburban Minneapolis, Eddie Van Halen seems content with participating in periodic celebrity golf tournaments, and Billy Joel has busied himself with crashing into trees and chasing after hot young model-types (which aside from the danger and increased cost of auto insurance might not be all that bad a lifestyle when you think about it), Sting has continued to keep his focus on his artistic development.
I am sure, as I have seen it firsthand, that when given the chance, all of these performers can muster a few fleeting moments of glory on the live stage. Yet, with the exception of Sting, theirs is a glory that rests too heavily on past successes. While an artist with as many commercial hits and well known songs as this group is almost expected to play a certain number of oldies and goodies, all but Sting have hit the road on a depressing and deliberate ''greatest hits'' tour, a sure sign that the end is approaching. Prince has announced the live ''retirement'' of his hits as an attempt to drum up interest in his tours time and time again, only to go back on his word the next time he hits the road. As he's not putting out any new music, and cannot seem to go onstage without sharing the spotlight with Elton John, Billy Joel has little choice to play anything but his best known songs. And as Van Halen cannot seem to find a lead singer and his band's last few albums came and went from the music scene almost unnoticed, there is little hope he will hit the road again in a way that generates any interest, unless he does go the greatest hits route and reunites with David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. Even if that were to happen, it's likely that the years of substance abuse have dulled the blistering guitar solos and musical ingenuity he was once capable of.
Perhaps from the start, when grouped with artists such as these, Sting was meant to be the one with lthe longevity? He began his popular career with an extraordinarily adventurous and innovative band, but with innate talents and ambitions that seemed beyond what they could accomplish together, not to mention a justifiably big ego and cajones grandes, he left The Police at what seemed to be the height of its commercial and artistic success. That is the man I saw tonight at The Beacon Theater. While his set was sprinkled with a welcome supply of classic tunes, delightful obscurities, and fitting nods to his past, we also saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who still has a voice as vital and vibrant today as he had when he first fashioned the style and substance that made his work with The Police so exciting. We have seen a number of reviews since the start of the 'Sacred Love' Tour who have dismissed Sting's newest songs as world music, and focused the majority of their scant praise on his oldest material. Inexplicably, some of these journalists have criticized Sting for playing so many new tunes, ignoring the logic that the tour is named after an album he's intent on promoting. What better way to promote an album than showcase its songs in concert?
I have seen Sting live 9 times since my first show at the theater in Madison Square Garden back in the spring of 1993. As I cannot travel the world to see him in venues such as Albert Hall, whatever Parisian concert hall he might perform in, or even make the trek to some backwater New Jersey arena, I am lucky at least to live in New York City, which he often calls home and where he is sure to perform at least once on every tour. Each time, no matter the length of the set or the songs he chose to play, his performance and energy suggested that he was still an artist chasing his muse...attempting to mold and shape his music and challenge his band and himself, even if the end result was a version of a song that was dramatically different than the one familiar to his audience. Tonight was no exception.
As I'm not sure it's been done yet, I'll begin with a brief mention of the kind of merchandise that's for sale and the prices. Hopefully, it will remain relatively consistent from market to market hroughout the remainder of the tour. There was a poster specific to the NYC concert series selling for . It had NYC March 2004 written on it, and the main graphic was of a woman with her head inside a bird cage. Maybe I forgot to take my vitamins this morning and my brain wasn't up to snuff, but I didn't get the significance of that. If anyone did take their Flintstone chewables and has some idea what it means, please let me know. There were a good number of t-shirts to choose from. White, black, turqoise, red, forest green, & blue tye dye spring immediately to mind. The average price for these was . They had a longsleeve black one for and of course, the yoga gear. The tour program was , and they also had a clever coffee mug for sale, copies of 'Broken Music', and more. Chris Botti also had posters and CDs to sell.
Chris Botti took to the stage just after 8:00 p.m. and played for 35 minutes. After thanking the audience for actually showing up before the time it said on the ticket, he opened his set with a beautiful rendition of 'When I Fall In Love', and alternated between contemplative, sultry and hypnotic tunes like that, Leonard Cohen's '1000 Kisses Deep', 'My Funny Valentine' - which he dedicated to his inspiration, Miles Davis, and more funky, rocking numbers that I don't know the titles too as the autographed CD I won in Sting.com's recent contest hasn't arrived yet! He did mention one of the tunes was co-written by Kipper, called 'Miami Overnight'.
Botti was charismatic, witty and certainly a pleasure to listen to, even independent from Sting's music. At one point he joked that we could pick up his new CD and the complete Sting yoga suit for only 0. Or maybe that wasn't a joke? I didn't see the price tag on the yoga threads...but, for 0, I'd hope Sting would come show me yoga personally!
At any rate, what impressed me the most about Chris Botti's opening set was how often and how willing he seemed to showcase the considerable talent of his bandmates. While he was clearly the bandleader and the main attraction, he stepped completely out of the spotlight a number of times so we could be treated to their various solos.
Onto the main event...
During his 1 hour 45 minute set, Sting played the following tunes, in this order:
Walking on the Moon, Send Your Love, Inside, Forget About the Future, Dead Man's Rope, Synchronicity 2, Whenever I Say Your Name, I Was Brought to My Senses, (featuring Chris Botti), This War, Fragile, Field of Gold, Stolen Car, Sacred Love, Englishman in New York, Roxanne/The Bed's too Big Without You, Never Coming Home, Desert Rose, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, Every Breath You Take, 1000 Years,
Of course you know the songs and probably the order they're played in at this point. Personally, I felt the highlights of Sting's set were 'I Was Brought to My Senses', 'Dead Man's Rope', 'Inside' and 'Synchronicity II'. Live performance brought out the best of 'Stolen Car' and 'This War', two songs on 'Sacred Love' I didn't much care for. On the album, important political message aside, 'This War' just sounds a bit too ''muddy'' for my taste, and 'Stolen Car' had slightly more valleys than peaks in it than I usually prefer. However, when played live as it was tonight, 'This War' sounded much cleaner - not nearly as dense and still a very effective rocker, and the sort of reggae strut that's now driving the melody of 'Stolen Car' made the song a lot more bouncy than the CD version. I would have liked to have heard something new in the instrumental jam that follows 'Never Coming Home'. To me, it seemed a bit too similar to the one that used to accompany 'Bring on the Night'/'When the World is Running Down'. I half expected to hear the ''ah ha yeahs'' that also accompanied that medley in the past. I have always enjoyed hearing that live, but I would have expected that with a different tune to use as their sort of jumping off point into an extended jam, the band would try some different musical directions. Finally, contrary to the opinions of some of the reviews that have been posted so far, I actually think 'A Thousand Years' is a fitting closer for the show. Not only was it the opener for the 'Brand New Day' Tour and closing this one makes it work almost as a ''bookend,'' while some may argue that it's too somber in tone, I don't think it's the worst thing for the house lights to come back on as these words are the freshest in our minds:
''I still love you / I still want you / A thousand times the mysteries unfold themselves / Like galaxies in my head / On and on the mysteries unwind themselves / Eternities still unsaid / 'til you love me...''
Bringing up 'This War', I have to comment on the stage lighting and trio of video screens. I remember reading some of the earliest reviews of the tour... maybe going back as far back as the Hammerstein Ballroom show in October, and how people had mixed opinions of all of the images flashing behind the band. I didn't really think it was all that bad and in some cases, it worked very well. True, some images seemed more appropriate to the songs they accompanied than others, but overall, they were far less intrusive than those near-blinding lights that concerts sometimes showcase. You know, the kind that you literally have to turn away from squinting, because they're so strong. For those who haven't yet seen a show on the tour, the images onscreen are almost something out of those opening bits to James Bond movies, with distorted renderings of women dancing and swaying in the background. Just picture Sting singing ''For Your Eyes Only'' and you'll know what I mean. If not James Bond, they're at the very least reminiscent of that poor kid Jim from American Pie who contented himself watching blurry naked girls through blocked and fuzzy softcore porn on cable tv. Oh, and the woman onscreen who is never coming home was quite attractive! I hope that train she took was headed for my neck of the woods.
Thre is really only one thing I would like to have seen changed for the tour. With as impressive a catalog of tunes as Sting has, I would like to see a more flexible setlist throughout the tour. While I'm only going to one show this time around, many of you folks with deeper pockets and more free time would probably appreciate a little bit of variety night to night.
Well, that's about it. Except, well... am I allowed to editorialize in my own review? I think I'll take the liberty to do so. I hate smokers!! I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns!! Are you people so intent on slowly killing yourselves with lung cancer that you cannot sit in a concert hall for three hours without your nicotine fix? Doesn't it even register to you that when you light your little cancers sticks in a theater like that, its 1) illegal 2) extremely irritating and inconsiderate to those around you 3) overwhelmingly unattractive. To make matters worse, not only did these people near me smoke, they were French. Sacre bleu! Don't get me started there! And oh yes, for those interested in keeping track of when people tended to stand and sit during the course of the evening (May God have mercy on your souls if you actually are), the majority of the people in the audience stood during 'Walking on the Moon', but after that, sat down until 'Stolen Car'. From there, most kept on their feet until 'Never Coming Home' and got up again for the encore. There were people who sat and there were people who stood, yet it's likely all were equally touched by what they heard. Sting's infectious energy, playful musicianship and sex appeal, which is still very much ''switched on'' for a guy in his mid 50s, carried through the entire evening. Anyone in attendance need only remember hearing the women shouting for Sting to take off his shirt early in the evening to testify to that, but as a heterosexual male, I would have been quite content if he just kept on rocking, fully clothed. As for the recent journalists who object to Sting's playing so much new material at the expense of music he wrote with a band that broke up nearly two decades ago, I hope that he continues to do just that. I am far more interested in where a talent like his is going than where he's already been. Be yourself, no matter what they say, indeed.
Celebs in attendance included the actor John Lithgow (from Third Rock from the Sun, Footloose, and as Yoda in the Star Wars Radio Dramas). Anyone see anyone else?
Sweet merciful crap... I seem to have typed an epic here when all I wanted to say was ''What a great friggin show!'' I went through three rolls of film, so there will be some pictures sooner or later. I hope those in attendance enjoyed the evening as much as I did.
(c) Shawn Farrell for Sting.com