SHOW REVIEW

Again, a Stinging Presence...

Local music fans definitely have had the opportunity to see a lot of Sting this year.

In March, the former Police-man played two shows at the Forum. Wednesday he stopped in at the Wiltern Theatre for a special intimate performance. Thursday he was back at the Forum again. Tonight you can catch him at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa.

And of course, Sept. 21 at the Coliseum, Sting will be sharing the headline spot with Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel at Amnesty International's Human Rights Now! concert.

Part of the reason for Sting's frequent appearances may be the fact he is compiling material for a live album, with a tentative fall release.

Nonetheless, for a lesser talent, playing so many live dates in one area could prove dangerous. Not only does a performer have to be popular enough to continue to draw sellout crowds, but he or she must keep the show fresh and interesting enough to satisfy those fans who might have caught an earlier show on the tour.

With an ambitious two-hour-plus set Thursday at the Forum, Sting had no problem keeping the capacity crowd interested. And Sting proved he certainly won't be out of place performing on the same bill as an artist like Springsteen on the upcoming Amnesty tour.

Like his last Forum appearances, the bulk of the show consisted of material from his last album '...Nothing Like the Sun' and dramatically rearranged versions of Police classics. Once again, three giant video screens gave everybody in the arena a close-up view of the action, with freeze-frame and other effects, giving the show the feel of a polished music video. But this time around, Sting also had more to offer.

Since embarking on a solo career in 1985, the one-time schoolteacher and jazz musician has been challenging pop fans by bringing jazz and other musical influences into his music. He has also challenged himself, dropping his customary instrument, the bass, for guitar and keyboards and by writing and performing material that calls for greater vocal prowess.

Sting pushed those boundaries again Thursday. Just before intermission, with sparse backing, Sting played the crooner. Standing almost motionless, he performed a song by Kurt Weill, Frank Zappa's 'The Idiot Bastard's Son' and his version of George Gershwin's 'Someone to Watch Over Me', featured in the 1987 film of the same name.

But Sting also hasn't lost sight of more contemporary pop classics. Early in the show he introduced his rendition of Squeeze's 'Tempted' as ''one of my favorite songs by somebody else.'' The soulful take was jazzed up with Sting's back-up singers re-creating the choirlike intro of the Rolling Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. When Sting and company returned for an encore, he offered a tongue-in-cheek version of 'Home on the Range'.

There was, however, plenty more than cover versions. With the expert backing, Sting performed lovely versions of the jazzy ballad 'Sister Moon', the catchy 'Englishman in New York' and the heartfelt 'They Dance Alone' and more upbeat material such as 'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free'.

Praise is also due for Sting's decision to rework the Police hits. Although fans might find the new arrangements awkward, Sting is taking a risk rather than going with the proven crowd pleaser. Of the seven Police songs performed during the show, only the version of 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' fell flat.

This song, performed like the weak 1986 version included on the Police greatest-hits package, was dragged out into an overly repetitious sing-along.

When several other songs were given the extended treatment, the show also lost momentum. But, you can't really blame Sting for giving ace musicians like saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Kenny Kirkland some time to show their stuff.

(c) Daily News of Los Angeles by Craig Rosen

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