SHOW REVIEW

Sting hits home with more subtle effectiveness...

Unaccustomed to playing at a modest-sized theater (as opposed to an arena or outdoor amphitheater), Sting said he could hear people talking in the front rows at his Tuesday night Beacon Theatre show. Among the things they were saying, he joked, was ''He was better with The Police.''

That may or may not be true, but either way, it's irrelevant at this point.

Sting, who also performs at the Beacon on Friday and Sunday and comes to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, has been a solo artist for 14 years now. That's twice as long as the seven years he spent with Policemen Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. Even if The Police had stayed together, its sound would probably have grown closer to the mellow, introspective pop Sting currently favors, anyway.

Age inevitably takes its toll.

For the most part, Sting and his virtuosic eight-pieced band stayed in a subdued mode Tuesday, though there were a few rocking moments: the reggaefied 'Englishman in New York'; a faithful re-creation of the joyous Police hit 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'; an epic jam built around 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around', complete with a trendy but still exciting salsa interlude.

A telling sequence: Sting kicked off his second encore by reminiscing about playing at CBGB with The Police for the first time in 1978, and drawing only seven people. But the encore's two songs - a pensive, solo acoustic 'Message in a Bottle' and an equally delicate version of his environmental anthem 'Fragile', complete with synthesized strings - couldn't have been further removed from the scruffy CBGB spirit.

Sting is touring in support of his 2-month-old 'Brand New Day' album, which hasn't made much of a dent on the pop charts (it's currently at No. 37 in Billboard magazine) but still qualifies as one of his best solo efforts. He played virtually all of it in the course of the two-hour, 10-minute show.

The show-opening 'A Thousand Years' was a bit ponderous, but 'Fill Her Up', a richly detailed country-rocker (''The boss don't like me, got a face like a weasel / Oil on my hand and the small of diesel'') with a shocking gospel coda, was a delight. So was 'Desert Rose', an intense, prayer-like song featuring guest vocals by the evening's opening act, Algerian pop singer Cheb Mami.

'Tomorrow We'll See', a ballad written from the point of view of a rather philosophical prostitute (''Don't judge me / You could be me in another life''), segued nicely into 'Roxanne', a look at prostitution from another angle and The Police's signature hit.

It wasn't like every little thing Sting did was magic. At his worst, he churned out emotionless versions of past hits like 'Fields of Gold' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. But he made some of his old songs sound fresh, too. An accelerated beat put a new, anxious spin on 'All This Time'. Intentionally craggy vocals, reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, buoyed 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.

The new 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong' threatened to be a low point. During one interlude, drummer Manu Katche rapped in French (finally, Sting jumps on the hip-hop bandwagon!) as Sting's three female backing vocalists strutted in front of him like models on the runway. Yet when Sting finally got around to the chorus - as catchy as any he's produced throughout his solo career - all was forgiven.

(c) The Newark Star-Ledger by Jay Lustig



Showman, slick and mellow...

Sting is almost capable of bringing dignity to pop music's adult contemporary format. Yes, the former front man for the Police is smooth to a fault, but at 48 he still exudes a boyish exuberance and sensitive-guy empathy that can fleetingly win over all but the most hardened listener.

And while Sting emphasized work from his new album, 'Brand New Day', a collection of atmospheric, soft-pop love songs tweaked with world music and smooth jazz, he and his eight-member band threw in enough early rockers to keep the baby-boomer pulses tapping.

The combination made for an engaging, if fairly predictable, two-hour show Tuesday night, the first of four performances at the Beacon Theater.

Sting's bass playing is sturdy, but it was his reedy voice - resilient, multifaceted and increasingly mellow - that took center stage. He belted his lyrics during 'We'll Be Together' and effortlessly extended single notes into amorous sighs in 'Every Breath You Take'. His hoarse, ragged tones added genuine pathos to a song he wrote with Branford Marsalis about Kenny Kirkland, his longtime keyboardist, who died last year.

Though often plaintive, Sting preaches self-affirmation. ''Be yourself no matter what they say,'' he sang in the jaunty 'Englishman in New York', and the crowd repeated the line like a mantra.

Occasionally, Sting's self-assurance bordered on arrogance. ''I'm the answer to your question,'' he declared in the waltzing new 'Brand New Day', a song that was uplifting to the point of cola-commercial annoyance.

And his compassionate messages about women in such songs as 'Roxanne', didn't always jibe with the presence of his three scantily clad female backup singers.

Roxanne was one of several old favorites that Sting deftly freshened with new arrangements, in this case extending the song into a lengthy, African-style call-and-response. He beautifully recast 'Message in a Bottle', which he performed solo on acoustic guitar, as a sultry samba. Dominic Miller's guitar picking on 'When the World is Running Down' and 'Fields of Gold' was so filigreed it sounded like a harp.

Sting could have given more rein to Miller and keyboardist Jason Rebello, whose impressively crisp, cascading jazz improvisations added depth and heft to several songs. And he could have reduced or refigured the role of Chris Botti, whose noirish trumpeting started out eloquent, but became repetitive.

The few misfires included the new, loungy 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong', in which a drummer's French-language raps sounded as incongruous as they do on Sting's new album. 'Fill Her Up', a new song about rebellion and redemption, was stylistic overkill, switching from country to gospel to jazz.

But 'Desert Rose', Sting's duet with the Algerian pop singer Cheb Mami (who opened the show and headlines Nov. 20 at the Beacon), was a knockout, with galloping drumbeats, undulating North African fiddle and Mami's ululating vocals intertwining with Sting's croon.

Two decades into performing, Sting still relishes the stage. ''If I ever lose my faith in you, there'd be nothing left for me to do,'' he sang. The cheering audience clearly agreed.

(c) The New York Newsday by Letta Tayler



Ruminating about love, perfect and not so...

Modesty doesn't commonly afflict million-selling rock stars. Yet Sting showed signs of it when he started his sold-out four-night stand at the Beacon Theater on Tuesday night. He bantered about his age (48), his jacket (of an unidentified shiny fabric) and the lingering sentiment that, as he joked, ''He was better with the Police.''

Sting performed like a musician who is comfortable with what he has: a gift for melody, an unmistakable voice and a predilection for structural games. Grand ambitions and urgent passions were off the agenda; Sting was simply displaying his skills and his latest love songs.

He didn't set out to transform his songs as he has on previous tours. Sting and his band reproduced his studio versions, give or take the solos from Jason Rebello on keyboards, Chris Botti on trumpet and Dominic Miller on guitar. Sting also skipped his most desolate songs, preferring to stick with fond love songs and neatly constructed character studies.

His latest album, 'Brand New Day' (A&M), reflects time spent in Paris, where music from North and sub-Saharan Africa gets slicked up in computerized studios. Cheb Mami, a star of Algerian rai music who now lives in Paris, opened the concert and joined Sting onstage for 'Desert Rose', a seductive bit of romantic Orientalism in which Cheb Mami's cries of ''Yele, yele!'' could plausibly pass for ''L.A., L.A.!'' Sting has soaked up some rai, using its long melodies in 'A Thousand Years' and its rhythms for 'After the Rain Has Fallen'; in 'Roxanne' he also tried a few Arab vocal inflections. 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong featured a French-language rap from Sting's drummer, Manu Katche.

Otherwise, the new songs stay within his already broad palette: bent country-and-western, jazzy vamps, uplifting pop marches, odd-meter tunes. The tracks on 'Brand New Day' are full of shimmering, unearthly synthesizer sounds, Sting's rapprochement with electronica. Onstage the music reverted to handmade arrangements, though the grooves didn't change.

The set revealed some of Sting's continuing fascinations: plaints of beta males ('Perfect Love...Gone Wrong', about a dog displaced by a new pet, and the older 'Seven Days' and 'Everything She Does Is Magic'), prostitution ('Roxanne' paired with the new 'Tomorrow We'll See', a male hustler's jazz-noir confession) and a longing for the divine ('If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', 'Desert Rose' and 'Fill Her Up').

Mostly, however, he sang about love with a contentment that made the songs blandly reassuring. The most moving song was the least familiar one: 'Dienda', an elegy for Kenny Kirkland (the pianist for Sting's Blue Turtles band) set to one of Kirkland's chromatic ballad melodies.

Cheb Mami's opening set was in some ways a mirror image of Sting's. Where Sting's voice is like a camel's-hair brush, Cheb Mami's tenor has a fine point. And while Sting annexes non-Western styles, Cheb Mami has grafted rai's impassioned quavers and slides and its sputtering triple-time hand drumming to Western pop. His songs used reggae, rock, and in one, a surprisingly compatible Celtic reel; his improvisations pleaded and soared, confidently taking chances with every phrase. He is headlining his own Beacon Theater concert on Saturday night.

The ticket price wasn't modest: up to 5 for a show without dancers, pyrotechnics, an acoustic piano, a gospel choir, dinner or even a clear sound mix. The show did, however, include marquee and ticket-stub plugs for a computer company and, between sets, music loudly promoted by a record-store chain. At that price, concertgoers don't deserve commercials.

(c) The New York Times by Jon Pareles



A sharp Sting...

On stage, Sting is the master of his universe. Tuesday night at the Beacon the first gig of his five-performance series in the metro area the 48-year-old singer played an exceptional concert. Wearing a form-fitting black leather jacket, the slightly built Sting looked powerful, almost menacing, as he allowed the emotions of his songs to contort his face.

That's the actor in him. He was a charmer during this two-hour set, and he gushed about playing small halls. He said he loved seeing the faces of his fans up close and hearing what they say.

Mockingly, he cocked an ear to the front row and said with an eavesdropper's hush: ''Where'd he get that jacket?'' Then: ''He looks too good he must have had work done.'' And finally: ''He was much better in the Police.''

The jokes made the event feel more casual than it was. Sting, backed by a crackerjack seven-piece band, flawlessly rendered material from his substantial solo catalog (including most of his latest, 'Brand New Day') including a whiz-bang, end-of-show selection of greatest hits from his days as chief of the Police.

Sting is hardly a typical rock star. Whether or not you like his rock fusions, you have to thank him for treating his listeners with respect, trusting that they'll appreciate the complex musical steps he dances to outside of verse-chorus-verse pop.

The man and band created music with exotic rhythms and melodies so infectious that they eventually peeled after-work fans off their seats and got them moving to the beat.

Like the album 'Brand New Day', the concert opened with reedy-voiced Sting exhaling the words to 'A Thousand Years' about a millennium of devotion. It was an interesting, unusual piece for Sting, since his voice traveled in parallel harmony to the guitar. In nearly every other number in his songbook, Sting uses his high tenor to command the composition's upper end, while his bass-playing takes charge of the bottom.

The song 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong' best illustrates the complexity of Sting's musical vision. This tune lashes smoky, jazz-noir horn charts to funk piano and Sting's king-of-pain vocals. At the Beacon, drummer Manu Katche playfully goaded the singer with an insult-laced French rap in response. Of the new material, this was easily the evening's show-stopper.

When everything goes right, you know it and Sting felt it and was exuberant on stage. The fans felt it, too, and were unwilling to let the evening end even after Sting and company were called back for two multisong encores.

That charge of excitement worked against him, however, when, in the final encore, he launched the song 'Every Breath You Take'. In the past, when Sting offered that song mid-concert, the menacing element of the tune was more apparent.

At Tuesday's show, rather than being the ultimate stalker's song, it initially came off as a peppy love song.

Ultimately, though, Sting calmed himself and found the tune's proper tone, twisting it back into the scary, crazed-hunter song it is.

(c) The New York Post by Dan Aquitalane

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