SHOW REVIEW

Rock for all ages: Grateful Dead, Sting bridge gap...

It was supposed to be a concert to separate the hip from the hippies.

Sunday evening in Rich Stadium brought out the ice-cool, slick rocker Sting as opening act for the patron saints of the stoned-out '60s psychedelic music experience, the Grateful Dead.

The contrast was evident the minute each act took the stage. Sting, looking like a sophisticated, 30-something professor, decked out in black, with a neatly trimmed blond buzz-cut, came ready to play.

Then there were the Dead.

Singer Jerry Garcia, about 50 pounds lighter than last year, with a bushy white beard and hair flowing in the breeze, wore a dark brown shirt and shorts. Bob Weir, in a purple shirt with beige shorts, looked like a kid thumbing home for spring break. The rest of the band behind them was decked out in similar garb and came on stage to a thunderous ovation.

Put Sting and the Dead together, and you have one of the oddest and most alluring rock concert double-bills to hit Western New York in years. Despite the differences, both acts delivered energetic and entertaining performances before a sell-out crowd of about 65,000 fans.

Sting decided to break away from his script and put on an incredibly hard-rocking set that echoed with the 1960s. He freaked out the Deadheads with an opening acoustic version of the Beatles' 'Blackbird'. Sting followed that with some more classic rock standards including a moving version of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' and a scorching rendition of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.

Sting only played a few songs from his current album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. That record is filled with jazz influences and deep philosophical rumblings about religion, love and life. At times, the Stinger came on a little heavy for the Deadheads, but they still seemed moved by the music.

Sting won them over, however, with his tight back-up band and shimmering vocals. The former lead singer of the Police knows how to work a crowd, even one with so many Grateful Dead fans.

Among the highlights of Sting's performance were the slow rocker, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. He followed that with a thumping vocal on 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice'. The most moving song in the set came when Sting offered the haunting ballad 'Fields of Gold'. This was Sting at his best, a consummate musician forging an emotional bond with his audience.

Sting also played many songs from his old band the Police. Those songs included 'Roxanne', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'King of Pain'.

Then came a surprise: Jerry Garcia jumped out on stage to the delight of the audience to join Sting in an encore. The two musicians played a long, jazzy version of 'Tea in the Sahara'.

The crowd was sufficiently warmed up for the Dead, and Jerry and his boys did not disappoint their legion of freaks, Deadheads and die-hard music fans. The Dead opened with their most recent trademark hit, 'Touch of Grey.' As usual, the overflow throng of adoring admirers joined Garcia and Weir for a chorus of 'We will survive'.

It didn't take long to get the football stadium rocking. In every corner, hundreds of Dead fans were jumping, dancing and carrying on a tribal ritual of musical worship. The air was filled with multicolored balloons and the smell of marijuana smoke. The Grateful Dead seemed oblivious to it all and just kept cranking out the songs. Garcia was hunched over his guitar, looking down, as he played and sang on 'New Minglewood Blues'.

The mood turned country with Garcia leading the way on 'Loser'. Weir then joined the hoedown with a rollicking version of 'Me and My Uncle', a song written by John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas. Phil Lesh, on bass, took over the lead vocals for the slow-rocking 'Broken Arrow'. The band then went into a long jam on 'Cassidy'. The group played for nearly an hour and a half and then took a break.

The Dead returned to the stage around 10 p.m. and played until nearly 11:30 p.m before calling it a night. There was no loss of momentum as the band played standards and covers to the delight of the crowd. Everyone had reason to be happy.

(c) The Buffalo News by Anthony Violanti

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