Nothing Like The Sun

Syracuse, NY, US
Onondaga War Memorial Coliseum
Sting and super band provide best in pop-rock...

By end of his opening number, 'Lazarus Heart', at the War Memorial Tuesday night, the secret to British pop star Sting's enormous success became evident: He keeps good company.

With what amounts to the world's most talented pop band behind him, the former Gordon Sumner entertained a capacity crowd Tuesday night with more than 2 1/2 hours of music from throughout his career. Blending jazz, reggae, folk, calypso and rock 'n' roll, Sting kept the kids screaming, while the band - led by phenomenal saxophonist Branford Marsalis - kept the serious music fans on the edges of their seats. The show was rigidly divided into three distinct sets, with the songs from his recent Jungian concept album 'Nothing Like the Sun' occupying the first.

The best of these was 'Sister Moon', an eclectic jazz ballad - the best tune Sting's ever written - which allowed Marsalis and pianist Kenny Kirkland plenty of room to improvise. The drawback was that Sting chose to strut around the stage during the soprano sax solo, thus causing the screaming teenie boppers to drown out one of the evening's top musical moments. Fortunately, he got off the stage before Kirkland's magic right hand went to work.

Yet, for the most part, Sting's stage presence is much improved from his days fronting a trio of British pop pretty boys known as the Police. He worked the crowd well, only occasionally mugging the kids for the easy screams.

During 'One World is Enough', Sting, Marsalis and percussionist Mino Cinelu did some fancy two-steppin' across the back of the stage, culminating in a tumbling contest between percussionist and singer. All the while, Kirkland and bassist Traci Worth improvised all over the pseudo-reggae beat, and multi-colored lights danced through a sea of smoke.

The second set featured more of 'Nothing Like the Sun', plus a healthy amount of material from his solo debut, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles'. The singer and bandleader took advantage of solos by Marsalis, Kirkland and guitarist Jeff Campbell to switch musical gears from rock to beat jazz to Latino. It was evident this is more than a collection of great players; it's a well-oiled machine.

The concert did have its low points. 'Little Wing' would have been best left out of the show, especially considering Campbell's guitar solo was nothing more than a cheap Hendrix imitation. The use of Sting's guitar synthesizer and Delmar Brown synthesized bebop singing was downright nauseating. And did he really have to take his shirt off? Evidently the young ladies in the audience thought so.

The real joy of the concert, though, was that this great band could even convert the Police's silly little pop numbers into legitimate music. Marsalis' soprano accompaniment managed to save 'Roxanne', when it became evident that Sting's squeaky tenor was greatly strained from a hard night's work.

The show closed with all seven band members clapping along as Sting and 7,800 harmony voices sent out a 'Message in a Bottle'. The message was that pop-rock doesn't get any better than this.

(c) The Post-Standard by Brian G. Bourke

Sting proves he's a master blender of styles...

Before he became an international rock star as the writer, bass player and lead singer for the Police, Sting (then known as Gordon Sumner) played bass and sang in a British jazz combo.

In recent years, this background in jazz has repeatedly surfaced in Sting's solo compositions, adding new colors and textures to what had already become a varied body of work. In his sold-out concert Tuesday night at the War Memorial, Sting displayed his considerable talents as a master blender of musical styles, combining rock with reggae, and sambas with jazz, to create a rich and danceable fusion of international

The concert began with 'Lazarus Heart' from Sting's current Top Ten album, '...Nothing Like the Sun'.

As you might guess from the song's title, this rocking introduction deals with a heart being awakened from the dead, an apt metaphor for Sting's Recurring theme of seeking hope amid the ruins of tragedy. It took a few songs for the state-of-the-art sound system to be set at the right balance, but by midway through the first set, all the subtleties of Sting's distictive tenor voice could be heard in an excellent sound mix with his seven-piece band.

Wearing black pants and a black satin jacket over no shirt, Sting looked like a dapper man of elegance flirting with decadence. This image was especially strong during Sting's rendition of 'Englishman in New York', a song he had written in tribute to one of Britian's most flamboyant expatriates, Quentin Crisp.

Strutting across the stage, Sting acted out this Brechtian number like a 1980s Fred Astaire cast in 'A Clockwork Orange'.

One of the rockiest tunes of the night was the appropriately titled 'Rock Steady', which temporarily turned the auditorium into a disco for the 7,800 in attendance. For most of Sting's two sets, most of the audience of teens and young adults were on their feet, dancing and stretching their necks to get a glimpse of the stage above those dancing in front of them.

During the reggae of 'One World Is Enough', Sting formed a mini-mombo line as he led two of his bandmates in a dance around the cubist-designed stage set. Throughout most of the show, Sting showed the stamina of an athlete and the grace of a dancer as he kept time with his moving body as he played the rhythm guitar.

The show had several highlights, each one stronger than the one before it. Sting's current hit, 'Be Still My Beating Heart', with as haunting and mournful a melody as can be found in popular music, was delivered with more drama and tension than on the record. Guitarist Jeff Campbell's roaring lead guitar on 'Little Wing' was a sharp contrast to the mellower saxophone solo then offered by Branford Marsalis. This segued into an abbreviated version of 'From Me To You' by the Beatles, which accelerated to a breakneck climax that ended the second set.

When Sting returned for the first of several encores, he jokingly pleaded with the audience not to make him do ''that song'' one more time, but he answered the audience's requests with a powerful version of 'Roxanne', accompanied only by Marsalis' sax and Sting's own slim-body electrified classical guitar.

Rejoined by the band for the remaining encores, Sting performed 'Fortress Around Your Heart', an updated version of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Secret Marriage,'' and finally 'Message In a Bottle'. Asking the audience to sing along with him, Sting had 7,800 fellow castaways sending out their 'S.O.S. to the World', telling his audience that they weren't ''alone in being alone.'' Sting's message to his audience seemed to be that there's an ironic bond in shared isolation, especially if it's got a beat and you can dance to it.

(c) The Post-Standard by Larry Hoyt