Sacred Love

Los Angeles, CA, US
Pantages Theaterwith Chris Botti
No sharpness in this Sting...

Relying heavily on mediocre 'Sacred Love' material, he delivers a less-than-inspired concert for the first time in his solo career at Pantages opener.

Sting is such a perfectionist - his sets meticulously plotted, his arrangements air-tight, his recognizable voice effortlessly captivating - that it long has seemed impossible for him to deliver a poor performance.

Up until Tuesday night's uninspired show at the Panatages Theatre (his first of two sell-outs at the opulent venue this week), I also thought it was impossible for him to deliver a dull performance.

I've been fortunate enough to see him on each of his solo tours, dating back to when he sprang 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' on curious Police fans at Pacific Amphitheatre in '85. Since then, there have been spectacular shows (from the '... Nothing Like the Sun' outings) and there have been surprises, his local date on the 'Mercury Falling' tour far stronger than its accompanying album.

In all cases, Sting managed to balance his desire to prove the merit of his freshest material with his fans' hunger for what they know. But this concert, behind the less-than-impressive 'Sacred Love' disc, is the first time he's seemed adrift, not only bored with the old routine but uninterested in making his meaning clear.

In many ways, how he approached this show is strikingly reminiscent of what he offered for 'The Soul Cages' in 1991. That tour also found him headlining smaller venues (four nights at the Wiltern vs. two nights at the Panatages now) and aiming for intimate drama by playing the album in its entirety (likewise, he performed all but one cut from 'Sacred Love' on Tuesday).

The crucial differences are two. 'The Soul Cages' was a profoundly moving work, while 'Sacred Love' is an overproduced, dance-y world-beat thing whose hooks rarely reveal themselves. And on the 'Cages' tour, Sting burned with white-hot intensity, surrounding his austere pieces with edgier Police stuff and crazy covers like 'Purple Haze', whereas this new super-polished show is just about bloodless, its throwbacks merely congenial rewards for a patient audience.

'Sacred Love' sports many insightful Dylanesque lyrics about the need for peace and love and tropes about how to achieve that - ''let's forget about the future and get on with the past.'' But it's also the wordiest, fussiest thing he's ever put down, and it didn't improve live. If anything, repetitive songs like the ranting 'Inside' and the Bush-bashing 'This War' were harder to get through, his hurried vocals undermining the importance of the message.

It's as if he's forgotten that his surest lyrical statements have always been his most succinct. Think of the Latin-tinged hymn 'Fragile' or these lines from 'Englishman in New York': ''Takes more than combat gear to make a man / Takes more than a license for a gun.'' In the lobby a T-shirt was being hawked with another such statement, from 'Russians': ''There's no such thing as a winnable war.''

Yet, regardless how much images on giant video backdrops during the show were meant to get points across for him - animation of bombers dropping their cargo on oil refineries, followed by posters in a propaganda vein insisting ''Don't Do Nothing'' - Sting's music should have at least communicated half as much meaning. Instead, it flew by without leaving much impression. Really, when 'Fragile' feels rote, something's amiss.

Worse, Sting neglected to connect his present to his past; gems like 'Hole in My Life' and 'Synchronicity II' were enjoyable but signified nothing more than nostalgia. And indestructible as 'Rox anne' and 'Every Breath You Take' are, they should be retired; once rarely touched upon, their constancy now makes them seem like crutches.

All of that said, Sting's musicianship cannot be faulted, and his current backing band is one of the best he's put together, with trusty sidemen like guitarist Dominic Miller and keyboardist Kipper trading licks alongside sterling additions like pianist Jason Rebello and drummer Keith Carlock, easily the most energetic skins-beater he's worked with since Stewart Copeland.

Finest of all would be support vocalist Joy Rose, who was remarkable in the Mary J. Blige role of recent Grammy winner 'Whenever I Say Your Name'. And to help underscore Sting's jazzier leanings, opening act Chris Botti returned for a sharp trumpet solo during 'I Was Brought to My Senses', and Chick Corea turned up to flesh out the finale of 'Never Coming Home'.

Ultimately, however, this two-hour show solidifies what his last tour, behind 'Brand New Day', merely suggested - that Sting is in a slump, his music straining to stay au courant, the clarity and catchiness of his songwriting suffering because of it. Maybe this is just his way of exploring new interests and of making music that has global appeal.

Still, it feels like too much maturity has robbed him of youthful zest. Before he gets too stodgy, he might want to remember what most makes a pop star: vitality. Suddenly, Sting's has vanished.

(c) The Orange County Register by Ben Wener

Sting sharper on his classics...

During the last number before his 30-minute encore at the Pantages Theatre on Tuesday, Sting brought jazz great Chick Corea on stage as part of an extended jam on the upbeat 'Never Coming Home'.

Behind the British pop icon's band were three large vertical panels that had been showing various scenes throughout the night. On Corea's segment, the middle panel showed the hands of the pianist while he was improvising. At that point, Sting's excellent band (including the man himself on electric bass) were jazzed themselves by the presence of Corea. It was one of the highlights of the evening, which took a while to kick into high gear.

Tuesday's performance was part of Sting's 'Sacred Love' tour, and much of the night's show was devoted to material from the album of the same name. The 'Sacred Love' album seems to suffer from overthinking; its sophistication seems forced.

The evening began with Sting on upright bass with his five-piece band plus two backup singers performing a sultry version of the old Police song 'Walkin' on the Moon', with only a keyboard accompaniment. He then moved into the 'Sacred Love' material with 'Send in Your Love', featuring lyrics such as ''There's no religion but sex and music/ There's no religion but sound and dancing/ There's no religion but line and color/ There's no religion but scared trance.'' If the words seem to be overreaching for something ''BIG,'' it matches the music, which never really flows and is constantly stymied by too many musical ideas. Others, like 'Let's Forget About the Future' and 'Inside', didn't didn't have much of an impact, either.

Sting fared better with a few of the other numbers from 'Sacred Love' - 'Dead Man's Rope' is a pleasant enough ballad, as is the title cut. 'Stolen Car' has cheeky quality, and 'This War', with its unflattering portrait of George W. Bush, is effective, if overarching. One of Sting's backup singers - Joy Rose - took Mary J. Blige's part on 'Whenever I Say Your Name' from the album and delivered a soulful, high-intensity reading.

Had Sting not done any of his old stuff, the new material might have seemed more effective. Thankfully, though, he did. About midway through the evening, he back-to-backed the evocative 'Fragile', with its Latin lilt, and the lovely 'Fields of Gold'. Later, playing stand-up bass again, he performed a slightly funky upbeat version of 'Englishman in New York', with a jazzy break. (Actually, it sounded more like English ''mon.'') And there was the obligatory first Police hit 'Roxanne', with the guitarist using dissonant chords on the tune's machinelike opening. Sting also reached back with 'Rehumanize Yourself', with the refrain ''be yourself no matter what they say'' (sounds like a theme here) from the Police's 1981 'Ghost in the Machine', and 'Synchronicity II' from 'Synchronicity'.

Coming on stage barefoot and dressed in black, the still-young-looking 52-year-old Sting (''sex on legs,'' as one admirer described him) was relaxed, joking with the audience throughout the evening. His band was tight and showed flashes of real style, particularly Miller, who was in the forefront.

Of course, the evening really took off toward the end and into the prolonged encore with 'Desert Rose', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and our all-time favorite stalker song 'Every Breath You Take'. By that time, the audience was on a high. Next time around, it's doubtful that many of the 'Sacred Love' songs will be on Sting's set list.

(c) The Daily News of Los Angeles by Rob Lowman

Sting at the Pantages Theater...

Sting's recent solo recordings set the heart aflutter more than set the world afire; the delights are often found in the nuances - a flamenco guitar, a jazz riff, an earnest couplet - rather than in the entirety of a work. Touring with a relatively sparse band, Sting forsakes the nuances of 'Sacred Love' only to reveal the blandness of this latest batch of songs. It's a record that works more as a soundscape than a collection of tunes, and the drone of his two-keyboard, two-drum, one-guitar band does little to expose the shadings of the recording.

The newer material - album was released Sept. 30 - putters along in an undistinguished manner. He has his groove songs, he has his rockers and he has his disco-era throwback 'Send Your Love', but once he drops in one of his well-played standards, 'Englishman in New York', for example, he exposes a complexity in the writing that the new material lacks. 'Englishman', which was followed by a medley of 'Roxanne' and 'Bed's Too Big Without You', had the air of a classic, with its plucky outline contrasting the sense of awe in Sting's vocal.

While his voice remains impeccable, especially when he's accompanied by acoustic guitar and featherweight touches, it gets mighty lonely up there without a horn in the band. Point was driven home when opener Chris Botti added a trumpet solo to 'I Was Brought To My Senses', a number from Sting's 1996 disc 'Mercury Rising', the album that found Sting departing an airy jazz-influenced style for a more layered and tighter sound that he continues to employ. Guitarist Dominic Miller is too flashy and isolated to create any dialogue with the leader, leaving the Botti-Sting interlude to remind of the more sophisticated music-making found on 2001 live album 'All This Time'.

It's one thing to miss the Police, and this band gave those numbers uninspired renditions, but now there's a longing for the Sting who possessed a poet's touch and let his songs breathe in their framework.

Sting has four shows, March 2-6, coming up at the Beacon Theatre in New York that are all sold-out.

(c) Daily Variety by Phil Gallo

Breathing new life into new songs...

You could learn a lot about Sting by just checking out the souvenir items on sale in the lobby before the veteran pop star's concert Tuesday at the Pantages Theatre.

The words on the front of the aqua T-shirts, ''There's no such thing as a winnable war,'' remind us that he's an activist. The volumes of his bestselling biography (Broken Music) tell us he's an author. The black yoga top and pants (each) suggest that he strives for inner peace.

For anyone who has heard Sting's somewhat anonymous latest album, 'Sacred Love', it's only natural to wonder if the man's not spreading himself a little too thin these days - and we haven't even gotten yet to all those hours of blissful tantric sex. (One T-shirt did proclaim the wonders of sex and music, in that order.)

In contrast to the individuality and passion that characterize the English singer-songwriter's most distinguished work, 'Sacred Love' seems at times smothered by overly familiar images (remember, everyone, love is the answer) and limp music.

The unevenness of the CD probably caused a lot of Sting fans to go into the sold-out Pantages with their fingers crossed. They know Sting is one of those artists who, to his credit, doesn't rest on nostalgia in concert. Sting wants to build his tours around his new material to prove he is still moving forward, and he and his vigorous five-piece band took that principle to the limit Tuesday by playing nine of the 10 songs from the new album during the two-hour performance.

The question was whether they would find a way to make the music more involving live. And the answer came quickly.

After a brief opening set by charismatic but sometimes underachieving trumpeter Chris Botti, Sting gave a quick nod to his old Police days by opening with a sharply reworked version of 'Walking on the Moon'.

He and the band, including longtime sidekick Dominic Miller on guitar, then got down to business by dressing one of the new songs, 'Send Your Love', with such an infectious ribbon of high-style electronica that everyone in the theater who found the album sluggish must have let out a sigh of relief.

Oddly, on the album Sting included two versions of 'Send Your Love' - one a formal rendition that places the emphasis on the uninspired lyrics, the other a peppier rendition, similar to Tuesday's, that shifted the focus to the spectacular rhythm.

Sting, who alternated between bass and guitar, followed with a convincing and fluid treatment of 'Inside', a soul-searching meditation from the album that is likely to become one of his signature tunes.

It was a dazzling one-two punch that set the tone for the evening. Not everything from the new album rose to this level. Some of the new songs still felt conventional, but the intensity of the band and the two female backup singers made even those moments seem creditable.

When he was at his best, the new songs stood up well against the best of the older numbers, including 'Every Breath You Take' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. Most of them were redesigned to showcase Sting's varied rock, jazz, pop and world-music influences in frequently absorbing ways.

In the music, Sting also showed he was an activist ('This War', with its key line, 'Don't Do Nothing' flashing on video screens), an author ('Stolen Car' is as close to a short-story narrative as you can get in a song) and a man looking for that inner peace ('Dead Man's Rope', a standout new tune about being suspended between one's ''darkest fears and dearest hope'').

Because Sting normally plays large venues, this small-hall tour, which was scheduled to include a second sold-out show Wednesday, gives us a rare chance to see him in intimate surroundings. Rather than soften the music to make the affair all that more personal, Sting beefed it up, creating a sense of celebration that contrasted with the melancholy edges embedded in so much of his music.

If this move sacrificed some of the personal tone of such delicate hits as 'Fragile', the move more than compensated with its unchecked optimism. Sting, whose voice has lost none of its elasticity, revitalized the new music so effortlessly that it felt like sleight-of-hand.

Sting's range of interests and strong persona leave him open to caricature at times, but we shouldn't forget that he remains a musician with a masterful and distinctive pop vision.

(c) The Los Angeles Times by Robert Hilburn