Brand New Day

Albany, NY, US
Saratoga Perfoming Arts Centerwith Shawn Colvin
Sting's repertory risk yields rich rewards...

On the surface of it, Steely Dan and Sting have a great deal in common. Both play smart, sophisticated pop songs infused with jazz harmonies and arrangements.

But Steely Dan (who played the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday night) and Sting (who played there on Sunday) took very different approaches to their live performances. Steely Dan focused on their vast catalog of FM-radio staples and peppered their show with a small handful of new selections. But Sting took the opposite - and far riskier - attack, performing nearly every song from his latest album, 'Brand New Day', and sprinkling a few of his classic catalog hits along the way.

Ultimately, the risk paid off for Sting and his crack six-piece band.

Opening with the dreamy 'A Thousand Years', Sting was in fine voice. Although he has a very distinctive vocal style, it seemed clear on Sunday evening that he wears his influences well. On 'After the Rain Has Fallen', he sounded more than a bit like Stevie Winwood. 'All This Time' had a definite Paul Simon feel to it. During the Kurt Weill-like Moon Over Bourbon Street', Sting erupted into a Tom Waits-like rumbling growl. And in the middle of the country-twang filled 'Fill Her Up', he sounded exactly like James Taylor.

Oh wait a minute - that was James Taylor.

Yes, J.T. himself popped out on stage with a fishing hat pulled down over his eyes, sang a verse of 'Fill Her Up', spun around a couple of times, hopped into the air and than slipped offstage again just as quickly as he appeared.

Well, at least you can't say that Sting didn't have any surprises up his sleeveless sleeves.

He did dip back into the songbag from his Police days with 'Roxanne', but the song lost much of its original impact in its new arrangement as an arena call-and-response anthem.

The set-closing classics 'Bring On the Night'/'When the World...' found Sting and his band in their jazziest - and most energetic - mode, although the biggest crowd-pleasers seemed to be the jaunty 'Englishman in New York' and the encore of the spooky 'Every Breath You Take'.

The band was first-rate, especially guitarist Dominic Miller (who added some marvellous acoustic guitar fingerpicking on 'Fields of Gold') and trumpeter Chris Botti (whose atmospheric playing on the late-night smoke 'n' whiskey ballad 'Tomorrow We'll See' resonated with the sound of the late Chet Baker).

Yes, as they were filing out after the show, more than a few of Sting's fans agreed that every little thing he does is magic.

In fact, 'Every Little Thing (S)he Does Is Magic' was played twice at SPAC on Sunday - once by Sting, of course, and once by opening act Shawn Colvin.

Colvin - who was a joint headliner at SPAC last summer, sharing the stage with Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby and Jackson Browne for a joyous round-robin show - played solo on Sunday, her self-described ''short but sweet presence'' highlighted by her biggest hit, the ominous 'Sunny Came Home', as well as the marvelous Jimmy Webb nugget, 'If These Walls Could Speak'.

(c) The Albany Times Union by Greg Hames

Groovin' large...

It was an enthusiastic throng which gathered to be stung by the sounds of Sting as the bassist/vocalist brought his traveling show to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday night.

Sting (aka Gordon Sumner) first came to prominence as the frontman and primary songwriter for The Police, back in the late 1970s when new wave was all the rage. Since disbanding the group at the height of its popularity in 1984, Sting has released a series of successful solo records on which he has explored a wide range of musical terrain while also becoming one of the most popular artists in contemporary music.

In concert, Sting pulls back the layers of studio sheen which characterize his albums to reveal his true heart as a funkified rock'n roll showman. He still covers the bases stylistically, but the very essence of what he does onstage, and does very well I might add, is about groovin' large.

Two gems from The Police songbook, a raved-up 'Every Little Thing She Does' and the wonderfully deconstructed 'Roxanne', exemplify this point. The former chugged along insistently and was met with widespread dancing and a noteworthy vocal effort by the crowd on the call-and-response chorus. The latter opened with the first verse handled as a duet with just the guitar before building to a rousing climax, which found Sting scampering along on the bass while he had some fun with an over-the-top vocal delivery.

Sponsored on tour by Compaq computers, it was also obvious that Sting was promoting his most recent album, last year's 'Brand New Day'. He returned to it frequently, performing numerous selections to mostly great success throughout the night.

'A Thousand Years', which leads off the new disc, also led off the show and featured Sting playing a six-string electric guitar. A Fender Stratocaster, to be exact. Other tunes reprised from the newest effort were the anthemic title track and 'Fill Her Up', a tune dedicated to Lyle Lovett, which opens as a pretty standard country-flavored ditty before giving way to a gospel coda. This song found Sting joined onstage briefly by the great James Taylor for some vocal assistance.

The only major misstep of the evening came at the hands of one of the new tunes, 'Perfect Love....Gone Wrong', during which the drummer came out from behind his kit and was featured on an in-your-face rap interlude. As a result of his success, Sting certainly has earned the freedom to follow his muse, however, trying to be too many things to too many people brings with it a certain peril. A hip-hopper Sting is not, nor should Sting be.

The newer material also yielded one of the real treats of the night. The late night jazzy film noir of 'Tomorrow We'll See', complete with hipster vocals and a brief phrase a la Louis Armstrong, worked perfectly as the stage set and music combined to literally bring the tune to life.

The amphitheater crowd spent precious little time in their seats, particularly when Sting and his six-piece band, which included contemporary jazz trumpet sensation Chris Botti, revved up the hits. The sinewy groove of 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and reggae funk of 'Englishman In New York' proved to be immensely popular while even the ethereal pop of 'Fields of Gold' found the faithful on their feet enraptured. The breezy pop of 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'We'll Be Together' also kept the crowd moving.

With ticket prices what they are this summer (the best seats topped out at around $90 with service charges), one can hope for nothing more than good music and a good time for their ticket dollar. Sting delivered both.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin opened the show with a solo acoustic set which showcased her music and that of some of her favorite writers.

Among the cover songs, all of which came from her 1994 album 'Cover Girl', were Robbie Robertson's haunting 'Twilight', Jimmie Webb's poignant 'If These Walls Could Speak', Steve Earle's ode to small towns 'Someday', and Sting's 'Every Little Thing (He) Does is Magic'.

From her own pen, Colvin offered up 'Sunny Came Home', which she introduced as ''a nice murder song,'' the uptempo acoustic pop of 'Wichita Skyline' and the lilting ballad 'You and the Mona Lisa'.

(c) The Saratogian by James Lampretta