Brand New Day

Montreal, QC, CA
Molson Centre
Lacklustre Sting...

He played it safe; this did not surprise us much. We could have hoped that, given the jazzy context, Sting would have let loose a little. That he would have mixed the best of both worlds, the Jazz Festival (so favourable to jam sessions) and the more personal ''jazz crossover'' for an adult audience.

A dream - however brief - of eclecticism, of audacity, of something new.

That would have been ignoring the unchanging power of a superstar who knows his audience well (there were 13,200 people, last night, at Molson Centre) and gives it exactly what it wants. The ''standards'', those hits from a 15-year solo career, and those from another life, it seems, playing bass in a pseudo-punk new wave band called The Police. Gordon Sumner performed 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message In A Bottle' as an encore, last night, after 90 very expeditious minutes. This gives us an idea of how far he has come up.

Tightly-paced (without the unpredictability of jazz, then), this concert by the handsome blond musician (still in great shape in his cargo pants and black tank top) zigzagged between brief strong moments and long gaps, just like his career which is stagnating and the emptiness left by his last two albums, 'Mercury Falling' and 'Brand New Day', which are far from being the most popular albums in our record stores.

Well supported by six musicians (including Manu Katché, Vinnie Colaiuta and Dominic Miller), the Englishman with the rich voice never managed to find the right balance between the new and the old, nor a proper area of agreement with a willing audience (hungry for nostalgia), in spite of a few well-spoken timely phrases (in French, thank you). Some dull Sting, without depth, linear, colourless and lacklustre, who contented himself with lining them up : 'A Thousand Years', 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', 'After The Rain Has Fallen', 'All This Time', 'Every Little Thing She Does' (watered down version), 'Englishman In New York', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', 'Roxanne'...

A concert in the image of pop's intellectual aristocrat's great turn - literary or pompous, Sting? That is the eternal question... -, which took place sometime after the release of 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. A turn toward the ''adult contemporary'' ragbag. A change in the image of the Molson Centre crowd - 35 to 45 years old, for the majority - who spent 79.50 $ (CAN) for a good ticket last night. We are far from The Clash and the Sex Pistols. Far from 'So Lonely' and 1978...

A few trumpet phrases, as a wink to the Montreal International Jazz Festival and to Louis Armstrong, whose 100th birthday it would have been yesterday, nevertheless reminded us of the contribution of jazz and world music to Sting's recent (and so repetitive) music. Let's not forget that the man mixed with jazz and progressive rock bands in the 70's before becoming famous at the beginning of the 80's.

But we were far from jazz yesterday. Far from the energy of 'The Dream Of The Blue Turtles' and 'Nothing Like The Sun'. Far from being thrilled. A special mention to Shawn Colvin, who warmed up the audience very nicely with her beautiful voice and her inspired folk rock.

(c) La Presse by Marc Cassivi

Sting was lacking spice...

Carried by some 10,000 receptive fans, Sting treated himself to a predictable triumph at Molson Centre last night and this, is spite of a concert in half-tones which ultimately lacked some spice.

Sting at the Montreal International Jazz Festival... the match seemed made in heaven.Renowned for organizing unique happenings and magical events, the MIJF would surely arrange for Sting to get together with a few collaborators on stage.

Maybe not Stevie Wonder, let's be realistic; but why not Branford Marsalis or Cheb Mami? However, the concert offered by Sting yesterday no doubt resembled all the others he is presenting on his 'Brand New Day' tour.

At least this is the conclusion which had to be drawn when the deadline forced me to leave Molson Centre after eighty minutes of concert and some fifteen songs.

No surprises, no magic, only Sting and his musicians, who are very solid nonetheless but who have to work on a very strict basic structure which leaves little room for improvisation. ''I am not a jazz musician. I don't do jazz'', declared the man himself during an interview he gave to Sonia Benezra before the concert.

Okay, fine. Let us start over from the beginning: no guests and no jazz, except for these few echoes which have been scattered through Sting's work since he left The Police. So what do we have left? Only this clean-cut pop music, tailor-made for FM radio stations. Only a soon-to-be fiftysomething rock star who is starting to take it a bit too easy on stage.

But we still had, it must be said, a few songs - a few great songs, which Sting delivered sparingly, spacing them out between second-rate songs.

In spite of everything, 'Set Them Free', 'We'll Be Together', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Englishman In NY' literally made the crowd jump. Even this horrible ''vampy'', teasing version of 'Roxanne' pleased Sting's fans, even though, in the end, he did not even offer them a good concert. An adequate show, without flaws, but without any magic either. The die-hard fans were completely taken in, the more lukewarm fans were left unsatisfied, the sceptics were not confounded and the jazz lovers who were expecting some historic event had the impression that they had gotten lost on their way to Molson Centre.

Lost as Sting was in this edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

(c) Journal de Montreal by Patrick Gauthier

A Sting that soothes...

Like many listeners, I look to Sting for clues in How To Be, and the message for the balance of 2000 is clear: lighter, breezier, more off-the-shoulder than ever.

While many dozens of thousands were experiencing Brazilian summer on Ste. Catherine St, more than 13,000 confirmed the enduring marquee status of one of pop's guaranteed performers in the Molson Centre.

Sting took the stage early, or rather bounced onto it, a casual entrance to 'A Thousand Years', the opening mood-setter on the 'Brand New Day' album. Stripping down to a sleeveless t-shirt, he nudged the band into 'Set Them Free.

Plush harmonies, a cushioned rhythm and the fine luxury styling of his septet announced this ride was built for comfort. Sting has a wide talent pool to call on: this time, guitarist Dominic Miller and trumpeter Chris Botti were the virtuoso foils, with Manu Katche showing that, even with the polyrhythms at his disposal, he can lay down a mean 4/4 when he wants to.

The soloists were in place, the mood was friendly and, through songs from the new one, some of the earlier Sting albums that have racked up a dozen Grammys and the necessary Police classics, this was the sound of complete control, ease in soi-meme and professionalism.

All this presented a problem: how can a global pop star, routinely bearded for his purported pretensions and self-importance, be faulted for looosening up? Even at his ease, Sting works stardom with the best who ever have. When the necessary image was required, he lingered by the lip of the stage for photo-ops; when colour and electricity were needed, he graciously turned the stage over to Miller's casual oomph. As for material, the songbook was, as always, generously sampled, and the man was in ridiculously strong voice.

And still, it felt offhand. The percolating mediocrity 'After the Rain Has Fallen' led into 'We'll Be Together'. Katche replaced the female rapper in 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong' - still not enough to save one of the new album's dogs. 'All This Time', from 'The Soul Cages', indicated the show might take on some form, even an emotional focus.

Instead, 'Seven Days' was an exercise in Fun With Meter. This was a celebration, but the low-key variety that follows an unquestioned win; which is not to say there weren't highlights. Miller's fingerpicking applied the appropriate burnish to 'Fields Of Gold', and Sting's gravelly Satchmo impersonation in 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', over Botti's excited horn, was a flash of playfulness to kill all but his most nihilistic squeegee-punk critics.

By this point, the Fort Knox of hits was looming: a bubbly 'Englishman in New York' had the entire house standing, 'Roxanne' was an assurance that the real weaponry was being wheeled into position. There was comfort in that thought, in the familiarity of the tunes; maybe too much comfort for a star who prides himself on the sharpness of his sting.

(c) Montreal Gazette by Mark Lepage