Brand New Day

Toronto, ON, CA
Molson Amphitheatre
Sting takes back seat to pop tunes of Police...

Since the breakup of The Police in 1984, the solo career of that trio's singer and bassist Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting, has been tremendously successful.

His half-dozen solo albums have been praised to the skies for their maturity, inventiveness, originality and musicality. He has been the recipient of an amazing 12 Grammy Awards for his solo work, numerous Brit awards akin to our Junos and consistent gold and platinum certification. These records have been widely played, broadcast and anthologized.

And yet, what songs are the ones that get the most reaction in concert, the ones that get audience members to jump out of their seats with their fists in the air? Here's a clue: ''Bee-aaay-oohh. Bee-aaay-oohh. Bee-aay-aay-aay-aay-oohh!'' No, not the mature balladry of 'Fields of Gold' or 'All This Time', as profound as they are, but those 20-year-old Police songs such as 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Roxanne'. Especially 'Roxanne'.

That old Top Ten single from the 1979 Police album 'Outlandos d'Amour' met with a better reception last night than anything else that Sting and his crackerjack six-piece backing band attempted. At the very first strains of the vocal hook, 15,000 fans at the Molson Amphitheatre were on their feet echoing the chorus back to the 48-year-old singer.

Why? Because it seems that when it comes to memorable pop songs, simplicity is more important than 'Synchronicity' (whatever that is). Of course, Sting has been many things over the past decade-and-a-half, but simple has never been one of them. And most of this concert revolved around the kind of mature, adult and sophisticated jazz/rock blend that has been his stock-in-trade since his first solo album (The Dream of the Blue Turtles) was released in 1984.

The majority of the songs were taken from last year's Grammy Award-winning 'Brand New Day' release. By opening with the relatively sombre and atmospheric 'A Thousand Years', Sting gave notice early on that this performance would have little in common with a Van Halen concert. His take on 1984's 'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free' was pleasant but perfunctory, and the new 'After The Rain Has Fallen' featured a typically strong Sting melodic line, but few in the crowd seemed familiar enough with the song to sing along.

As the show moved toward its climactic finish, Sting performed a few more Police standards, including the 1985 chart-topper 'Every Breath You Take'. Needless to say, it was a popular choice.

It's not that Sting's solo works were poorly received. After all, they are carefully crafted and lyrically mature works that sound just great wafting from the stereo late at night. But it was those less sophisticated pop songs won the night. It's a situation that must give the cerebral Englishman pause for thought.

(c) The Globe and Mail by Alan Neister

Sting's silky smoothness is just a little too perfect...

Sting has reached the most frustrating point on the rock-star trajectory - from the fan's point of view, anyway.

A solo career that has dutifully followed his muse down myriad pseudo-literary detours and murky jazzholes for 15 years leaves little doubt that the former policeman once dubbed Gordon Sumner by his mother is quite comfortable being - like the titular hero of his 'Englishman In New York' - ''yourself, no matter what they say.''

The rest of us? We're caught in that difficult no man's land between maintaining respect for Sting's past work and his continued dedication to the artistic need to ''move forward,'' and quiet horror at the guy's descent into watercolour wankery.

You want to forgive him for doing that dreadful song with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart because The Police managed to hold it together right up until 'Synchronicity'. But man, he makes it hard sometimes (digging Bart out of a well on The Simpsons scored him major points, though, I grant you).

No one wants to become one of those people - and there were around 15,000 of them at the Molson Amphitheatre last night - who sits nodding appreciatively at each missive from Sting and his six-piece band's arsenal of technically brilliant but bland cross-generic jams, then finally rises to cheer on a blast from the Police's past like 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'.

It's tough not to, though, when you're assailed for an evening by music that pokes its hand into every kind of music - rock, Afrobeat, reggae, jazz, country - yet never really gets a grip on any.

There's no disputing the groove-sensitive ability displayed by Sting and his versatile group of players, but a thick coating of tasteful gloss prevented last night's performance from exhibiting either the rough edges necessary for true rock 'n' roll or the spiralling unpredictability that makes the jazz Sting so clearly adores captivating.

Since The Police disbanded, Sting's bread and butter has always been classy, vaguely pretentious adult pop: elegant, intelligent, aspiring to the majestic tunes like 'All This Time', 'Fields Of Gold', and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' rendered in a voice that has lost none of its distinctive impact. And that's what came off best in performance.

Besides the Police tunes, of course, but even such favourites as 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message In A Bottle' were subjected to the same indescribable, but very tangible bourgeois softening as the rest of the set.

Airtight. Perfect. But maybe those words are as pejorative as they are complimentary.

(c) The Toronto Star by Ben Rayner

Sting like a butterfly...

To refer to Sting as ''chameleon-like'' would be a cliche. It would also be incorrect. As the veteran pop star proved in concert last night at the Molson Amphitheatre, he's downright octopus-like.

He has a limb dipped in just about every musical style there is to dabble in, and he doesn't even have to worry about changing his image to do it.

That sat just fine with the 15,000 people gathered to watch him touch on pop, reggae, jazz, techno, and even hip-hop over the course of 100 minutes and some 20 tunes.

More curious was the way Sting managed to Sting-ify virtually every note of music, lovingly reshaping it in his own likeness. Par for the course for any pop star, you might argue, but for all the short-cuts on the singer's map of influences, he was never sloppy. It was the sound of an artist who hit cruising speed long ago and is still coasting.

All that was best exemplified by a note-perfect delivery from the only international pop star named Gordon (Sumner) and his no-nonsense, six-man band, which included longtime guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Manu Katche and trumpeter Chris Botti. The sound was remarkably album-like, with nary a lyric going unheard.

Also working in the Stinger's favour, obviously, was a repertoire that lets him reach back through a 15-year solo career - during which he became an Adult Contemporary icon and brought jazz-lite to the pop charts - and then rock things up a bit with Police favourites.

Hey, now pushing 50, he even looks like he did in The Police, right down to the sleeveless shirt and the zippy fatigue pants.

Call me a spoil-sport, then, when I say that it was all a little too flawless.

Sting is a strong pop lyricist and a tasteful, skilled bass player, but with the exception of Police classics 'Roxanne' and 'Message In A Bottle' - the latter delivered in a singalong encore - he never landed on anything long enough to get deep.

Then again, considering it was the flossy 'If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free)', Englishman In New York', and the ever-catchy 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' that first blasted the crowd out of their seats, maybe depth is over-rated.

Sting edged into post-Madonna electro with the single 'Desert Rose', and even got away with a stab at rap thanks to the French-language rhyming skills of drummer Katche.

'Don't Judge Me', off the new album 'Brand New Day', put a point-of-view twist on Roxanne's street-walker theme.

Roxanne itself flitted between jazzy verses and the thundering chorus of the original hit, best proving the yogic musical flexibility of Der Stingelhoffer. That, and the undeniably excellent delivery, was enough to make up for a fake country throwaway like 'Fill Her Up'.

Maybe Homer Simpson said it best during that 'Sending Our Love Down The Well' episode: ''Shut up, Marge, Sting's a good digger.''

(c) The Toronto Sun by Kieran Grant