Sacred Love

Toronto, ON, CA
Massey Hallwith Chris Botti

How you feel about Sting's new album, 'Sacred Love', will definitely affect how you will feel about his current show. Kicking off the first of two sold-out dates at Massey Hall last night, the former frontman for The Police performed almost all of the material off his latest, 2003 disc, which made for a classy, if sometimes subdued evening of music.

Sure, there were people on their feet for uptempo versions of his new songs 'Send Your Love', 'Inside', 'Stolen Car', the title track and 'Never Coming Home'.

But Sting largely kept it slow, sexy and sometimes sad. Take, for example, the way he kicked off the hour-and-45-minute concert, bathed in purple light and playing a standup bass while performing a downright jazzy rendition of The Police's 'Walking On The Moon' - one of the evening's few nods to his vaulted New Wave past.

Such Police classics as 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take' came later, but were also severely reworked.

''It's great to be back in Toronto, especially Massey Hall,'' said Sting. ''I haven't been here in 24 years. I must have been 10 (years old). My math's a bit fuzzy.''

Needless to say, it was a pleasure to see the arena-filler play such solo standout hits as 'Fragile', 'Fields Of Gold', 'An Englishman In New York', 'Desert Rose', and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' in an intimate setting.

And Sting's tight, crisp-sounding band of five musicians and two female backup singers didn't disappoint either.

Backup singer Joy Rose, in particular, blew the roof off the joint with her joyous, powerful vocals opposite Sting on the new song, the gospel-inflected 'Whenever I Say Your Name', which is a duet with Mary J. Blige on Sacred Love.

Initially, Sting cradled Rose in his arms while she rested her head on his shoulder. But they eventually broke apart to sweetly hold hands before Rose really let it rip by the end of the song, jumping up and down on stage.

It was, without question, the highlight performance of the evening.

''When I see sexy women dancing, it does something to me,'' commented Sting later.

Otherwise, major eye candy was provided not only by the svelte 52-year-old singer himself but a striking video show on three slick-looking screens behind him.

New songs falling flat included 'Forget About The Future', with a synthesized horn section provided by ''Mr.'' Kipper, who was celebrating his birthday, prompting Sting to lead the crowd in Happy Birthday.

(c) The Toronto Sun by Jane Stevenson

Sting Updates The Old With The New...

Generally speaking, there are three things you can do to extend a popular musical career: give your fans variations on the same dependable album year after year; reinvent yourself constantly; or compromise by expanding on and recasting your established work. Sting has quite clearly taken the third path and seduced a host of new fans through remixes, cover versions and car commercials.

There's a danger to this modus operandi, however - you can lose what made you special in the first place.

Sting opened his concert by playing acoustic bass on an easygoing, almost unrecognizable swing take on 'Walking On The Moon', then led the audience in handclaps for a dodgy Euroclub version of his single 'Send Your Love', which led into the turbulent, Middle-Eastern-influenced 'Inside'. From there, he ventured through reggae, hard rock, jazz-funk, MOR pop... just about everything, in fact, except for speed metal and serialism. Accompanying this musical eclecticism were three large video screens featuring swirling international symbols and dancers in ethnic dress, like a high-budget compendium of travel advertisements. Two background singers, two keyboardists, a drummer/percussionist duo and a lead guitarist filled out the sound so much that not a molecule of air in the hall was left unvibrated.

The concert focused on material from new album Sacred Love, in which each song rushes off in many different directions at once and often ends up like an odd mishmash of his older material. This auto-cannibalism was made explicit live: 'Forget About The Future' morphed for a while into 1991's 'Jeremiah Blues', 'Dead Man's Rope' became 'Walking In Your Footsteps' from 'Synchronicity' and set closer 'Never Coming Home' ended with the extended solos from 'When The World Is Running Down', straight outta 1985's 'Bring On The Night'.

Whether out of boredom or artistic anxiety, Sting often feels the need to smooth out his earlier songs' rough edges. Thankfully, none of this tour's arrangements are as atrocious as the material on 2001's live album, 'All This Time', in which he committed artistic hara-kiri by eviscerating his best songs and presenting them in gutless EZ-listening format. Still, on the basis of this year's reinterpretations, 'Roxanne' is now working for a respectable escort service and the 'Englishman In New York' has traded in his tea for a frappuccino. The highlight of the whole night was a faithful run-through of 'Synchronicity II', where the travel ads were replaced with fractured black-and-white images and the omnipresent keyboard pads of co-producer and sonic sweetener Kipper were drowned out by surging riffs.

Occasional moments of hair-raising, ear-caressing brilliance made the concert's more banal moments more bearable. Sting still has a wonderful, versatile voice - he's an assured and likeable performer who has a great rapport with his audience - and he's even an underrated bassist. If he were to jettison his sonic ballast and hire more discerning collaborators (hello, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland!), the sky wouldn't even be the limit. For now, he seems content to be the master of his own ever-expanding domain, where people will swarm a merchandise table for their chance to buy $60 tie-dye T-shirts. It's also the place where the opening act, trumpeter Chris Botti, is surrounded by autograph-seekers despite the fact that his smooth jazz is so unbearably naff it makes even bandmate Billy Kilson, one of the world's best drummers, sound cheesy. And where 2,700 people will chant the words ''Be yourself, no matter what they say'' in unison.

(c) by Mike Doherty

Stirred by a pleasing Sting...

Outside Sting's Friday-night show at Massey Hall in Toronto, a bunch of teenagers in red shirts emblazoned with a company logo were giving away packages of frozen soy nuggets from the back of a giant cube van. The tattered man who prowls the sidewalk in front of Massey before shows was there too, as always. ''Ladies and gentlemen, you have the opportunity to repent. Jesus died for your sins,'' he yelled, shaking a plastic bucket in sore need of donations. In the bowels of the building, at the merchandise table, clear-skinned, athletically lean women and men were admiring the $95 slip of a yoga hoodie emblazoned with Sting's name down the side.

This strange mix of old-time religion and health-accessorizing spirituality was fitting. Sting himself has built his brand on feel-good world music that aspires to spirituality, but that cannot be identified as belonging to any particular group in his multicultural musical casserole. This is why mentioning Sting to some elicits groans. For detractors, the man represents to music what Caban is to style: The triumph of good taste over originality, polish over passion, flavourless universality versus rich specificity.

Yet, in a world where organically nourished champagne liberals are not, contrary to the perception of Toronto residents, a dime two dozen, the disdain for Sting seems more than a little misplaced. Surely urban hippies can find more apt targets. This is particularly true when for the hour and a half that he took the stage, the former Police singer entertained and charmed the fans with songs that spanned his career, from Roxanne to his recent album, Sacred Love. (That's the kind of title that makes one plead for deliverance.)

Dressed in black pants, a tight-fitting black shirt with loose white cuffs and collar, at least one wide silver bracelet around his wrist, Sting is in remarkable shape, as slim as a wrung-out dishrag -- a look legions of female fans in attendance appeared to appreciate. He began the set strumming a giant bass for 'Walking on the Moon', but quickly followed that trip into the past with the new 'Send Your Love'. A dance number lifted beyond club-floor mediocrity by a lilting guitar line and Spanish-influenced drumming, the song was accompanied by projected images of dancers from around the world, Bollywood heroines and heroes followed by women twirling in spectacular Chinese red silk dresses. The global world theme resurfaced several times during the show, such as during 'Desert Rose', the much remixed dance hit that borrows from Arabic music, and on the playful and delightful 'Stolen Car'.

'Never Coming Home', another new confection, was remarkable as much for the unspooling of its melody from quiet contemplation to cathartic explosion, as for the subtle short film of a delicately shifting image of a seated woman. At the top of the list of misfires, however, was 'This War', an anti-Iraq war storm paired up with a didactic cartoon of planes dropping bombs and faux war propaganda posters. Righteous sentiment aside, it left the audience unmoved, not exactly the response Sting may have hoped for when he wrote the anthem. A deconstructed 'Roxanne' was strictly for those who've been with Sting from the beginning, the song regaining no novelty in being destroyed.

What ultimately showed how wrong are those who would relegate Sting to the same bland adult contemporary wasteland as, say, Seal, is the man's voice. On the forgettable 'Let's Forget About the Future', Sting's deep voice added a jagged threat, while on the nostalgic 'Fields of Gold', and the surprisingly moving 'Fragile' - surprising because the song has reached that level of ''market penetration'' where grocery stores have it on constant rotation - it transmitted wisdom and sorrow in equal measure.

Indeed, the only competition for Sting's voice all night came from back-up singer Joy Rose on 'Whenever I Say Your Name', a duet with Mary J. Blige on the album, but as he told the audience, originally tried out with Rose. Halfway through what had started out as a pairing of equals with the two holding hands, Rose broke away to dance across the stage, letting her powerful voice soar. Sting looked on, grinning, and generously fell into the background. All in all, with some small credit to the bonus soy nuggets, one pleasing outing.

(c) The Globe & Mail by Simona Chiose

Chameleon Sting keeps crowd on feet...

Sting changes instruments like most performers change costumes.

During the first of two consecutive sold-out shows at Massey Hall, the former frontman for defunct British trio, The Police, was rarely without an instrument in hand last night, deftly playing his way through at least two different basses and guitars, as if he wasn't also an acclaimed singer/songwriter.

It's that versatility and proficiency that has come to characterize the 52-year-old tenor.

Take his voice for instance: it started off soft and carefree on a swing-version of 'Walking on the Moon,' was aptly sombre and tender on 'Fragile' and later wailed on crowd favourite 'Roxanne.'

It was the same with the arrangements: from the dance-music inflected 'Send Your Love' to the reggae beats on 'Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)' to the jazz and latin rhythms scattered throughout the two-hour set.

Unfortunately, Sting is as often lambasted as he is celebrated for his everyman approach to music.

However, there were no complaints from last night's capacity crowd of 2,700 who remained on their feet for throughout the first three songs and kept returning to that position.

Sting cut an elegant figure on stage, dressed in classic black and gray with unfastened French cuffs. Behind him, on three giant video screens scrolled a kaleidoscope of complementary images.

He was backed by two singers and a consummate four-piece band, which included long-time musicians, keyboardists Kipper (Mark Eldridge) and Jason Rebello and guitarist Domenic Miller.

After engaging the audience to join him in acknowledging Kipper's special day with the 'Happy Birthday' song, he quipped, 'Now that I've sung for him, I don't have to pay him.'

He generously shared the stage with trumpeter Chris Botti (also the opening act) and back up singer Joy Rose who delivered a superior version of Hip Hop songstress Mary J. Blige's part on the r'n'b duet 'Whenever I Say Your Name.'

Sting noted that Rose was the original singer when he was drafting the track, leaving one to figure that he only utilized Blige for her celebrity.

It's that kind of thing, along with shilling for luxury cars and discussing yoga on The Oprah Winfrey Show, that makes the erstwhile rocker's fans think the boy's gone soft.

But, it was generous of him to mark his return to Hogtown in such an intimate venue.

'It's so nice to be in Toronto, especially at Massey Hall,' he said. 'I haven't been here for 24 years, I must've been 10.'

Well, he was last in Toronto four years ago before 15,000 fans at the Molson Amphitheatre.

And local fans will have their fill with an appearance at Indigo Books & Music Store's Bloor St. location at 2 p.m. today, a second show tonight and his return July 14 for a show at the Air Canada Centre with Annie Lennox.

He's a class act who exudes optimum craftsmanship, thoughtfulness and professionalism. And his obvious enjoyment of his employment is infectious.

'Don't think me shallow, but when I see sexy women dancing it does something to me,' he teased.

Most of the set, taken from his earnest, post-911 disc, last year's 'Sacred Love', was well received.

However, it was the older song catalogue, which finally emerged halfway through the concert, that got the best reaction.

By then Sting was playing the audience like another instrument - he had them participating in a call-and-response on 'Roxanne' and repeating the refrain to 'Englishman In New York' - Be yourself no matter what they say.

You get the feeling that the gentleman rocker is taking his own advice.

(c) The Toronto Star by Ashante Infantry