Sacred Love

Ottawa, QC, CA
Corel Centerwith Chris Botti
Sting's tour finale finishes with a flourish after a painfully slow start...

Sting never planned for this leg of his 'Sacred Love' world tour to be performed in a hockey arena, but he wasn't about to whine about it. After all, it was the last night of the tour: Nothing could wipe the grin off his face.

Every other concert on this tour, which began in Miami in January and ended Tuesday at the Corel Centre, took place in a relatively intimate theatre, mostly for audiences of fewer than 3,000 a night.

With an Ottawa crowd more than twice that size, Sting faced a formidable challenge in creating warmth in the unusually chilly stadium. He wasn't entirely successful, although there were some memorable moments.

''It's nice to be back in Ottawa,'' said the British pop-rock superstar who was last in town on a summer night at Bluesfest nearly four years ago. ''Even in this weather, it's nice to be back.''

Of course, Sting is a seasoned pro who travels with a top-notch band, which included a pair each of keyboardists, drummers and backup singers, along with a guitarist, and enough lights and video images to keep it interesting for a big audience.

What slowed everything down was his choice of songs. The vast majority of the set came from last year's 'Sacred Love' disc, a project that's heavy on textures and rhythms, but light on tunefulness.

After an opening prance through 'Walking on the Moon', with Sting on stand-up bass, you wouldn't have wanted to be caught holding your breath in anticipation of the next familiar melody. You would have keeled over long before 'Synchronicity II' came along. Then it was another long dry spell until a disappointingly dull version of 'Fields of Gold'. Aargh.

This made for a marathon concert for most Sting fans, except perhaps for those in the first 12 rows or so who were close enough be fascinated by every nuance. The rest of us found our patience tested as Sting and his band demonstrated the tricky rhythms and clever lyrics of the latest disc.

To be fair, there were several highlights among the new songs. One was 'Whenever I Say Your Name', a rousing duet performed with backup singer Joy Rose that let her voice shine. Others included the upbeat take on 'Send Your Love', the loose groove of 'Forget About the Future' and the danceable lilt of 'Stolen Car'.

And in the end our staying power was rewarded as Sting brought the show to a sustained climax with a string of instantly recognizable hits, including 'Englishman in New York', 'Roxanne', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Every Breath You Take'.

It was also refreshing to see the former Gordon Sumner in such a good mood throughout the concert. His end-of-tour buzz was evident in that goofy grin and the animated interaction with his band members.

Speaking of his band members, two of them were compelled to torment trumpeter Chris Botti during his enjoyably jazzy opening set. Their end-of-tour shenanigans involved dressing up in gorilla suits and rushing up on stage as Botti played. The trumpeter laughed so hard he had to cut the song short.

Sting made a surprise appearance during Botti's set, too, appearing on stage to sing 'My Funny Valentine' just as Botti had taken a spot in the crowd to perform the popular standard.

''You're fired, Chris,'' was Sting's parting shot - as if you can fire your opening act on the last night. Smiling and flashing a peace sign, Sting strode off the stage.

''The only person that did not know that was going to happen was me,'' said an astonished Botti to the audience. ''I will remember that moment in my heart forever.''

(c) Ottawa Citizen by Lynn Saxberg

All Sting's sacred...

I don't blame Sting for sticking mostly to songs from his 2003 CD 'Sacred Love' during last night's Corel Centre concert. If I was the 52-year-old, I'd be sick of tunes I'd been singing for years - in some cases decades - too. The beauty of last night was that a subdued audience of 6,300 indulged the versatile performer when two-thirds of the show he performed drew from that album. And when he did veer into huge hits from the past, like The Police's 'Roxanne' and the gorgeous solo hits 'Fragile' and 'Fields of Gold' they didn't seem the slightest bit old and tired.

Sting opened his show playing a standup bass and stripped-bare, low-key 'Walking On the Moon' on a simple stage swathed in blue light, several cups of steaming hot liquid resting on a table nearby.

Wearing an open-necked, pin-striped shirt with cuffs - a far cry from the muscle shirt he wore during that unforgettable Bluesfest show four years ago - Sting was classy, laid back and in control, for the most part, throughout a show that felt jazzy and club-like with a great five-piece backup band, despite the giant venue. Now and then he'd tap his ear or flip his hand, looking for a little more love from the crowd.

There were a few slipups, however. He seemed to forget the words to the rap-like ending on 'Inside', glancing continuously at the notes in front of him, and his voice crapped out briefly during a blistering, rearranged version of The Police's 'Synchronicity II', so suddenly and completely I worried about his ability to finish the show. But he finished strong and clear and it never happened again.

''Thank you. I wrote that song when I was seven, the first time I played Ottawa,'' he joked. ''It's a song about a dysfunctional family. I thought it was about my own, but now I realize it's the Osbournes.''

I also found some of the visuals projected onto three panels at the back of the stage distracting and, like the animated planes dropping bombs during 'This War', sort of obvious.

Sting seemed to have the most fun during 'Sacred Love', which he called ''a song about two things: Religion and Victoria's Secret.'' And opening act Chris Botti wandered out with his trumpet for the perfect addition to old tune 'I Was Brought to My Senses'.

The crowd, for the most part, soaked it all in, perking up during new tune 'Stolen Car', about a psychic car thief, picking up energy during 'Sacred Love' and going wild at 'An Englishman in New York', rising en masse to their feet and chanting the couplet ''Be yourself/no matter what they say'' over and over.

A big highlight of the near two-hour show was the new love song 'Whenever I Say Your Name', off 'Sacred Love', which Sting sang with unbelievable backup belter Joy Rose.

Sting closed the show with two encores, featuring big solo hits 'Desert Rose' and the riveting 'A Thousand Years', off 2000's 'Brand New Day', and pleasing the crowd by mixing them with old goodies like 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and the now-ubiquitous Police anthem 'Every Breath You Take'.

Since many of Sting's other concerts have been at smaller, more intimate venues, I couldn't help longing for a three-night run at the NAC over the giant, impersonal Corel Centre show. Or that his co-headlining show with Annie Lennox will come back to Ottawa this summer.

But you can't get everything you want. And when Sting is standing on stage in front of you, performing, you feel sort of silly wishing for anything else.

(c) The Ottawa Sun by Ann Marie McQueen