Soul Cages

Philadelphia, PA, US
The Spectrum
Sting discards glitz for solid, raw concert...

Rock star Sting gave a stripped-down and straightforward performance before a near-sellout crowd at the Spectrum Wednesday night, choosing substance over flash in his more than 90-minute performance.

Gone were the elaborate stage sets, legions of backing musicians and bevy of female backup singers that plagued Sting's last national tour in 1988. Instead, the British singer-songwriter-bassist, who will perform at the Trump Taj Mahal on Tuesday, went for a sparse stage set and an even sparser sound.

Gone were the brass instruments; Sting was backed by only a guitarist (Dominic Miller), drummer (Vinne Colaiuta) and keyboardist (David Sancious, a former member of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band).

Opening with his current single, 'All This Time' from his third solo LP, 'The Soul Cages', former leader of The Police seemed determined to carry his atmospheric, often brooding music with a minimum of glitz. And it worked perfectly.

Dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt, Sting dished out a sampling of his strongest solo material and a jarring retospective of his work with The Police, who disbanded in 1984 at the height of their fame.

Interestingly, it was the Police songs that brought the audience to life. No wonder: while Sting's solo work is melodic and challenging, it's hardly fun, dealing mainly with topics such as broken dreams and lost love. Many of the Police's songs, however, such as 'Walking On The Moon' and 'When The World Is Running Down (You Make the Best of What's Still Around)' are full of wit and, dare we say, humor.

Throughout the concert, there was a striking change in the way the audience reacted to Sting's solo works and his covers of old Police tunes (which had the crowd in a near frenzy).

Sting stretched himself musically Wednesday night. Covering everyone from Jimi Hendrix ('Purple Haze') to a blues version of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine', he creatively interspersed snippets of other singers works into his own songs - which worked exceptionally well when he merged 'If I Were A Carpenter' into his own 'Why Should I Cry For You?'

Songs from Sting's solo career were filled with tension by his impassioned voice and the subtle playing of his bandmembers. Most importantly, Sting - long known for his brooding demeanor - seemed downright friendly Wednesday night, chatting and joking with the audience as well as dancing along the edge of the stage.

(c) The Press of Atlantic City by Nicole Pensiero

Sting: some Police hits at Spectrum...

He's continued to write music - often on a more experimental plane (see his current 'The Soul Cages') - but when it's time for that sure-fire song to rouse a listless crowd, he turns to 'Roxanne' or 'When the World Is Running Down (You Make the Best of What's Still Around').

It seems the farther he gets from these songs, the more he needs them.

It's no wonder. They were some of the most bracing, urgent blasts of pop songcraft since the Beatles. To his credit, Sting hasn't revived them note-for-note or crammed them into a whiz-bang medley. On his two previous solo tours, he craftily rearranged them, shifting rhythmic emphasis and adding extended improvisation, transforming the familiar into something vibrantly alive.

Wednesday night's show at the Spectrum was no different. Sting and an empathetic backing trio opened with 'All This Time', the first single from 'The Soul Cages', then delved into a set of moderately exploratory elegies from that album. Those songs, and a cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine', were cast in various glum tempos. But just as things began to get dreary, Sting served a tour-de-force 'Roxanne'.

The Spectrum, which was not full but in excellent voice, came alive. It was sing-along time, and from that point on, the blond bassist-singer, dressed in black jeans and T-shirt, kept the crowd on its feet: through the Gregorian-chant melody of 'King of Pain', the spry 'Walking on the Moon' and 'Bring on the Night', which melted into 'When the World is Running Down'.

Even when he returned to 'The Soul Cages' and other solo material, the crowd remained captivated. That's probably because everything he played had an element of suspense.

Following a few conventional verses of 'Roxanne', Sting adopted a blues wail to deliver surprisingly powerful, scatlike phrases. Keyboardist David Sancious transformed 'When the World Is Running Down' into a jittery hyper-boogie, in which the ghost of Thelonious Monk conversed with that of Jelly Roll Morton. And, in a surprise, Sancious picked up a guitar for a fierce exchange of ideas with Dominic Miller on Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.

Most of the time, the arrangements expanded dramatically on the originals. But Sting is still missing one key ingredient when he performs Police tunes: Stewart Copeland's anarchistic drumming. On this tour, L.A. session man Vinnie Colaiuta is behind the kit, and while his timekeeping is competent, it's too sedentary, too predictable, for the material.

This was evident on the sambalike coda to 'Every Breath You Take', which was sluggish, as well as the skittish ska version of 'Message in a Bottle'.

(c) The Philadelphia Inquirer by Tom Moon