Soul Cages

Boston, MA, US
Great Woods Centerwith Timbuk 3
Sting mixes musical genres...

Be careful where you point at a Sting concert; you just might signal the band into a chord change.

With one swoop of the neck of his bass, the former lead singer of the Police changed that band's punchy rocker 'Roxanne' into a call-and-response reggae jam, and then back again.

With one note, 'Soul Cages' became Jimmy Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' complete with spin-art-gone-awry images projected behind the band, and that all led to the funky strums of 'Set Them Free'.

Such was the genre-bending mix that Sting brought forth last night to a sold-out crowd at the Great Woods Center for Performing Arts.

The man is nothing if not eclectic. On this, the 'Soul Cages' tour, the blond bombshell - and sometimes activist - is touring with a stripped-down band and a killer light show.

The songs, old and new, lose nothing in the new arrangements. Sting's voice, while shaky for the first few numbers, seemed to grow in intensity as the night wore on.

Keyboardist David Sancious made up for the missing horn section in 'Mad About You' and 'Set Them Free'. And Sancious himself was a demon behind the keys, lending the perfect jazz feel to a Bill Withers cover, 'Ain't No Sunshine'.

The newer material made for some of the weaker spots during the show, particularly 'Wild Sea', which was dragged out to detrimental effect.

The other weak spot was guitarist Dominic Miller, who had all of Clapton's and Townshend's moves down, but none of their imagination with a solo.

At the head of it all was Sting, the perfect bandleader, dressed in black.

While the band's rendition of 'King of Pain' was somewhat lackluster, the image of Sting, arms outstretched, pleading to the crowd while intoning the vocals, more than made up for it.

Also impressive were the teal, pink, green and purple spotlights flashing imtermittently on the band throughout the evening. They added color to a sparse, but effective, stage setup.

The topper of the evening was the encore, 'Fragile', a flamenco-flecked ballad that allowed Sting to get away from the bass and pick away on an acoustic guitar. He may be better at slapping the strings than strumming them, but at that point, the crowd didn't much care.

Sting and his band do it again tonight at Great Woods. Tickets are still available.

(c) The Worcester Telegram & Gazette by Roberta Fusaro

Sting packs concert punch when music takes control over intricate methods...

Sting is a smart, serious guy. Probably too smart and serious for his own good.

But he can sing, play and write great melodies, even if they are housed in songs that are three minutes too long. And - sometimes - he can loosen up.

Last night in front of 10,500 at Great Woods, he stepped out right away with a pumped-up version of 'All This Time', the radio hit from his recent 'Soul Cages'. It was during such moments that the former singer/bassist for The Police was able to counter his stiff public persona. He even managed to crack a few smiles and lead a couple of singalongs, though when it came to rocking, Sting mostly resisted pushing the band's throttle to full speed.

There is no rock musician today whose music is more meticulously composed than Sting's. His beautiful but stiff albums are intricately arranged and produced, with dozens of musicians contributing to dreamy, low-key affairs full of lengthy, wistful tracks.

Likewise, most of the 17 songs in last night's 95 minute show pushed the seven minute mark. Led by six songs from 'Soul Cages', much of the set floated jazzily on easy tempos, thick with textures from David Sancious's keyboards but getting no help from Dominic Miller's lacklustre guitar.

With the help of drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, whose forceful slams gave the set much of its muscle, Sting's best moments came when he unleashed his groups' dynamics. 'Soul Cages', Police chestnuts like 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Roxanne' and 'Set Them Free' were crisp and beefy, though we're still trying to find where he hid the background vocalists on that last one.

'Wild, Wild Sea' and 'Why Should I Cry For You' were still too dense with poetic sentiment to generate much flair. The softly Spanish 'Fragile fared much better, with Sting switching to acoustic guitar to end the concert, stopping to accept a few bouquets of roses as he left the stage.

(c) The Boston Phoenix by Tristram Lozaw

A sharp, rhythmic Sting mesmerises at Great Woods...

A young woman in the restroom at Great Woods may have been speaking to a friend, or she may have been announcing her particular point of view to anyone within the sound of her voice. No one seemed to know her, but she babbled on anyway. With the usual flurry of pre-show primpers occupying every available mirror, quite a few people, willing or unwilling, were privy to her musings.

''He's just so cute,'' she said, teasing a stubborn reddish lock with a comb that looked as if it had seen battle duty. ''He looks just like an old boyfriend of mine.''

There were a few haughty sniffles; it was clear no one believed her. An older woman, applying a bit of powder to her forehead, said ''I wonder if any part of the ticket price is being donated to save the rain forests or to help battered women or anything.''

There, in a nutshell, are the two sides of Sting: beefcake and spokesperson for the politically correct. Both sides, crammed aesthetically into black T-shirt and jeans, mesmerised a wildly enthusiastic audience during the first of a two-night stint at Great Woods last night.

The oft-quoted and photographed media darling jammed his way through a nearly two-hour set that was relent-less in its energy and sprinkled with quite a few surprises. Most of the surprises were designed especially for those who expected a slick, by-the-numbers recitation of his greatest hits. The set had the feel of a particularly rowdy basement jam session, a no-holds-barred release of musical electricity spurred by that old standby, pure creativity.

An audience of wowed teenagers and yuppified Police fans were buffeted about wildly by the show's delightful unpredictability as Sting and his bare-bones band - English guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and ex-Springsteen bandmate David Sancious on keys - immersed themselves in rock's more soulful side.

There were tempting titbits for those ''greatest hits'' fans, however. Most of the audience sang along, gleefully off key, during 'Roxanne', 'Message in a Bottle' and the languid ballad 'King of Pain'.

But the unexpected touches were what made the evening. The highlight was Sting's now-legendary (probably only if you're a fan of 'Saturday Night Live') steam-driven version of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze', with Miller and Sancious setting their fingers ablaze on duelling guitars and appropriately hokey '60s psychedelics oozing in the background. The singer's fiery tribute to Hendrix made perfect sense in light of the way he shook the place with classically tight rock rhythms, quite a turnabout from his mellowed-out persona in the late '80s.

Sometimes accused of being gimmicky, Sting now comes out swinging - and no one can argue with his punch. A tenderly wrought 'Wild Wild Sea' led to 'Soul Cages', which has now lost its haunting edge in favour of a more rhythmic line. 'Mad About You', with its moody gothic backdrop, was the perfect feed to a bluesy, richly woven take on Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine', during which Miller and Sancious engaged in an intriguing dialogue.

'Set Them Free' again had the two trading riffs, giving the song a dynamic R&B feel that had the audience rocking wildly.

Great Woods has reached the cap of another riveting season, and Sting embodied everything we'll miss about summer - the rhythm, and the heat.

(c) The Boston Globe by Patricia Smith