Sacred Love

Camden, NJ, US
Tweeter Center at the Waterfrontwith Dominic Miller & Annie Lennox
Lennox and Sting make beautiful music together...

Sting and Annie Lennox are the ultimate magical mystery pair.

Both hail from the United Kingdom - she from Aberdeen, Scotland, and he from Newcastle, England - and both spent the bulk of their careers fronting critically and commercially revered pop bands, later evolving into similarly respected solo acts.

Combining their sophisticated craftsmanship on one bill is the kind of no-brainer that doesn't happen often enough, especially considering today's exorbitant concertgoing experience. But at least for a top ticket price of $155.50, fans know they will receive a rich catalog of pop gems performed by people who retain their zeal for the stage.

Although both artists embarked on small solo tours recently - Lennox in spring 2003 before the release of her phenomenal Bare album, and Sting earlier this year to pump last fall's 'Sacred Love' - this summer amphitheater jaunt is a fitting novelty for music lovers who like their tunes polished and passionate.

The pair visit Nissan Pavilion at 7 tonight, with Sting guitarist Dominic Miller opening the show.

At the U.S. tour launch on June 25 at the Tweeter Center at the Waterfront in Camden, N.J., near Philadelphia, Lennox took the stage first, her soulful voice as potent as during her days with the Eurythmics.

Thin to the point of hipbones jutting from her jeans, Lennox slipped behind a piano for an ethereal version of 'Here Comes the Rain Again', on this night filled with smoke and isolation, almost as if she were performing in a blues club.

And while strutting like a rooster across the stage during 'Walking on Broken Glass' unveiled Lennox's playful side, it was her ballads that inspired chills.

The 'Bare' album, which deserved a slew of Grammys but instead was ignored, fell short of commercial expectations partially because Lennox didn't aggressively promote it. But it's filled with classy adult revelations that deserve repeated listens.

One song on the album, 'Wonderful', achieved vocal nirvana in Camden, as Lennox, bathed in a magenta light, reached into those soulful depths of romantic ache, her distinctive voice punching out a series of questions like 'Idiot me, stupid fool. How could you be so uncool?'

As rousing as Eurythmics chart toppers 'Missionary Man' and 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' were, zapping the audience to its feet to bask in crunchy guitar strains, it was another ballad - 'Why' - that scored as the highlight of her set.

The song is a gorgeous lament that Lennox owns, her voice dripping with gospel inflections and leaving the audience with a lingering sadness that glazes so much of her intimate material. It is a moment not to be missed.

Sting, meanwhile, leapt into his portion of the night on a spirited note with the fizzy dance remix of 'Send Your Love', one of the better songs from 'Sacred Love'.

His narrow hips gliding in a semicircle, Sting contentedly danced with himself before strapping on a bass for the grinding 'Synchronicity II', one of The Police's most underrated songs. His young drummer, Keith Carlock, even managed to outplay Stewart Copeland's original frantic pacing - not an easy task considering Copeland's unusual playing style.

When the choppy funk of 'We'll Be Together' arrived, most in the crowd seemed excited merely to hear a song Sting doesn't often play. But out came Lennox (duh, if you think about the title) for the show's lone onstage pairing.

What a joy to watch these two stiff-upper-lip Brits gleefully lean into each other to hit the guttural notes; Lennox even joined Sting in his trademark knee-knocking dance, a sight alone worth the ticket price.

But what a shame they didn't do more together.

Much like his tour earlier this year, Sting, whose voice sounded warm and honeyed, concentrated on material from 'Sacred Love' for the first chunk of the set, calling on Joy Rose to pound out Mary J. Blige's role in 'Whenever I Say Your Name'.

To prove it was a love ballad, Sting and Rose clasped hands and created a somewhat-forced sexual energy between them before Sting ended the vocal workout on bended knee, with a kiss to Rose's knuckles.

At times, it was obvious that Sting has an album to push - and without a successful Jaguar commercial, a'la 'Desert Rose', it hasn't been an easy sell. Songs like the percussive title track and 'Never Coming Home' simply aren't blockbuster quality, made all the more obvious when the sophisticated pop of 'Englishman in New York' filtered through the amphitheater.

His signature yelper, 'Roxanne', with a snippet of 'King of Pain' tossed in, turned into an extended jazz jam with his spectacular five-piece band.

But the noodling proved too much for hundreds of fans who dashed out early, missing Sting singalongs 'Desert Rose' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. Perhaps those folks prefer their tunes tidy, with little room for the improvisation that keeps Sting such a nimble musician.

What both Lennox and Sting offer over three hours is elegant pop, created by artists who understand musicianship and the ingredients to a timeless song. The evening might not be challenging, but thoughts of it will inevitably remain with you for weeks afterward.

(c) The Richmond Times-Dispatch by Melissa Ruggieri