Nothing Like The Sun

New York City, NY, US
The Ritz Club
Sting in preview of world tour...

Sting offered New Yorkers a preview of his world tour on Sunday and Monday at the Ritz, introducing the seven-member backup band that will play at an arena in Rio de Janeiro this weekend.

''We might make some mistakes, we might get it wrong,'' he told the $20-a-ticket audience Sunday, ''but what the hell.''

Like Sting's Ritz concerts before his 1985 tour, Monday's show was spirited and slightly unpolished. Wearing a necktie along with an oversized frock coat, he looked like a harried, overgrown English schoolboy until he started to dance. Yet the concert showed that he has assembled another supercharged, freewheeling band, and it revealed how far Sting's ambitions have led him from ordinary pop.

When he was the lead singer for the Police, Sting wrote terse, catchy three-minute pop songs - at first about romance, and later about political and cosmological notions. After leaving the Police in the early 1980's (the trio reunited for a final single in 1986), he put together a band of young jazz-trained musicians and let his songs expand a bit. And on his new album, 'Nothing Like the Sun', tunes have given way to vamps and chantlike melodies, usually carrying somber lyrics.

At Monday's concert, even his choices of older material leaned toward vamps rather than pop tunes; instead of Police hits, he chose such songs as 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' and the tamped-down, 1986 rewrite of 'Don't Stand so Close to Me'.

It's not standard arena fare.

While such songs as 'They Dance Alone', about protest in Chile, can certainly move an audience, in other material Sting seems to be counting on the band's interplay to make up for the lack of melody.

On the album, Sting's arrangements feature abundant inner voices and interlocking riffs, and on stage the songs offered plenty of room for instrumental byplay.

Although the band members were still getting the feel of the songs, they were already starting to take liberties - Kenny Kirkland adding Bach-style keyboard figuration to 'Englishman in New York', Mino Cinelu using bells and cymbals for surprise percussion accents in 'History Will Teach Us Nothing'.

A cameo appearance by Branford Marsalis on saxophone, who engaged the band's touring saxophonist, Steve Coleman, in a harmonically convoluted dialogue during 'Sister Moon', brought a full-fledged ovation.

Not all of the music was live; the group used canned synthesizer patterns and digitally sampled vocals for a few songs. Still, the band, which also includes Tracy Wormworth on bass, Delmar Brown on keyboards, Jeff Campbell on guitar and Marvin (Smitty) Smith on drums, managed to bring some spontaneity even to those.

While the band sizzled, the extended vamps began to wear thin; so did Sting's penchant for quoting lyrics (from Willie Dixon, the Wailers and the Beatles) as codas to his own songs.

What was missing became clear when, near the end of the set, the band played Jimi Hendrix's 'Little Wing' and Sting's own 'Fortress Around Your Heart'; finally there were two songs that had memorable melodies.

Even with a superb band, the contrasts built into pop tunes - bridges, key changes, contrasting sections - can make a difference. But Sting has ample material and worthy musicians; he may simply need to reshuffle the set list.

(c) The New York Times by Jon Pareles