Sacred Love

Saratoga, NY, US
Saratoga Performing Arts Centre with Dominic Miller & Annie Lennox
Lennox sizzles as Sting fizzles on Fourth of July at SPAC...

Sting ruled center stage with a kingly air of royalty Sunday night. He dressed in a sleek black suit accented by white collar and cuffs, and looked every bit the English country gentleman dressed for a special occasion.

He waved his bass like a scepter over the heads of the faithful who flocked to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on the Fourth of July. The irony that he stood a few miles down the road from the battlefields of the American Revolution was not lost on the 52-year-old performer.

'Independence Day is a tough day to be English,' he joked. 'We used to own this place: New York, Albany, Sche-nec-ta-dy,' he announced, then compared the feeling of being English on American Independence Day to being a Red Sox fan at the World Series. A number of the flock did not laugh.

It has been 20 years since the breakup of The Police, the reggae-fused power trio Sting rode across the English Channel of the musical New Wave. And these days, there seems to be a more bourgeois pomposity in his tone. It is not an air with which the Spa City is unfamiliar.

Sting alternated between bass and acoustic guitar, fronting a seven-member band that included multiple keyboards and percussionists. The set played for 90 minutes, nearly half of which was culled from his recent 'Sacred Love,' and included a mixed bag of tunes from his solo career as well as a smattering of tones dating back to his days with The Police.

He wove memorable performances, playing acoustic guitar on the song 'Fragile,' and delivered a snappy version of 'Englishman in New York.' Three tunes into the set, the crowd was brought to its feet when he was joined by Annie Lennox for the song 'We'll Be Together,' as Sting played the country gentleman to Lennox's energetic shimmy and shake.

Lennox performed amiably earlier in the evening. An entertaining performer who is comfortable on the stage, her set was highlighted by the piano-driven ballad 'Here Comes the Rain Again' and a jazzed-up version of Bob Marley's 'Waiting in Vain.'

A commanding presence in spangle-trimmed blue jeans that clung to her thin frame, Lennox belted out the pop tune 'Walking on Broken Glass,' and donned a black vinyl Elvis-like motorcycle jacket to deliver a gritty 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).'

Of Sting's newest material, 'Dead Man's Rope' worked nicely, the singer strumming what he introduced as 'the smallest guitar in New York state' while framed by multiple video images of nature gardens and full moons, swaying trees, solar eclipses and surreal underwater villages inhabited by topless vixens.

The video accompaniment was most poignant during the intense performance of 'This War,' depicting war planes dropped their bombs as Sting's vocals wailed with a thrilling remorsefulness and the band pounded and throbbed in the emotionally charged song.

Rather than riding the wave to a higher intensity, however, the momentum was stunted by the mid-set lull - that self-indulgent section of the program when artists force-feed their audience with ill-suited new material.

Not even the swirling light-beam psychedelics, nor a parade of video screen strippers could save the dreadful one-two punch of 'Whenever I Say Your Name' and 'Sacred Love,' which stank up the air with such ferocity that even the happily buzzing mosquitoes circling through the night were murdered by its dull and stagnant air.

You had to wonder if some of the audience might have been felled as well, the best seated of whom shelled out a cool $100 per for the privilege.

Sting offered up 'Synchronicity II' from The Police songbook early in the set and eternal deliverance from the mid-set lull was promised as the quarter-century old hit 'Roxanne' was dusted off and revved up to ride into the night. But this too - mixed with bits of 'King of Pain' - was murdered by the bland hand of its musical leader, whose jazz-cheesy indulges rendered 'Roxanne,' now 25 years older, little more than a nostalgic tease incapable of delivering her former glories. So broken was its momentum at the end, that even King Sting and all the king's men couldn't put poor Roxy together again.

The mass exodus began even as the singer stood in the emptying amphitheater taking bows and performing curtain calls, the sounds of 'Desert Rose' and 'If Ever I Lose My Faith' drifting into the long, bittersweet night.

(c) The Saratogian by Thomas Dimopoulou

Sting's best Capital Region show in years...

''It's the Fourth of July, isn't it?'' Annie Lennox asked rhetorically during her potent show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sunday night. ''Where are the fireworks? I guess we'll have to make some fireworks.''

No problem there.

Lennox exploded for an hourlong set that covered her musical career from Eurythmics to her latest album, Bare, in one swoop.

Always an exceptionally theatrical performer, she neatly balanced the dramatics with the dynamics.

She lent her ever-soulful voice to the gospel-esque 'Pavement Cracks', and the gut-wrenching ballad 'Cold' had her on her knees.

She slid over to the baby grand piano for a slowed-down, stripped-down rendition of 'Here Comes the Rain Again', one of many highlights of the night.

After closing with the triple threat of 'Walking On Broken Glass' (perhaps the most joyous song about pain and suffering), the rave-up 'Missionary Man' and the spitfire 'I Need a Man', she returned for towering back-to-back encores of 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' and the passionate 'Why?'

Headliner Sting was certainly no slouch during his closing set - and, in fact, it was his - but he was simply no match for Lennox's firepower on Sunday.

Perhaps it was the three giant video screens that dominated the stage and often overpowered the onstage proceedings, but Sting didn't seem to pack the same emotional punch that Lennox delivered. Of course, some of that has to do with Sting's song list, which featured some lackluster tunes from his latest album 'Sacred Love' as well as a batch of ballads that mellowed out the crowd - especially the back-to-back pairing of 'Fragile' and 'Fields of Gold'.

Backed by a versatile seven-piece band, Sting dipped back to his days with the Police for an extended version of 'Roxanne', showcasing the group led by guitarist Dominic Miller (who opened the evening with a brief, 15-minute opening set that ranged from Bach to 'The Star Spangled Banner').

Sting brought backup vocalist Joy Rose into the spotlight for 'Whenever I Say Your Name', but she couldn't supply the sparks that Mary J. Blige does on the recorded version. Fortunately, Sting also brought out Lennox for a thrilling rendition of 'We'll Be Together', and the chemistry between the two pop stars was obvious.

(c) The Albany Times Union by Greg Haymes