Sacred Love

Chicago, IL, US
Tweeter Centerwith Dominic Miller & Annie Lennox
Cool Sting lulls 'em to sleep, while sultry Lennox woos 'em...

Sting has dubbed his summer pairing with Annie Lennox 'The Sex and Music Tour', a name that comes from a line in his typically bland adult-contemporary hit, 'Sacred Love'.

''There's no religion but sex and music,'' the former Gordon Sumner crooned at the opening of his set at the Tweeter Center on Sunday. But the 52-year-old singer's brand of sex appeal is ultimately as cold, lifeless, one-dimensional and artificial as an airbrushed Playboy centerfold.

In stark contrast, opener Lennox was a searing presence from the moment she stepped onstage through the end of her sultry and passionate 12-song set.

Sting and Lennox, who is about to turn 50, are a natural pairing for several reasons. The two London neighbors both made their names in superstar pop bands in the '80s - the Police and the Eurthymics, respectively - then went on to forge successful solo careers with new and decidedly adult sounds that continue to draw on their roots in black music, with Sting trading reggae for light jazz and Lennox remaining faithful to R&B.

For discerning listeners, Lennox's appearance was the much bigger treat. For one thing, the Scottish native tours much less frequently. More importantly, though, she offered a warmer, more sensual and more credible model for aging gracefully in the unforgiving world of pop - for growing old without growing boring, pretentious or self-important.

Backed by an eight-piece band that included two keyboardists, two backing vocalists, guitar, bass and drums, resplendent in her blond buzz cut, purple jacket, leopard top and artfully torn jeans and moving with a lithesome, feline elegance, Lennox surveyed her two-decades-plus career.

Avoiding her Oscar-winning hit 'Into the West' from 'Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' and drawing more songs from 1992's 'Diva' than last year's 'Bare', she was less concerned with peddling her latest product than with taking listeners on an emotional roller coaster ride, and the set veered from quiet seductions to defiant statements of self-empowerment.

Lennox infused old favorites such as 'Missionary Man' and 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' with fresh and fiery grooves, stopped the show with a soulful and distinctive cover of Bob Marley's 'Waiting in Vain' and let her robust voice soar on solo material such as 'Pavement Cracks' the opening 'Legend in My Living Room' and 'No More 'I Love You's.'

The resulting performance drew connections to the themes and sounds common to all of her music - from the synth-pop of the early Eurythmics to her current sophisticated blend of R&B and cabaret - and underscored her position as one of the most distinctive and enduring stylists of her generation.

Meanwhile, Sting delivered a slightly retooled version of the show that he performed in the massive arena of Grant Park last October. Though he offered fewer hits by the Police and emphasized more of his snoozy solo material - especially last year's ultra-slick 'Sacred Love' - the dichotomy was still jarring, with his recent cocktail-party fare thoroughly lacking the energy, conviction and humanity of his earlier work.

The shortcoming of recent Sting sounds found their visual analog in the silly videos that flashed behind his 10-piece band, depicting absurd scenes of a topless, Hula-Hooping fairy nymph, a gyrating belly dancer, fluttering fireflies and falling leaves that seemed to have been drawn from a cliched New Age screen saver program.

If this is the pinnacle of religion as sex and music, as Sting claims, then consider me an abstinent atheist.

(c) Chicago Sun-Times by Jim DeRogatis

Sting & Lennox prove opposites attract an audience...

Part of Sting probably dreams of owning some smoky, intimate London jazz club, holding court unobtrusively in the corner some nights and occasionally sitting in with the and on others. Unfortunately, jazz clubs typically don't allow for lavish, regal lifestyles. It takes pop music to afford that, so, with gritted teeth, Sting deigns to play arenas and amphitheaters.

Sting dutifully played the Tweeter Center on Sunday night to a sizable crowd, no doubt bolstered by the presence of his tour mate, Annie Lennox. Ever since disbanding the Police, Sting has essentially fronted a series of fusion-lite bands, proficient - if not terribly creative - players capable of re-creating his slick studio works, and Sting's current band (anchored by Steely Dan's powerhouse drummer Keith Carlock) is no exception. But at this point, Sting needs more than proficiency on his side. While note-perfect, Sting's set proved predictably soulless.

Sting generally doesn't inspire much pity, but the poor guy has placed himself in a pretty untenable position. On one hand, Sting seems unable to recognize the lifelessness of his recent material. On the other, he seems incapable of feigning much enthusiasm for his older material. Fortunately, he has dropped most of his Police works from his set, tacking little tastes of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' at the end of 'Seven Days' and tossing a bit of 'King of Pain' into a snooze-noodle version of 'Roxanne', but otherwise bravely resisting the tug of nostalgia.

Yet songs from current release 'Sacred Love' aren't strong enough to support a show, especially given Sting's aversion to spontaneity. The dance-throb of 'Send Your Love' made for a fine opener, but 'Dead Man's Rope' and the banal protest song 'This War' (with its unhelpful rallying cry of ''don't do nothing'') were pretty uninspiring. 'Fragile' and 'Fields of Gold' were simply pretty, with Sting failing to bring anything fresh to the songs. Even the minimal banter was by the numbers. ''This is your song too!'' Sting generously declared during 'Englishman in New York', even though by any local standard it isn't.

If ever an artist screamed for a lip-sync scandal or a wardrobe malfunction, it's Sting, simply to shake things up. He's a talented songwriter and a fine musician, but he has stubbornly remained such a staid and smug act that it barely took any effort on the part of Annie Lennox to blow him away when she emerged to duet on 'We'll Be Together'.

Ever the dilettante, Sting also played the role of host Sunday night, popping out early to support his longtime guitarist Dominic Miller on his brief opening set - singing 'Shape of My Heart' - then returning to introduce Lennox, who didn't need the attention-getting intro. For the duration of her set, it was impossible to take your eyes off Lennox, her magnetic presence enhanced by her magnificent voice, unlike Sting's a warm and soulful thing.

Playing an enthusiastic mix of Eurythmics and solo tracks, Lennox revealed herself as one of the great blue-eyed soul singers, investing songs such as 'Pavement Cracks', from last year's strong Bare, and Missionary Man with equal dollops of raw oomph, soaring grace and grinning enthusiasm. For 'Here Comes the Rain Again', she sat solo at the piano, and the song, rid of its familiar synth trappings, came across like a great lost torch song, carried along by her stellar singing. Playing more propulsive tracks such as 'Walking on Broken Glass' or 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)', she did a better job than Sting did later of getting people out of their seats and actually keeping them on their feet.

(c) The Chicago Tribune by Joshua Klein