Nothing Like The Sun

Sacramento, CA, US
Kings Arena
The flip side to Sting - Pop-star posturing mars performance...

The Police may have sold more records and played bigger venues, but three solo albums, several movie roles and countless media appearances into a solo career, the Police-man they call Sting has never been so ubiquitous.

Sting (ne Gordon Sumner) is a musician who has become a personality, the stuff of gossip columns and fanzines, and his show Thursday night for more than 10,000 fans in the sold-out Kings arena reflected the dangers of superstardom almost as much as it demonstrated his consummate artistry.

The 2.5-hour performance by Sting and his eight-piece band was chock-full of dazzling musicianship and a variety of fine songs. It was also marred by Sting's inane pop-star posturing, something that his intelligent music, lofty sentiments and public pronouncements would lead us to believe he is above.

The band was expanded from the 'Blue Turtles' band of Sting's maiden solo tour, with an additional guitarist, percussionist and keyboard player. Only sax player Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and singer Dollette McDonald remained from the earlier band.

Together they wove a gorgeous fabric of sound. It was gorgeous, even marred as it was by excessive volume, a poor sound mix and the arena's typically miserable acoustics.

The song selection was dominated by all but one track from Sting's latest album, '...Nothing Like the Sun'. The songs range from the 7/4-time lilt of 'Straight to My Heart' and the funk stomp of 'We'll Be Together' to the funny strolling blues 'Rock Steady' and the spiffy 'Englishman in New York'. All rode solid grooves whose common Latin feel was provided in large part by new percussionist Mino Cinelu.

The show also featured a number of Police songs, including 'King of Pain', 'One World', 'Too Much Information', 'When the World Is Running Down', the second version of 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' and the beautiful closer, a solo rendition of 'Message in a Bottle', held over from the last tour. There were also a handful of songs from Sting's first solo album.

Significantly, Sting was often not among the musicians on stage. Instead of playing bass, as he did in the Police (and on '...Nothing Like the Sun') he contented himself with little more than the odd run on a synthesizer. His guitar playing, which was so effective with the 'Blue Turtles' band, was confined on Thursday to mostly inaudible strumming on an acoustic. It was mostly a prop.

Of course he sang, and sang beautifully. Sting's plaintive wail has been so often imitated that it is easy to take for granted. But it stands as a great and distinctive voice in '80s rock, and it has improved with age.

Unfortunately, the bass parts that Sting plays so well on the new album were left in concert to Tracy Wormworth, who has little of the great bassist's feel and fluidity. The result was that Sting was separated from the band, making him more the pop-star front man and less the co-equal musician he has said he wants to be.

He flounced around the stage, apparently unsure of what to do with himself. It was awkward and occasionally embarrassing to see Sting absent-mindedly strumming his acoustic as the band did the real work on one of his songs.

At a point early in the first set, while Marsalis was off on a too-rare solo, Sting wandered behind the sax player and imitated him wailing. Marsalis abruptly stopped playing and gave Sting a smile - but he didn't seem amused, and that was effectively the end of the solo. It was almost enough to justify the fears of those jazz purists who wailed when Marsalis and Kirkland quit playing jazz with Marsalis' brother, Wynton.

The pop-star shenanigans reached a nadir with the second set's closer, a languid version of Jimi Hendrix' 'Little Wing' that culminated in the most ludicrous, overbearing imitation of a mindless metal band imaginable, complete with wailing guitar and leaps in the air.

The band may have meant it as a joke (how could they not?), but the crowd roared its approval. While Sting may deserve credit for rock-concert savvy, this stunningly stupid climax ended the show on a discordant note.

Can Sting have it both ways? Can he do a show full of musically credible songs and ensemble work and then drop his shirt for the teenyboppers, as he did Thursday night? Can he claim to be a serious composer forging his own path and then stoop to the cheapest tricks in the book?

Perhaps he has yet to decide what he wants to be - a musician or a pop star. He is both, but Thursday night, serving two masters made for an awkward concert.

(c) The Sacramento Bee by David Barton