Brand New Day

Ottawa, QC, CA
Blues Festivalwith Shawn Colvin
Sizzling start with Sting: Eclectic rocker brings 16,000 to their feet...

Ottawa's seventh annual Bluesfest began on an eclectic note last night as a record crowd estimated between 16,000 and 20,000 devoured Sting's snazzy pop songs and Shawn Colvin's intimate folk musings.

Of course, there were the expected grumbles from some audience members who debated whether non-blues artists should even be at the festival, but in the end Sting won over the most stubborn of blues purists.

Backed by an impeccable six-piece band, the blond, seemingly ageless singer-songwriter filled the cool air with his graceful melodies and sterling vocals - as well as some sizzling improvisational segments.

As the bass-playing bandleader, he was a swivel-hipped king, boogeying through an artfully extended version of 'When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around' that electrified the crowd.

The song built to a fever pitch of keyboard flourishes and bass runs, but Sting never lost track of the fluid rhythm. Instead of it turning into a meandering jam, the song marked the first wave of a thrilling climax to his two-hour set.

From that breathtaking peak, the hits 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Every Breath You Take' barely required embellishment to wow the crowd. Familiar songs to start with, they benefited from a powerful but restrained approach.

In the end, that was the essence of Sting's stellar live show: knowing when to reach for the top, musically speaking, and being able to pull back just in time, before it became too much.

Another example was his encore performance of 'Message in a Bottle' - he performed the Police nugget solo on an acoustic guitar and let the audience sing the backup vocals. Subdued, but it connected in a big way.

The concert was a full-fledged career retrospective, flowing from his popular early Police material to the elegant songs of his Grammy-winning 1999 album, 'Brand New Day'.

Sting winning a Grammy for that album smacked of an establishment vote by the academy that decides the awards, but last night the artist showed some of his most interesting moments during the newer songs, proving he's still a dynamic force on the pop music scene.

In 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong', master drummer Manu Katche contributed the punchy French-language rap bit, while his ''country'' song, 'Fill Her Up', lost some of its hurtin' twang performed live. The hit single 'Desert Rose' found Sting exploring other cultures, and 'Tomorrow We'll See' had him trying on another persona - a female prostitute.

For anyone who's heard the latest disc, there weren't many surprises last night. But to Ottawans, who haven't seen the British superstar play here since the late '80s, hearing everything from the lilt of Roxanne to the yodel of 'Desert Rose', it was well worth the hassle of the huge lineup at the entrance.

Even if it wasn't the blues.

While 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' was as bluesy as Sting got, Shawn Colvin vowed to play ''as many songs as I can with blues in the title.''

She performed her intimate folk songs solo on acoustic guitar, creating a folk-festival-like atmosphere in the early evening. To her delight, the audience paid attention (at least, those in the immediate vicinity of the stage).

''I'm going to get lower and lower until you're craving to be jubiliant toads of Mr. Sting,'' she joked. ''That's why we worked so well together.''

Her ploy worked like a charm until the sound bleed from the acoustic tent caused those along the fringes of the audience to check out the noise.

It was the funky Celtic sounds of Shooglenifty, from Scotland. Their exotic blend (made up of an electric violin, two banjos, bass, guitar and drums) was an exuberant experience.

''This is going to be your last chance to dance ... maybe all weekend,'' warned the violinist. ''There's going to be a sh--load of blues. Dance while you can.''

The crowd of several hundred happily obliged.

Even if it wasn't the blues.

(c) The Ottawa Citizen by Lynn Saxberg

Stingin' the blues...

Suppose they threw a blues festival and a jazz/pop concert broke out?

If you were expecting British megastar Sting to mull over how bad life can be digging through the trenches of dirty bars, dirtier men who've cheated him out of his last cigarette or last penny, then last night's performance at Lebreton Flats was a letdown. The sign did say 'Ottawa Bluesfest,' right?

Of course, let's be fair here. When the former Police frontman appeared on the bill to open the festival, a word like 'blues' is relegated to nothing more than a minor oversight. People want to see and hear Sting, no matter what kind of music comes from the creative mind of the ex-Police frontman.

Jazz. Light pop. Adult contemporary. It doesn't matter. Taking that into consideration, Sting - who hasn't played in these parts since the late '80s - did not disappoint.

Wearing a black tank-top and looking super-fit, Sting wandered out against a backdrop of soft synthesizers to the strains of opening number 'A Thousand Years' (from his latest release 'Brand New Day') before picking up the pace with 'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free'. His high-pitched vocal power worked wonders on a large stage at the outdoor venue, free from any of the muddy bounces that mar most indoor venues.

But the treat - if you could stretch your neck over some 16,000-20,000 strong - was watching Sting groove back and forth, particularly when he strapped on his bass and bopped along to 'We'll Be Together', 'All This Time', 'Seven Days' and the countryish 'Fill 'Er Up'.

By the time the sun left the horizons, 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', his 1982 hit with The Police, had the front rows in full dance mode.

Although only a couple of true Sting blues songs readily come to mind - 'Rock Steady' (from 'Nothing Like The Sun') and 'It's Probably Me' (from 'Ten Summoner's Tales'), someone in the audience remarked that the first pair of Police albums evoke enough punk-like heartbreak to be dubbed blues.

Once again, it matters little if the crowd remained on its feet for the entire night.

Meanwhile, opening act Shawn Colvin answered the query, 'Suppose they threw a blues festival and a folk concert broke out?'

Colvin braved through a 45-minute solo set kicking off with a cover of Crowded House's 'Four Seasons In One Day'. From there the 44-year-old, sporting a short blonde coiffure and a green skirt with orange ''lip-like'' spots, delved into more than a decade's worth of fine acoustic picking, maintaining that distinctive sweet breathy soprano voice which has always been her strength.

And while she worked her magic on 'Shotgun Down The Avalanche' and 'The Facts About Jimmy', most of the crowd were probably wondering when Colvin was going to break into the blues.

''I'm going to try to perform as many songs with the word 'blues' in them,'' she told the crowd before launching into a song entitled 'Killing The Blues'.

''Don't take any offence to that,'' she added poignantly before venturing onward with her folk stylings.

We won't, but at least you were honest with us.

(c) The Ottawa Sun by Ian Nathanson