Brand New Day

Johannesburg, ZA
MTN Sundomewith Vusi Mahlasela
Sting's Jo'burg gig a lacklustre affair...

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho tells us to recognise those obscure and often cryptic signs in life, and to act on or react to them. This struck a chord with me on Sunday night while waiting for Sting to take the stage.

The sign came after a sadly rather uninspiring set from Vusi Mahlasela, when I, along with the 15,000-odd concertgoers, had to fill the gap listening to music by the Beatles.

Now, this is a sign; one I unfortunately could not react to; one that would, in normal circumstances, have sent me scurrying in search of contemporary comfort. Don't get me wrong: I am a big fan of the Liverpudlians. But being ''warmed up'' by a band who were in their prime over three decades ago! What gives? I really should have done that running thing. Because, if I had obeyed my instinct, I wouldn't have been confronted by everything the said audio accompaniment suggested: a show, for the most part, disconnected from the modern day.

It was a show that saw those getting excited by this Beatles fest lapping up every regressive rap and adult-contemporary croon in a mostly middle-aged display of completely rhythm-less gyration and discordant clapping.

Still, Sting is a fine musician and experienced performer and glimpses of his talent shone through the overall monotony of the evening - a monotony enhanced by the singer's inability to vary his voice much.

I first realised Sting was on stage when he performed 'After The Rain', the third song of the set and the first time we were confronted by anything that resembled a beat.

It wasn't until late in the concert when such an experience was repeated - when Sting really showed us he is a much better performer than the one he was pretending to be.

These moments came when he performed 'Fields Of Gold', 'Englishman In New York' and the qawwali-influenced 'Desert Rose', all of which highlighted the underlying beauty and tight melodic construction of the man's music. These four songs, combined with Sting's charismatic presence, nearly turned the evening into a concert worthy of the 21st century.

Sadly, ''nearly'' doesn't quite cut it.

(c) The Star by Peter Townshend

Sting: every little thing he does is magic...

Looking laddish in a red vest and cargo pants, Sting strutted onto the stage at Johannesburg's MTN Sundome on Sunday night and to wild applause went straight into 'A Thousand Years' off his new album, and then followed it with the classic 'Set Them Free'.

Earlier this week he said that for his South African shows, which feature the dreamy-voiced Vusi Mahlasela as support, he would play music from the last 20 years of his grand career that took off while he was frontman for the legendary Police.

Mahlasela played a soulful set that included the poignant 'Weeping', originally by Bright Blue, which brought out the flickering cigarette lighters and drew friends closer.

When Sting came on, you could tell by the arrangements of the earlier songs that he is drawn to jazz, with many of his songs featuring slow horn riffs with drum brush strokes and jazzy keyboards - a style showcased in a superb delivery of 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'. His also scatted on some numbers and at one point we saw a brief appearance by a French rap artist whose name I didn't catch.

His repertoire included a country and western number about a gas station and then just when you thought the man with the perpetually ruffled blond crop had grown up he broke into 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'.

The packed hall was delighted and provided a rousing back-up on the classic lines ''Every little thing she does is magic, magic, magic...''.

It's clear that the old Police numbers are the absolute favourites of the audience, who are a cross section of the scratched vinyl generation and the sleek DVD and MTV young things.

His punk strut showed when he started playing the instantly recognisable classics and the audience swooned when the first notes of 'Englishman In New York' were picked out. He also sang the optimistic 'Brand New Day', the title song of his new album, then blasted the word everyone was waiting for... 'Roxanne'.

A thousand teenage memories swirled around the Sundome as everyone sang along, watching with interest as the song broke into an experimental section with reggae undertones and moody drumming and returned to the yearning original arrangement.

As the lights dimmed he started singing 'Desert Rose' - a tune that everyone hummed on the way out - and then moved into 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You'. When the roadies came onto the stage, people clapped and stamped their feet, demanding more - and they weren't disappointed.

With just him and a guitar, he sang the anthemic 'Message In A Bottle' with the whole of the Sundome accompanying him on this husky gentle interpretation. This flowed perfectly into 'Fragile' and when it was over he called the musicians back on stage and they stood in a line, held hands, bowed theatrically and waved thanks to the audience - manners maketh man, so they say.

(c) Independent On-Line by Jenni Evans

Sting leaves Gauteng gasping for breath...

Every little thing he did was magic. Or at least a crafty illusion, but it really appeared as if he didn't mind singing 'Every Breath You Take' for the umpteenth time. The audience certainly didn't mind - Sting's performance at the MTN Sundome on September 24 was anything but tedious.

It makes a world of difference when an artist obviously loves and enjoys every single song he performs. This was already the case with Vusi Mahlasela who performed as the opening act, apparently by personal decree of Sting himself. Maybe the (mostly white) audience didn't know all his songs - reacting most favourably to his cover of Bright Blue's 'Weeping' - but it's hard not to enjoy The Voice of Soweto's sublimely smooth yet funky music and his almost avuncular stage personality.

And then Sting came on and, for the next two hours or so, Johannesburg was treated to a world-class performance. Backed by a six-piece band, he performed tracks off his latest album, 'Brand New Day', as well as the full array of his old hits, both from his own career and from his Police days.

He is fascinating to watch on stage. He puts all his energy into every single track, and combined with the sexiness he exudes with every move, it had the audience captivated. Even though one knew all the songs he performed, it was never a case of hearing the song you've heard on the top 20. Reinvention is, after all, what saves an artist from the discount CD shelf.

A few crafty alterations and a handful of musical surprises made old songs sound new and exciting. His drummer popped out from behind his drum kit and turns out to be a lively French rapper, too. He injected a deep, resounding beat into 'Bourbon Street' and transforms it from a sweet song into a solid, in-your-face effort; added a trumpet to give songs a fresh, jazzy edge. And he didn't hog the spotlight either, allowing his talented band members, such as the proficient guitarist, to step forward and show their worth.

While Sting does not need fireworks, flashy dancers and fancy lights to keep an audience interested, the stage was still impressive, with strips of linen hanging from the back and patterned lighting playing on these - until, just after halfway through the show, these strips dropped away, leaving a rather big and bland white rectangle for the remainder of the show.

He might not have the rage of Skunk Anansie or the sheer on-stage power of Prodigy, but this is one Englishman worth seeing every time he comes to visit.

(c) Daily Mail & Guardian by Riaan Wolmarans