Sacred Love

Tampa, FL, US
Tampa Performing Arts Centrewith Chris Botti
Sting still at the top of his game...

It was a vintage snapshot of the devil-may-care attitude and courtesy of the singer called Sting: One day, he's sipping champagne and hobnobbing with Hollywood at the Golden Globes, the next he's wowing the crowd of a sold-out concert in Tampa.

And if anyone could make both look easy, it was the singer whose non de plume came from sporting black-and-yellow as a youth, not for a knack at making his presence felt at both sides of the U.S. coast within 24 hours.

Before a sold-out crowd of 2,528 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on Monday, Sting made pretty much whatever he did look easy, whether re-inventing early hits or breathing new life into lesser-known, newer material.

And just as the singer has been at the forefront of pop-rock success for 25 years, Sting performed with both the confidence and easy-going manner of a stylist still at the top of his game.

While taking hits from some critics for sliding down a slippery slope of middle-of-the-road-radio-format tunes and patent melodies in recent years, Sting made songs from last year's solo album, 'Sacred Love', come to full, sonic life.

Songs from the album, including 'Send Your Love', 'Dead Man's Rope' and the title track, won over the packed house with melodies that became memorable and musical images that hit home.

On 'Dead Man's Rope', the performer, who cut his musical teeth playing bass, segued from finger-picking on a ukelele-sized guitar to strumming as the song built into its upbeat climax.

On 'Whenever I say Your Name', Sting and backup singer Joy Rose more than did justice to the CD's recording with Mary J. Blige; playing up the song's gospel feel as effortlessly as Sting went from singing duet-style with Rose to playing electric bass midway through.

Sting's five-piece backing band, which included two keyboardists and two percussionists, contributed admirably as well, as did a set-design with three, triptych-style video screens filled with imaginative images, whether sheet-covered dancers or, in one instance, an overheard shot of one pianist's hands flurrying over the keys.

Many of the two-hour concert's high-points, of course, came in renditions of the performer's earlier and best-known songs, whether from his time with The Police or in his solo career.

But they were delivered in ways that simultaneously kept the interest of their creator and satisfied an audience's natural hunger for hits.

'Walking on the Moon', which started the concert, for example, was delivered as if in an intimate jazz bar, with Sting manning stand-up bass and the set bathed in soothing, blue hues.

'Every Breath You Take' was re-invented with electric-piano riffs that fleshed out Sting's vocals in fitting style.

But it was 'Roxanne' - the 1979 hit that put The Police on the musical map - that became the concert's all-out showpiece.

Sting and his band did away with the tune's original spare sound, re-inventing it as a song blessed to full fruition, complete with an expanded, organ-fueled jam and call-and-response shouts between Sting and the audience.

Critics may ponder whether the performer's own sting has lost its bite. But Monday night, it intoxicated the crowd in new, and unexpected, ways.

(c) The Ledger by Bill Dean

Sting breathes life into new material...

Sting pumped life into his latest album's low-key material Monday night before a sold-out crowd of 2,528 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Carol Morsani Hall.

In the studio, Sting buffed the songs of last year's 'Sacred Love' to such a high sheen that they lost immediacy. Not so live, where tracks such as 'This War' got a stomping rock makeover and 'Never Coming Home' was elongated to provide some excellently used solo space for pianist Jason Rebello.

Sting wisely mixed a batch of his hits - both from his days with The Police and as a solo artist - in with the 'Sacred Love' material.

He opened the show playing an upright on a brief, swinging version of 'Walking on the Moon.' The song broke into its more familiar reggae lilt before segueing into 'Send Your Love.'

Sting's vocals seemed lost in the mix on 'Inside', and 'Forget About the Future' sounded like a second-rate Steely Dan outtake.

More successful among the new numbers was 'Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)'. Opening act Chris Botti added a sharp trumpet solo to that number.

And backing vocalist Joy Rose ably filled Mary J. Blige's shows on the duet 'Whenever I Say Your Name.'

'Never Coming Home' generated excitement with its dramatic ascending riff. 'Hole in My Life', an early Police tune, got a roaring response from the crowd and was a reminder that Sting's simpler material often is the most successful, artistically and com- mercially.

That point also was made by the lovely 'Fields of Gold', highlighted by guitar from Dominic Miller.

On the side of complexity, though, 'I Was Brought to My Senses' skipped from folk chords to Brazilian lushness, all in tricky 7-4 time. Sometimes, Sting can have it both ways.

(c) The Tampa Tribune by Curtis Ross

Sandpapery, soaring, superb...

He may be the pop star critics love to hate for his pretensions, but Sting did a fine job of getting off the high horse and pleasing a sold-out crowd of 2,500 Monday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on his 'Sacred Love' Tour.

Sting, 52, who, began his career a quarter century ago fronting the Police, joked with the audience and delivered 90 minutes of material both from his solo career and from what he called his ''former incarnation.''

The British star began the night the picture of sophistication, dressed in a black suit, plucking strings on an upright bass, as he and his seven-member band gave a jazzy workout to the Police gem 'Walking on the Moon.' Quickly, the big bass and the suit jacket were whisked away by a stagehand. Electro-beats blasted, disco lights flashed, and Sting was swiveling his well-toned hips. Behind him, three video screens flashed vivid images of belly dancers and arty graphics. The song was 'Send Your Love' from the 2003 'Sacred Love', the most recent Sting solo album steeped in hobbly gobbly ''mysticism'' and watered-down world music. Sting's excursions into global sounds have increasingly produced a hodgepodge of regional instruments and New Age fixin's - often pleasant, sometimes disastrous. (Memo to Sting: ixnay on the wind chimes!)

Sting's voice, always an endearing, sandpapery croon, has aged magnificently. Sting can now stretch it and toy around, scat, send it soaring and demonstrate its fine, rich nuance.

The show had several highlights: a medley of Police tunes featuring a lively singalong 'Hole in My Life', an acoustic 'Dead Man's Rope' and a powerful 'Synchronicity II'. Folks who were adolescents when that song was a smash - possibly the fans who lept to their feet to scream along to the words? - can surely now relate to its suburban angst-drenched lyrics:

Daddy only stares into the distance / there's only so much more that he can take

And male or female, who can't relate to:

Every single meeting with his so-called superiors / is a humiliating kick in the crotch

The title track of 'Sacred Love' and 'Fields of Gold' were lovely turns. As was a snappy an 'Englishman in New York', with Sting's elegant thumps on the ol' upright bass, and a truly rousing 'Roxanne'.

Opening act trumpeter Chris Botti played a sublime set of jazz and pop instrumental music with a vivacious backing band. Botti, 41, gets a warm, voluptuous tone from his horn that we don't hear enough of in these days of showy, obnoxious players. Botti understands his instrument. That's why when he plays numbers like 'My Funny Valentine', inspired by his idol, Miles Davis, you want to both clutch your heart and dab your eye.

(c) The St. Petersburg Times by Gina Vivinetto