Sacred Love

Oakland, CA, US
Paramount Theatrewith Chris Botti
Ailing Sting lacks bite - recovering after being 'felled by a virus', singer couldn't summon energies to really rock the house...

If nothing else, Sting has enormous presence. It'll always carry him through concerts at packed houses full of adult fans willing to give standing ovations for the mildest thing.

At Oakland's Paramount Theatre Wednesday night - one night after canceling a show because of illness - an under-the-weather Sting pushed through two hours to give a functional performance. But it makes one wonder if he always depends so heavily on merely being Sting, letting his band fill out and enliven music that can be semipedestrian, adult-contemporary fair.

Seeing Sting sparks paradoxical feelings. He deserves credit for making the music he feels like making at this point of his career, subtly branching out and exploring rather than trying to replicate his enormous success with the Police. But that's the problem: Sting was once in one of the world's best and liveliest bands. Even 20 years after its demise, he has to contend with being the haystack-haired, bouncy new-wave king of 1981.

That's not necessarily fair, but it's not necessarily a new problem for once-heralded rock geniuses who spent their salad days cutting fertile new ground. Of course, Sting's second career of jazzy world pop isn't exactly Paul McCartney crooning 'Silly Love Songs'. But when it comes to making music that rouses the senses, Sting's been enigmatic at best over the past decade. And that trend definitely translates to the stage.

His charm and respect for both himself and his fans' understanding of what he does countered an otherwise average show Wednesday. It was enough for his fans, who would have remained riveted had Sting just stood there sneezing. Such is the force of his magnetism. But for a musician possessing the aura of excellence, one simply expects more.

It's hard to say whether sickness was a factor, because the set list Wednesday was so heavy on mid-tempo adult contemporary rock. That's fine when there's occasional contrast. But when a performer can't get his band properly pumped-up for a driving song like 'Synchronicity II', disappointment sets in.

After coming out solo and doing 'Walking on the Moon', the well-groomed 52-year-old settled into a mid-tempo groove with his solid seven-piece band, doing full versions of 'Send Your Love', 'Inside' and most of the tracks of his new album, 'Sacred Love'. To his credit (and his band's), the solo music occasionally came alive onstage, dwarfing the recorded versions. The visuals were quite stunning, with vivid purple and blue lights bathing video screens with surreal and slow-motion, ethereal images such as solar eclipses.

All the ingredients were there for a great show. Yet the show's set list, and its centerpiece singer, just didn't seem up to the surroundings. ''I was felled by a virus of such ferocity, it could only have been sent by the Lord himself,'' he admitted, three songs into the show, adding slyly that despite recently winning a Grammy, he was much happier about Joan Rivers calling him the best-dressed man at the ceremony.

He apologized in advance for any vocal slips due to illness, but his voice proved to be relatively solid, showing the high-pitched chops that filled the gaps in the jazziest songs (though he did lose steam before finishing a few lines). Like much of his music the past decade, there were good moments onstage, but they came relatively few and far between. He discarded his bass for finger-picking acoustic guitar on the subtly emotional 'Fragile' parlaying the energy (briefly) into the great 'Fields of Gold'. But despite a crowd clap-along, the new 'Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)' fell flat, as did 'Sacred Love' and 'English Man in New York', which had a nice 60-second jazz break, but was boring overall. Not even 'Roxanne', disappointingly lackluster with a ska breakdown, could revive things.

Sting summoned some energy for a nice version of 'Desert Rose', carrying through with 'Every Breath You Take'. Both versions relied mostly on the quality of the songs themselves, rather than any above-average performance.

For most, it was enough just to see a legend with the presence of Sting standing there performing. On Wednesday, it had to be enough.

(c) Contra Costa Times by Tony Hicks

Sting, where is thy sting? Pretty boy can't cut loose...

His elegant garb, the chiseled features, his lean frame, his tousled, bleached-blond hair; even at age 52, the guy looks like central casting's dream of a leading-man rock star. His musical integrity is unimpeachable, even if he tends toward the pedantic, and he cloaks his earnest entreaties in agreeably exotic musical atmospheres.

Back after an illness canceled four shows (including one scheduled for the night before), at Oakland's Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, Sting smoothly mulched strains of music from around the world into his own confident, New Age pseudo-pop blend in a two-hour performance to showcase his most recent album, 'Sacred Love', a preview of a full-scale amphitheater tour this summer.

Of course, the perennial Grammy winner has dabbled in multiculturalism in his music since his earliest days of copping reggae beats with his new wave outfit, the Police. But at the Paramount, he seemed to be almost frantically veering from one to another, all performed with solemn purpose. His version of ''Englishman in New York'' lurched from jagged reggae to ham-fisted funk like a song with an identity crisis.

In the course of but a few songs, he could stitch together bossa nova, reggae, Arabian and Celtic music. At times, he seemed to reach for the cathartic exultation of American soul and gospel, but his innate restraint denied him the release he was seeking.

Some of the dance drives sounded suspiciously like mundane European disco and, for that high-fashion jazz touch, he brought back the opening act, Chris Botti - the hot young trumpeter who also played on Sting's latest CD - to tootle a little Miles over the simmering groove of 'I Was Brought to My Senses'.

The six-piece band negotiated the sharp turns and quick changes with ease. Keyboardist Jason Rebello flashed the requisite dazzling jazz chops, even if all too often the ensemble's jazz-pop assimilation drifted toward Quiet Storm insipidity.

Accomplished and undeniably talented, both as a composer and a vocalist; unbearably earnest and invariably politically and socially correct, Sting gives off a smoldering self-assurance. Still, his efforts at self-effacing wit were not altogether convincing.

He borrows a lot of the power of his 'Sacred Love' songs from religious symbology, which he juxtaposes against more earthly, carnal innuendos for ironic value. He hints at spiritual strategies under his pedagoguery. Although there's no use doubting his sincerity, these areas already have been explored more profitably by others, such as Bob Marley or Prince.

But the surfaces certainly gleamed like a big-budget Hollywood production. The band kept the musical kaleidoscope shifting flawlessly, and Sting gave every song a thorough performance, detailed, nuanced, expertly executed.

He opened on acoustic bass with a few bars of a jazzy version of the Police song 'Walking on the Moon', but cut it off in favor of the overbearing Eurodisco of 'Send Your Love' from the new album, while Hindu dancers spun around on a triptych video screen behind the band.

He brought background vocalist Joy Rose out front and held her hand while they sang the duet, 'Whenever I Say Your Name', that he sang on the new album with Mary J. Blige (Rose, he noted, sang the original demo). Sting stood by sedately while Rose squatted at his feet, shrieking and moaning the song's gospel climax, providing the evening's sole heated blast of fervor.

Sting only really roused the sedate crowd with a sing-along on 'Roxanne', the song that introduced him to the world, and an encore of 'Desert Rose', the hit from his previous album, 'Brand New Day', and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', another hit from his solo career.

In the end, no matter how easy on the eyes the man is or how ingratiating the musical landscape may be, this is fluff dressed up, a succulent, almost irresistible chick flick for the ears.

(c) The San Francisco Chronicle by Joel Selvin

Sting keeps fans happy with old and new stuff...

Maybe Sting was finally spent.

The question Wednesday night at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland: How would Sting hold up at his first performance after canceling a week's worth of shows because of what he called ''a virus from God''? The bigger question: Does the former Police man have anything left at 52?

Sting answered with a non-stop, two-hour, 22-song show. His energy never flagged. His new songs sounded as good as his old. He looked great. And his voice - always tinged with vulnerability - began to fray only in the encores.

If you come to see Sting to relive your enthusiasm for the Police, you are missing the point. But some fans and critics continue to do just that.

Sting has kept the bounce of his early band and informed his solo pop with jazz and world beats. That has allowed his fans to mature with him.

On Wednesday, he infused his latest material with a spirit that is sometimes buried in slick production on his latest album. He also played enough of his catalog of hits to keep his fans happy.

- The new stuff: He played nine of the 10 songs off 'Sacred Love'. It was clear from the first electronic beats of 'Send Your Love' that his touring band was going to make these songs come alive. Backup singer Joy Rose more than filled Mary J. Blige's shoes in the duet with Sting on the Grammy-winning 'Whenever I Say Your Name'.

- The sleeper: The band added a bouncy island feel to 'Stolen Car'. Don't think the King of Pain has a sense of humor? His last hit was the soundtrack for a Jaguar commercial, a song about a psychic thief stealing an expensive car.

- The old stuff: After a 20-year solo career, Sting has too many hits to perform them all, but he treated fans to 'Fragile', 'Fields of Gold', 'Desert Rose' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. He started 'Englishman in New York' leaning on his upright bass as if it were a city lamppost and ended with the crowd chanting, ''`Be yourself, no matter what they say.''

- The really old stuff: Sting salted his set with four songs from the Police - the opener 'Walking on the Moon', a surprising 'Hole in My Life' and the crowd pleasers 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take'.

- The lowlight: Perhaps Sting was so worn out that he needed the synthesizer doubling his voice on the lackluster final encore, 'A Thousand Years'.

- The scene: black leather coats were the uniform of the night, but with natural shoulders instead of yesteryear's motorcycle look. Maybe these folks care about Sting's causes and his humanitarian awards, his 15 Grammys and his Oscar nominations. his memoir and his tantric sex. Maybe they even bought Sting yoga pants in the lobby.

Mostly they came to hear the soundtrack of their adult lives. And Sting delivered without missing a beat.

(c) The Mercury News by Mark Whittington