Summoner's Tales

New York City, NY, US
Paramount Theater
Less Sting to sling...

Sting wasn't taking any chances with his concert at The Paramount on Tuesday. Appearing with just a stripped-down four-piece band and concentrating on material from his latest, pop-leaning album, plus hits from the Police blotter, the show presented us with ''Sting Lite'' - the new and improved Sting with less hot air, better taste!

As a strategy, this sort of ego downsizing has become increasingly effective in pop. When U2 went overboard with the messiah trip in the late '80s, they came back with the Zoo TV tour, which directly sent up pop-star pretensions. Likewise, when Michael Jackson wanted to insist he was a real human being, he made sure to tell a self deprecating joke on the most watched program possible, the Grammys.

In a similar vein, Sting's latest, hyper-accessible album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales', arrives in reaction to 'The Soul Cages', which dealt with the death of Sting's father in a way that was sheer murder to listen to. On album, the new material wrestles Sting's stylistic leaps (in jazz, C&W, samba and funk) into the catchiest melodies of his solo career. But live, the new songs seldom had enough drive to captivate. And his skilled band did surprisingly little to whip them up.

As if in reaction to the more expansive instrumental work of Sting's past live bands, he kept solos here to a minimum. Only keyboardist David Sancious was allowed to stretch out a bit. Moments still managed to touch. The honeyed melody of 'Fields Of Gold' brought out the warmth in Sting's voice.

Still, as concert vehicles, the new material paled in comparison with the Police hits especially the trio of 'Synchronicity', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Roxanne'. Another old track, 'When The World Is Running Down', finally sent the band soaring, pumped by Sancious.

But if Sting designed the show to stress pop tunes over expansive playing, he could not help but let whiffs of pretension peek through.

After performing 'You Know Nothing About Me' (which, preposterously, asserts that the public does not know enough about Sting at this point), the star condescendingly told the audience ''but I know everything about you,'' aiming to prove the point by deigning to perform the crowd-pleaser 'Every Breath You Take'.

Just as off putting was his introduction to 'It's Probably Me' (from the 'Lethal Weapon III' soundtrack). First he got the audience to clap for the movie; then he made sure to tell us he never bothered to see it.

Of course, it simply would not be Sting without a dash of arrogance. And at this show aloofness was all there was to distinguish him from just another pop craftsman with a talent for small pleasures.

(c) The New York Daily News by Jim Farber

Sting has stung...

Streamlined and simplified, Sting flew high, as if he'd been released from the weight of a lifetime.

In concert at the Paramount Theater, there was no evidence of the self-doubt and pain that have marked his music in recent years. He seems to be a man who has found himself, and actually liked the guy he found.

At the first of his two-night engagement at the Paramount, headlining, Sting was exceptional; his band was clicking, and the staging was elegant. At Tuesday's sold-out show, fans couldn't keep in their seats. Sting, a reserved fellow who hardly ever gets chatty on stage, joked and smiled between numbers with his bandmates and fans and then totally immersed himself in the music. The awkward rock/jazz fusion that Sting has experimented with since he quit as chief of the Police has finally been perfected on the material from his new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'.

Even though a few hard-core Police fanatics spent the night chirping out such song titles as 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Walking On The Moon', 'Invisible Sun' and 'Roxanne', by the audience's applause, material from 'Ten Summoner's Tales was the most arresting.

The concert began with that disc's opener, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', and worked its way through the entire CD, peppering the program with an occasional Police tune and even covering the Beatles' 'A Day In The Life'.

Sting did look and act uncomfortable in a oversized, ruffled shirt that he was constantly tugging at to get the puffy sleeves out of his way. By the encore, Sting dumped the Errol Flynn cast-off and played bare-chested to the squealing delight of the predominantly female audience.Of the new stuff, it was a tossup for me between 'She's Too Good For Me' and 'Heavy Cloud No Rain' as the best of the jazz/rock fusions.

Even though the Paramount marquee said ''Sting,'' the outfit is very much a band - and a spectacular one at that, featuring guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboard man David Sancious and bassist Sting. Especially spectacular was Sancious, whose time at the keyboard for Bruce Springsteen and jazz great Stanley Clarke as paid off and come together in Sting's music.

Likewise, Miller is capable of just about any guitar style. He would tire rockers with edgy, lightning leads, and in the next number he'd delicately pluck a fluid, classical arpeggio from chords that deformed his hand as it stretched on the guitar's fretboard. He was at his best on 'The Shape Of My Heart'.

Most artists with the kind of staying power that Sting has demonstrated over the years have cycles where they hit career peaks. Right now, Sting is on top of his game.

(c) The New York Post by Dan Aquilante

Every little Sting is magic...

It was a lean, clean, user-friendly Sting that appeared at the Paramount Tuesday night.

The rocker whose name was once synonymous with self absorbed arrogance will never be a glad-handing party boy on stage, though he did appear bare-chested for his encores.

But the show was a brisk, entertaining romp through every phase of his career, from the new wave successes of a dozen years ago with the Police, to his appealing new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'.

Sting has streamlined his band and moved away from jazz players. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Kenny Kirkland now anchor Jay Leno's ''Tonight Show'' combo. And he's dispensed with frills like the exotic percussionist that played on his 'Soul Cages' and 'Nothing Like The Sun' albums. Instead, the bassist leads a tight and focused four-piece group with Dominic Miller (guitar), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), and David Sancious (keyboards).

The early part of the show featured songs from the new album: The melodious pop ballad 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' opened the set, followed by two of the album's better songs. 'Heavy Cloud No Rain' is a high-concept blues tune that manages to be historical and topical, metaphysical and personal. 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)' is a country-tinged tune that retells the story of seven brides for seven brothers. One looks forward to an answer song, however: ''Justice Is Stronger Than Love.'' Kenny Rogers, call your office.

The mood shifted abruptly when Sting performed an almost letter-perfect rendition of the Beatles' 'A Day In The Life' but I wish the band had held the famed endless final chord a bit longer. Though Sting's solo tunes were appreciated for their sophistication and craft, it was the generous serving of Police songs that turned the audience from passive consumers to reborn teenyboppers.

The contrast between the sober beauty of 'They Dance Alone' (about the ''disappeared'' victims of political murder in Chile) to the innocent exuberance of the Police's 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' was particularly dramatic.

But it was the Police's 1979 breakthrough hit, 'Roxanne', with its accelerated reggae rhythm and kinetic punk drive that, at least temporarily, changed the mood from concert recital to party. When Sting sang the line, ''you don't have to turn on the red light,'' however, one wished for a more creative staging effect than the turning on of... a red light. (I mean, why not turn on a blue light, and mess with people's heads?)

A version of The Police's 'King Of Pain' became the musical showpiece, with guitars that rang and drums that roared. Of course, it's the song that most strongly contributed to Sting's dubious reputation: Though a big hit, it was seen as symptomatic of the rock star's wildly inappropriate self pity and smugness. Maybe it was just resentment at Sting's presumption. By now 'King Of Pain' is just another oldie-but-goodie sing-along, albeit one imbued with a particularly large dollop of Stingiocity.

But if you're going to take yourself seriously, better king of pain than king of pop.

(c) New York Newsday by Wayne Robbins

A subtler Sting cuts loose in a smaller hall...

Sting was smart to return to mid-size theaters like the 5,605-seat Paramount for his current tour (although he's also opening some stadium shows for the Grateful Dead), because the music he's making now moves too fast and too subtly for most arena concerts.

He writes and sings pop songs, but in concert they're laced with jazzy improvisation, transforming them between the lines of catchy choruses and rolling grooves. For all of Sting's associations with causes, and the earnest moping of many of his lyrics, he has rarely been a preachy performer in concert. And on Tuesday, Sting the musician was triumphant.

While Sting's bands, including the Police, have never been content to play songs by rote, his current group takes on all challenges, from odd meters and harmonic substitutions to the openness and understatement of a ballad. Sting's own bass was both foundation and fulcrum for a nimble four-piece band including Dominic Miller on guitar, David Sancious on keyboards and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. They don't have the jazz pedigrees of his first post-Police group, but they mesh gleefully and they know which gambits belong where.

While Sting the musician is in fine form, Sting the songwriter was only coasting on his current album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. Too many songs depend on vamps and patter-song recitative, while the more tuneful ones echo his older material. The songs aren't mere genre exercises: 'In Love Is Stronger Than Justice', an odd-meter (7/4) funk vamp emulating Little Feat gives way to a foursquare country chorus, while the superb 'It's Probably Me' unsettles a ballad with ambiguous, jazzy chords. But the musicianly satisfactions of making a kinetic groove in 5/4 (Seven Days) or 7/4 (St. Augustine in Hell) would double if the verses had full-fledged melodies.

The contrast was obvious between the newer songs and older ones. It wasn't just familiarity that had the crowd shouting and singing along with 'Roxanne', 'Synchronicity II' and a hard-rocking 'King of Pain'.

Those songs have clear-cut tunes without stinting on rhythm. Still, it's hard to imagine better performances than the ones Sting's band lets loose. Mr. Sancious can summon Herbie Hancock's abstruse chords and two-handed percussiveness or Jimmy Smith's steamy organ licks; Mr. Miller can play hard-rock power chords or floating tones like Andy Summers of the Police, and he keeps his acoustic guitar parts pristine. Mr. Colaiuta has picked up the scurrying double-time cymbals and reggae undertow that made Stewart Copeland's drumming so distinctive with the Police, but he can also pound and swing on his own. And while Sting's bass lines mixed it up with the rest of the band, his reedy voice, strained at first, grew both stronger and gentler as the show progressed, making even a warhorse like Every Breath You Take sound like the love song it is, more or less.

The show included changing backdrops and elaborate lighting effects (with an appropriate but clever one for the 'Roxanne' chorus ''put on the red light''), and Sting did take off his shirt for the encore. But the concert wasn't about star power: it was about music, and the pleasure of making songs new every night.

(c) The New York Times by Jon Pareles