Soul Cages

Washington, DC, US
Capital Centrewith Concrete Blonde, Vinx
Sting's show bold, daring...

Upon announcing this tour late last year, Sting made one promise to all who would attend the shows. The ex-Police leader and certified Renaissance man boldly stated that this would not be an attempt to recreate anything that has been heard on any recording. Making good on his word, Sting led his newly formed, streamlined quartet through a handpicked selection of career highlights last night at the Capital Centre that showed Sting to be not only bold and daring but also a workaholic in rehearsals before the start of this massive undertaking.

The arrangements in nearly all of last night's 16 songs were wildly different from the studio versions, especially - and surprisingly - much of the material from his new album, 'The Soul Cages'.

Songs such as 'Jeremiah Blues' and 'Mad About You', which are dirge-like on the album, were transformed into upbeat, almost spiritually lifting tunes that if not for the mopey lyrics could have been considered soulful. And when Sting wasn't toying with the sounds of the newer, unfamiliar tunes, he threw the crowd several other revamped curves.

After beginning 'Roxanne' with familiar guitar riffs, the band broke off into a five-minute ska version of the classic. But following a freight-train reading of 'When The World Is Running Down' that seemed to pick up the pace with every beat, Sting followed with an album-perfect version of 'King Of Pain'.

Good or bad? It's hard to say. But give Sting credit for trying something completely different. Looking Springsteen-like from a weight-training regimen before the tour, he certainly was having more fun onstage than during previous shows, carefully studying the neck of his bass and playfully using the entire length of the stage to work the crowd.

Although he only dabbled in Police material - 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message In A Bottle' were the only other oldie cuts - he similarly snubbed much of the material from his first two solo albums, opting instead for a pair of cover songs, Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone' and Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.

As for the musicianship of his new players, guitarist Domenic Miller, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist David Sancious were workmanlike and precise in their delivery. But let's face it, replacing pianist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Manu Katche and saxophonist Branford Marsalis is a task nothing short of impossible.

So for the record, let's say this Sting show was enjoyable but certainly very unusual. The downside to all of the changes is that Sting was almost stingy in the meager offerings from his back catalog, skipping more than a dozen hits from his Police and solo works to perform sometimes overwrought, long-winded versions of songs from 'The Soul Cages'.

(c) The Baltimore Sun by Nestor Aparacio

Sting of old: Centre sell-out...

Eight years. That's how much time has passed since Sting and his former Police bandmates wore bullet-proof vests while performing at Capital Centre because of a shooting in the audience before the show. This week on Cap Centre's stage Sting recalled his anxiety; ''I never danced around so much in my life.''

Since that 1983 performance Sting has taken up acting and environmental activism and has made adventurous musical forays into jazz and blues with other artists. But all this time, he has been an insightful songwriter and an equally visionary and skilled musician, which showed during his Thursday night performance before a sell-out crowd of 18,000.

Witty and charming, Sting led his three-piece band through a thoroughly satisfying and impeccable performance. After four cuts from his new album, 'The Soul Cages', Sting wistfully sang the Bill Withers soul classic, 'Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone', while keyboardist David Sancious added jazzy chords and guitarist Derwin (sic) Miller ripped crisp guitar licks.

The band also shone covering the Jimi Hendrix standard 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky', as Sancious traded his keyboard for a guitar and joined Miller and Sting in an intense axe exchange.

Sting pleased the crowd most with versions of his earlier solo work and his recordings with the Police. He and his band dusted off and polished 1980 gems such as 'Every Breath You Take', 'Message in a Bottle', 'Roxanne' and 'King of Pain' by frequently shifting tempos, improvising and jamming.

During Sting's encore - 'Fragile' - dreadlocked singer and percussionist Vinx, an opening performer with biting wit, joined him on stage.

(c) The Washington Post by Gil Griffin

Concert infused with energy...

With a third of the songs drawn from his new 'Soul Cages' album, Sting's current show could easily lapse into a bleak pop requiem. But the eclectic British pop star never lets the material's somber themes of grief and longing overwhelm his exuberance for the music, especially the boisterous jazz and world-beat rhythms that infuse his concerts with energy.

The show erupts with a 'Soul Cages' flurry: 'All This Time', 'Mad About You', 'Jeremiah Blues' and 'Why Should I Cry for You?', all brightened by carbonated arrangements.

Because Sting is a literary-minded songwriter and outspoken social activist, his performance gifts are often overshadowed by his reputation as an aloof intellectual. Yet he is one of few rock stars who, in a live setting, can improve upon his recorded work. His crisp, spry vocals easily expand to arena size, and he plays bass with a relaxed deftness that allows confident forays into jazzy improvisation.

Even with a skeletal crew - guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta - Sting creates a musical fullness that doesn't require hole-plugging with decibels and glitter.

The show's pulse races to dance speed when Sting revives Police classics like 'Message in a Bottle' and the pop-reggae stomp, 'Roxanne'. He also turns in a respectable rendition of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' (less remarkable than his gossamer take on 'Little Wing').

While the pace may slow during 'Soul Cages' slices like the funk-tailored title track and a dreamy meandering through 'The Wild Wild Sea', the show's heartbeat never stops. In fact, languid numbers like 'Every Breath You Take' and a stirring cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' are riveting highlights.

(c) USA Today by Edna Gundersen