Soul Cages

Worcester, MA, US
Worcester Centrumwith Concrete Blonde, Vinx
Sting infuses pop with jazz at sold-out Centrum show...

The Police used to write pop songs with jazz thrown in on the sly. Only the cool people were supposed to notice; that's what made the Police hip, to some.

As a solo artist Sting has turned that formula on its head. He writes jazzy material with conventional riffs thrown in almost as an afterthought.

The same cool people are meant to groove on it, as well as Sting's bespectacled, scruffy, intellectual image. Nary an artist can be found more politically correct than Sting. That condition has its rewards.

Sting topped a bill at the sold-out Worcester Centrum last night that included the metal-coffeehouse trio Concrete Blonde and African rhythmist-comedian Vinx.

Sting was blue collar and accessible, surprisingly so. He paid much more attention to the gritty mechanics of giving a rock show this time than during his partially successful ''Blue Turtle'' tour of several years back. That venture became mired in his almost professorial manner.

There was little of that last night. He played to his roots, throwing in snippets of Sly and the Family Stone during 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'. Even a neat little cover of the Hendrix anthem 'Purple Haze' punctuated the stretch run.

He was also unabashed at covering old Police tunes. The presentation was as straightforward as one could expect from a man who'd rather be Thelonius Monk than a celebrity, but isn't. 'King of Pain' actually seemed to receive a louder cheer than 'Roxanne', which was enlivened by the keyboards of David Sancsious.

Sancious' contributions throughout the evening were the most cohesive and effective portions of Sting's recent compositions. A great piano boogie brought the crowd up during 'When the World Is Running Down'.

The four-piece ensemble itself reflected a deliberate step down in ambition from Sting's prior attempts to offer full-fledged electronic jazz orchestrations. Yet the newer material seemed just as committed to the proposition. It just had fewer means at its disposal.

It wasn't as successful as older, more familiar material.

(c) The Worcester Telegram & Gazette by Ariel Lipner

Sting returns to rock...

Ever the pied piper with a purpose, Sting shook up his image and thrived on surprise before 14,500 fans at the sold-out Worcester Centrum on Saturday.

After touring with a mostly mellow jazz band in the late '80s, Sting was rocking again - and the change enlivened his strongest local date in years. Full of hairpin musical turns, this was Sting's hardest-rocking show since his upper-pinnacle days with the Police - an era that climaxed with a tumultuous sold-out night at Foxboro Stadium in 1983.

Sting wasn't quite as wild-eyed at the Centrum, but he was no less fascinating. He floored the all-ages crowd with five Police hits, including three in a row with the tuneful 'Roxanne', the charged 'When the World is Running Down, Make the Best of What's Still Around' and the bristling 'King of Pain'.

Even more significantly, Sting added increased punch to the dark song poems on his new album 'The Soul Cages', changing their arrangements and upsweeping their aim. The album mourns the deaths of his parents in Newcastle, England. But on Saturday, songs like the concert-opening 'All This Time' (with Sting on patented fretless bass) and the crescendo-building 'Wild Wild Sea' suggested that he's transcended his mourning and come back with renewed energy.

It was also surprising just how well these deeply personal songs translated to an arena setting, as Sting sang them fearlessly and unashamedly. Dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, Sting allowed such informality to suffuse his set, contrary to his uptight intellectual image. His take-me-as-I-am attitude was a pleasant change from the occasional didactic posturing of past visits.

Sting was on top from the outset, following a sterling set by Concrete Blonde, who played with more stately grandeur than their records suggest; and a quickie set by the baffling Los Angeles percussionist Vinx, who sounded like Nat King Cole meets Olatunji. Vinx, whose new album was produced by Sting, added comic blips of 'Roxanne', then joined Sting's set later on.

Sting's only miscue was a frivolous treatment of his stark Police hit 'Every Breath You Take'. He floated atop the melody and ended with a cloying scat. It was a rare surprise that didn't ring true.

The night's biggest surprise? Sting's blistering cover of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze', complete with space-rock sonics from new guitarist Dominic Miller, who played like a brilliant cross between the Police's Andy Summers and Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music. Another pleasant surprise was former Bruce Springsteen keyboardist David Sancious, whose groove-oriented style was a handsome fit all night long.

(c) The Boston Globe by Steve Morse