Soul Cages

Normal, IL, US
Redbird Arenawith Concrete Blonde, Vinx
Double dose of diversity - Sting, Simon shows expanded music menu...

Last week's concerts by Sting and Paul Simon in central Illinois venues displayed significant steps toward broadening pop music and challenging concert audiences.

Both artists prominently featured cuts from their curious new releases: Sting's 'The Soul Cages', with its personal and dark reflections on his father's death, and Simon's 'The Rhythm of the Saints', which expands the performer's desire (started with his 'Graceland' LP) to blend ''world beat'' music into the American mainstream.

Neither Sting nor Simon relied on predictability. The pair selected backing bands that could flourish on their own (and often did). Sting used a three-piece ensemble with a penchant for jazz-flavored improvisation, while Simon led a melting-pot, 17-piece unit that represented enough countries to qualify as a United Nations subcommittee.

Neither performer rested on his laurels, although by the conclusion of Simon's two-hour-and-20-minute extravaganza, he had covered Simon and Garfunkel nuggets ('Sounds of Silence' et al) and performed a complete cross-section of his 20-year solo career.

Though attempts to freshen up old favorites by both musicians had mixed results, the use of these songs illustrates a nice middle ground between concert-goers who demand blasts from the past and the performer's desire to avoid repetition.

Judging by crowd response at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena, Sting would have annoyed many fans had he excluded the Police gem 'Roxanne'. So he performed a revamped version of 'Roxanne', with instrumental interlude, after hearing the crowd's requests for the song.

While Sting has a tendency to be lyrically stuffy and pretentious on 'The Soul Cages', his hit single, 'All This Time', rises above the typically shallow Top 10 fare. In the song, Sting sharply expresses anger at the religious aspect of his father's funeral... and this rubs shoulders on the same Billboard charts as Wilson Phillips' pop fodder! Surprisingly, Sting disregarded virtually all of the material from his first two solo albums. Still, 'Nothing Like the Sun's' 'Fragile' highlighted the encore.

Despite Sting's comfortable but unnecessary mid-show cover of 'Purple Haze', he unveiled enough surprises and musical splash to make certain his solo career will stand on its own rather than become a forgotten postscript to his Police work.

Even more impressive than Sting's tour de force was Simon's percussion-fueled show at the Peoria Civic Center last Saturday. A distinct departure from his 'Graceland' shows, Simon's 'Born at the Right Time' tour covered the talented songwriter's material from four decades.

You could see Simon wallowing in the opportunity to lead his multi-cultured band. He'd smile broadly during numbers, immersed in the music's flow and, at times, oblivious to the crowd. It's natural, then, for him to want to restructure his old hits, including a gospel 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters', a freewheeling 'Still Crazy After All These Years', and a Latin-flavored 'Kodachrome'.

What has sustained Simon as a valuable and respected artist in the '90s is his ability to combine astute songwriting with fresh instrumental flourishes.

'The Rhythm of the Saints', like 'Graceland', contains an ever-present intoxicating beat. In Peoria, Simon opened with 'The Obvious Child' and offered us the first taste of his thundering five-person percussion section, which could make a flagpole dance.

Even without South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (featured performers on 'Graceland'), Simon showcased several cuts from the popular album, including the bitterweet title cut and the bubbly 'I Know What I Know'.

And what did Simon do after he turned the well-dressed audience into dancing maniacs by playing 'You Can Call Me Al' to close a set? He played it again.

(c) The State Journal-Register by Tom Alesia

Sting gives fans all that they came for...

Last night's concert at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena starring Sting and Concrete Blonde was fantastic.

All the elements were there for a great concert. Opening act Concrete Blonde treated their fans to just about anything a Concrete Blonde fan would want to hear, including their latest radio-hit ''Joey.''

Shortly after the opening band exited, another act took the stage by surprise. Vinx was kind of a cross between Bobby McFerrin and Eddie Murphy, mixing humor with music, using only a pair of conga drums to accompany him.

After a mere 20 minute performance, Vinx let everyone know the main reason he was there, as he introduced the ''man who produced my first album for me ... STING!''

To say that Sting gave the audience what they came for is an understatement. From the very first number, 'All this Time', from his current album 'Soul Cages', Sting never once lost the audience that greeted him with thunderous applause.

After only three or four solo numbers, the near-capacity crowd really came to life as Sting asked for requests. Of course, most longtime fans shouted out the titles of their favorite Police tunes.

This is an interesting point in a solo artist's career. Some of rock music's most popular names, like John Fogerty and even Paul McCartney, have had to ask themselves the same question. ...Should they try to put their past accomplishments completely behind them, or should they give the audience what they REALLY want to hear?

Fortunately, Sting chose the latter path, donating a great deal of his performance to Police classics like 'Roxanne', 'King of Pain', 'Message in a Bottle', and probably their most famous hit, 'Every Breath You Take'. There were even incredible renditions of the Bill Withers hit 'Ain't No Sunshine' and Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.

Sting's band was the icing on the cake. He has surrounded himself with three of the industry's most talented musicians, the most incredible of which is the versatile David Sancious.

To anyone who is an avid concert-goer, it's hard to pick out the best show they've ever seen. However, it's a sure bet that some of them are going to pick this one.

(c) The Pantagraph by Rick Halberg