Soul Cages

East Troy, WI, US
Alpine Valley Music Theaterwith Susannah Hoffs, Don Henley
Don Henley, Sting inspire Alpine crowd...

It was a study in contrast when Don Henley and Sting - two of the great rock poets of our time - shared the bill at Alpine Valley this weekend.

To have two such lyricists on the same stage was apt. It was a benefit for the Walden Woods project, Henley's crusade to save the Massachusetts countryside that inspired Henry David Thoreau.

The packed house Saturday, spread thick over Alpine's steep hillside, heard Henley roll neatly through a dozen tunes plucked from 20 years worth of material.

More often than not they sounded ''just like the record.'' But that, apparently, is what the mainstream crowd came to hear.

The guy described as ''the best thin-lipped soul singer alive'' started off soulful with 'Dirty Laundry' and 'Driving With Your Eyes Closed', then slid neatly into 'End of the Innocence'. He dipped back into the soulful mode for the Eagles' 'Wasted Time', wringing every last drop of vocal emotion from the sad ballad.

Highlight of the set was an acoustic version of 'Heart of the Matter'. Annoyed as I have become with the hackneyed cliche of perky, aerobically fit backup singers in matching black minidresses, Henley's three came in like angels.

Though his drumming these days is lame at best, Henley obliged longtime fans by sitting down during two encores. He ended with 'Desperado', a song so well-known it became a chorale, the audience singing it back to the songwriter.

Sting stormed the stage with half the musicians but twice the musicianship.

His sparse band of four - himself on bass, the incomparable Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Dominic Miller on guitar and David Sancious on keyboards - ripped through 'All This Time', 'Mad About You' and 'Roxanne', and 'When the World Is Running Down'.

Where Henley's band reprised, lick by lick, his music, Sting delivered new exciting versions of 'Walking on the Moon', 'If I Build a Fortress', 'Soul Cages' and 'Dream of the Blue Turtles'. The only perfunctory plays were his popular hits, 'King of Pain' and 'Every Breath You Take'.

Too bad more people weren't on time for opener Susanna Hoffs, on her first post-Bangles solo tour. A singer in the bleating Madonna tradition, Hoffs touched on some lovely songs from her new album, plus the obligatory Bangles hits.

(c) Chicago Sun-Times by Leslie Baldacci

Sting escapes melancholy cage...

Although an evening with a pair of sunflowers like Henley and Sting is never going to be exactly lighthearted, Sting's portion of the show Sunday night at Alpine Valley Music Theater was hardly the cup of hemlock one might expect.

Sting has a reputation for pretension built in part on the silly name, in part on a bent for seriousness verging on self-impor- tance, and in part on a writing preference for dwelling on the dark side. A lot of rock musicians write about catching the girl. Sting wants to know why the girl has to die someday.

Despite all that, Sting came on stage at Alpine vowing to have a good time and more or less delivered. Sure, he did somber little meditations on the death of his father like 'Why Should I Cry for You', but he also led off with 'All This Time', the bouncy single from his latest album, 'Soul Cages'. And 'All This Time' was interwoven with Wilson Pickett's 'Midnight Hour'.

In fact, Sting drew heavily on 1960s and '70s covers, ranging from Bobby Darin ('If I Were a Carpenter') to Jimi Hendrix ('Purple Haze') to Bill Withers ('Ain't No Sunshine').

This is probably Sting's most accessible outing in quite a while. Despite their dark lyrics, those 'Soul Cages' tunes have a Celtic folkish hue that's far easier to grasp than the jazz stylings on 'Dream of the Blue Turtles'.

This time, it's just him in the context of rock combo four-piece, featuring guitarist Dominic Miller, of Racine, and keyboardist David Sancious. Although Sancious was given room for jazz meanderings on 'Ain't No Sunshine', this is the closest Sting has come to straight-ahead Police-style rock in quite a while.

He delved freely into his Police files, in fact, for 'Roxanne', 'King of Pain' and 'Every Breath You Take'. It's probably a little daunting for an artist as actively engaged as Sting to have the crowd save its biggest response for those tunes. On the other hand, he seems to have an excellent attitude toward his past, enjoying it without dwelling on it.

Deadlines made it impossible to catch Henley.

(c) The Milwaukee Sentinel by Dave Tianen

Henley's hot, but Sting's not, at Alpine Valley...

Sting and Don Henley have at least two things in common: Each founded one of the more significant rock groups of recent decades (Sting with the Police, Henley the Eagles) and went on to a successful solo career.

But when the platinum pair played two shows over the weekend at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, the similarities were hardly evident.

Even with a new record to promote, the dreary 'The Soul Cages', Sting's set lacked the passion of Henley's, whose only new product was tour T-shirts. When the former Police bassist headlined at the Arie Crown Theatre in February, he focused on new material. Sunday night at Alpine, he showcased his past.

After a lighthearted rendition of 'All This Time', Sting moved through three more new numbers that were embellished by keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Sting, again playing the bass after two tours during which he concentrated on singing, reveled in the control the instrument gave him as he toyed with tempos throughout the set.

With his shorn blond hair and combat boots, Sting's look reflected the Police years that he reprised in song: A speedy 'Every Breath You Take', a perfunctory 'King of Pain' and 'When the World Is Running Down', which became an all-out dance party. The familiar minor chord that rang out for 'Roxanne' brought the expected wild applause.

He neglected his solo hits except for 'Fortress Around Your Heart', and instead threw himself into a cover of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze', as well as a gritty 'The Soul Cages'.

As the sky darkened, Henley's show opened with intricate lighting and a nine-piece band that conjured up the atmosphere of an urban-cowboy nightclub to match Henley's vest-and-whiskers look.

Henley worked his Telecaster guitar over the raucous Dirty Laundry before a four-keyboard version of 'The End of the Innocence'. As he moved into 'Sunset Grill', the sound packed a studio-quality kick. Bathed in smoky orange light that reflected the tavern atmosphere of the song, Henley's scratchy voice caressed and hit each high note.

Guitarists John Coury and Frank Simes blistered the rocker 'I Will Not Go Quietly' as Henley's ungainly movements recalled Joe Cocker. In his introduction to 'If Dirt Were Dollars', Henley decried government hypocrisy in the arrest of Pee-wee Herman, then softened the mood on the Eagles' 'Victim of Love'.

For 'The Heart of the Matter', Henley seemed to be reliving the emotions of the song, and it was the concert's highlight. 'The Boys of Summer' was oddly appropriate for the chilly evening as Henley wistfully sang, ''The summer's out of reach.''

Henley closed the 90-minute show with a rousing version of 'All She Wants to Do Is Dance' and returned for an encore of 'Hotel California', which has become the 'Free Bird' crowd-pleaser of his live shows.

(c) The Chicago Tribune by Brena Herrmann