Soul Cages

George, WA, US
Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theatrewith Special Beat, Vinx
By George - the setting was perfect for Sting...

Sting is finally living up to his potential.

The British singer-songwriter, who in the past couldn't seem to resist acting coy, cute and sexy - undercutting the intelligence and artistry of his music - was more mature, more thoughtful and more musical in the first of two shows last weekend at the Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theater.

The dramatic outdoor setting worked in his favor at the Saturday night show, as a warm wind whipped down the Columbia Gorge, adding texture and movement to the special effects, with stage smoke swirling in the brightly-colored spotlights. A shooting star crossed the sky above the stage at one point - it got one of the biggest hands of the night - and the Big Dipper twinkled overhead as Sting and his very impressive three-piece band put on a long, powerful no-frills show.

Songs from his new album, 'The Soul Cages', were featured, many having to do with the baby-boom generation facing responsibilities, and even mortality (inspired by the death of his parents), and they sounded better than on the recording. He seemed more emotionally attached to the lyrics and the arrangements allowed for more input from the band, expanding and enlarging on the themes of the songs.

The old tunes were also featured, going back to his days with the Police for Roxanne - a crowd favorite, with the obligatory sing-along - 'King of Pain', 'Message in a Bottle' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', and to previous solo albums for 'Fortress Around Your Heart', 'When the World Is Running Down' and others.

The cover songs were appropriate: a surprisingly powerful 'Purple Haze' from ''one of Washington state's favorite sons, Jimi Hendrix,'' and a mellow 'Ain't No Sunshine', a condition in both Eastern and Western Washington on the days preceding the concert.

Sting was never more effective as a bassist, anchoring the music with his sturdy rhythms. He also showed himself to be quite a good acoustic guitarist. David Sancious was brilliant on keyboards, adding jazzy piano, churchlike organ and contemporary synthesizer to Sting's songs. Dominic Miller was adept at both jazz and rock guitar, and Vinnie Colauita was thoroughly professional on drums.

(c) The Seattle Times by Patrick Macdonald

Former Policeman lightens up with arresting performance...

Looking drab and dour in black T-shirt and jeans, Sting hardly looked the part of rock idol. But fans cheered, stamped their feet and threw fists in the air when the former singer for the Police took the stage Saturday night in the first of two weekend shows at Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theatre in George.

This was the show Sting's fans must have been hoping for. Though he gave his introspective new songs from 'The Soul Cages' ample play, he spent just as much time cavorting through the old hits, such as 'Roxanne' and 'Message in a Bottle', that made the Police famous.

Fortunately, Sting did not make the mistake of lumping together his melancholy new songs, which played without pause might have doused the crowd's fiery enthusiasm. In fact, his royal highness of cerebral, eclectic rock was more animated and less sombre than usual. Perhaps the brooding reflections on death (he has lost both parents in recent years) that infuse songs on 'The Soul Cages' have caused him to see life differently. Maybe he has just decided to lighten up.

But his humorous remarks didn't always hit their marks. He introduced 'Mad About You' as a song inspired by a biblical story about King David's lust for a soldier's wife. Sting told the tale in language so blunt that fans didn't know whether to laugh or take cover.

Backing Sting, who played top-notch bass, was a talented threesome of David Sancious on keyboards, Dominic Miller (of King Swamp) on guitar and Vincent (''Vinnie'') Colaiuta on drums. The set began with 'All This Time', one of Sting's most eloquent new songs, based on Norse mythology and an ancient custom of burying the dead in boats. The song, more powerful than the recorded version, brought thunderous applause from the crowd of about 12,000 that filled the steeply terraced amphitheater.

The set moved rapidly through the various phases of Sting's prolific career as a rock musician with a penchant for reggae, jazz and folk. From 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' (1985), he sang 'Fortress Around Your Heart'. His 1987 album, '...Nothing Like the Sun', yielded 'Be Still, My Beating Heart'.

But it was his early hits that produced the most excitement among fans attired in T-shirts, shorts and Day-Glo accessories. A sing-along during 'Roxanne' had concertgoers crowing.

Straying from his repertoire of self-penned songs, Sting offered a dreamlike version of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' and a rousing interpretation of the Jimi Hendrix classic 'Purple Haze'.

Greatly enhancing the performance was a clever lighting technique that shot cones of brilliant light downward through billowing clouds of stage fog, producing eerie, ghostly effects. The stage was otherwise bare, save for personnel, equipment and nature's own backdrop - a gorgeous sunset of pink and orange.

Sting's crowd-pleasing show closed with several Police classics, including 'Walking On the Moon', 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message in a Bottle'.

Joining Sting and his trio for the show's final moments was another single-syllable musician, Vinx. His contribution was small, but earlier the singer-percussionist performed a strong second opening set of songs from his Sting-produced album, 'Rooms in My Fatha's House'.

Vinx (real name: Vincent De Jon Parrette) began with 'Tell My Feet', a powerful showcase for his percussive talents on the giant djembe drum, played between his knees.

Dressed in African-style clothing, the Kansas-bred musician offered a quick, entertaining set that included a humorous, mocking sing-along of Harry Belafonte's 'Banana Boat' (Day-O) with bawdy lyrics and an emotional 'Don't Got To Be That Way', dealing with urban violence and his father's murder.

The first opening set featured England's nine-member Special Beat, made up of former members of the Specials and English Beat, leaders of Britain's short-lived ''two-tone'' movement made up of racially mixed bands. Leading the band in a blend of ska, reggae and rock were Ranking Roger and Neville Staples. They roused the willing crowd with several tunes from their collective pasts.

(c) The Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Gene Stout

Sting weaves his emotional magic...

The sun had just dipped below the mauve crest of mountains that bordered the western skyline. The sunset's soft spectrum of pastel colors became the backdrop to the enormous black stage that hugged the rim of the natural amphitheater in the cliff above the Columbia River. The stage lights waved, then spurted energetically to life. The 12,000 attendants of the Summer Theatre Aug. 10 at the Champs de Brionne Winery near George, Wash., leaped skyward to welcome Sting.

The master of personal emotion storytelling began the night with three songs from his latest release, 'The Soul Cages'. The first was 'All This Time', a song about the reflections of his youth, growing up as a ship builder's son in Newcastle, England. After the number, Sting told the crowd it was ''nice to be back in Washington state,'' then he paused, looked back over his shoulder at ''the river (that) flowed endlessly to the sea'' behind him and exclaimed ''nice backyard you have.''

A rock/jazz fusion tune 'Jeremiah Blues' and the seductive 'Mad About You' followed. Suprisingly Sting introduced the next song as one from Bill Withers. He went into the cold vocal open of 'Ain't No Sunshine', which puzzled me as to why this was in his set.

But he was only setting the stage for an extended version of the gripping 'Why Should I Cry For You?'

Hardly a pulse was taken between the final note of the previous tune and the single blue spotlight that focused on Sting from above as he sang 'Roxanne'. The first hit record that Sting wrote as the leader of the power pop trio The Police sent a blaze through the audience. Turning the song into a blues/rock arrangement, Sting eventually had the canyon walls echoing ''ROX-ANN-O, ROX-ANN-O, ROX-ANN-O'' from every mouth in the crowd.

Two more Police standards ('When The World Is Running Down, You Make the Best Of What's Still Around' and 'King of Pain') led up to the title song from 'The Soul Cages'.

Sting's undeniable control of his subjects was obvious throughout the mesmerizing intensity of the emotion-packed ballad. We all were swaying east to west in awe.

Then came the highlight of the evening for me. Sting stepped to the microphone and said, ''We want to play something special tonight by a man from Washington state who influences us all.'' Then lead guitarist Dominic Miller struck the notes to the opening of 'Purple Haze'. Everyone popped goosebumps as Sting immortalized Jimi Hendrix.

'Fortress Around Your Heart' and 'Walking On The Moon' were taken to new highs as the starlit sky above the Gorge was brightened by two falling stars. Everything was electric.

Not missing a syllable to a single word in the lyrics, the 12,000 strong helped Sting with the most popular song from the Police era, 'Every Breath You Take', and rolled into the momentum of 'Message In A Bottle'.

The regular portion of the concert was over. Sting returned to the spotlights for one last song as an encore, an acoustic version of 'Be Still My Beating Heart'. It was a warm and fuzzy finale to the evening. Sting had come to bare his soul in song... and reinforced the magic in everyone.

(c) The Lewiston Morning Tribune by Steve MacKelvie