Broken Music

Madison, WI, US
Kohl Centerwith Phantom Planet
Sting Brings Out Ghosts For The Night - His Old Standards Serve Him Well As He Tries To Reach Out To A Younger Crowd...

A few years after leaving his bandmates in the Police to walk the musical beat alone, Sting released 'Bring on the Night', a live disc that proved what an electric, versatile performer he could be all on his own.

At the Kohl Center Friday night, Sting brought his Broken Music Tour to Madison, offering the faithful - and a set of new fans - a taste of the power of that 'Bring on the Night' magic.

Clad in a GQ-worthy charcoal suit, the 53-year-old singer-songwriter clutched his bass guitar, stood and delivered a rock-solid 90-minute set that, by his own admission, represented a trip back to his musical roots.

''Tonight, I'm going to sing some songs that I haven't sung in many years - like 'My Sharona,''' Sting quipped to laughter, before launching his tight four-piece band into a nostalgic rendition of 'Spirits in the Material World' from the Police's 'Ghost in the Machine'.

With no new release to promote, Sting is working the campus angle this time out. The former teacher is alternately visiting classrooms (as he did at UW-Madison on Friday) and concert halls to connect with a generation of people who weren't even alive when 'Message in a Bottle' and 'Invisible Sun' first broke.

Whether the strategy's working seems open to question: Despite a list of hit songs that could fill several best-of discs, tickets for the show sold slowly, and the audience of about 5,000 filled only the Kohl Center's lower levels.

Still, the ones who showed up - an eclectic mix of college students and boomers - were treated to Sting at his ageless best. Aside from botching the introduction of his drummer, Sting scarcely missed a beat as he blasted his way through the Police oeuvre: 'Demolition Man', 'Driven to Tears' and 'Synchronicity II', still one of the keenest, most literate critiques of the hollowness of suburban life ever written.

Sting has always been an English major's musical dream, a man who doesn't write songs so much as set lyrical poems to music, pairing his vast vocabulary with a raw voice that shows as much range today as when he was riding pop's New Wave in the '80s.

At one point, in introducing a more obscure tune called 'The End of the Game', Sting quoted George Bernard Shaw on the subject of fox hunts. What else to expect from the only man to successfully incorporate graceful references to Nabokov, Ozymandias and Mephistopheles into Top 40 hits?

The set list dodged most of Sting's last three studio releases, including 2003's painfully self-indulgent 'Sacred Love', opting instead for an amped-up cover of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' and a funky version of 'When the World Is Running Down'.

Sting deliberately saved the best for last for with a slow-down/speed-up version of 'Roxanne', a tune that had the middle-agers up and shaking straight through the three-song encore. Before he left the stage, Sting, confident as ever, was promising an imminent return.

When he does, even if he doesn't fill the house, here's hoping he brings on the night yet again.

(c) Wisconsin State Journal by Aaron Conklin

Sting is king of cool again...

The Onion had a great mock editorial a few years ago, supposedly written by Sting, headlined ''You Know, I Actually Used to Be Kind of Cool Once.''

The premise was that Sting was surprised to learn that, prior to making millions as a smooth adult contemporary solo artist, he had fronted a spiky, funky rock band called the Police.

Even if Sting hadn't actually written the article, you have to wonder if he shared its sentiments a little. Which is why, for his current ''Broken Music'' tour, which arrived at the Kohl Center on Friday night, Sting may be trying to reconnect with his cool younger self.

Instead of conjuring up a lush, world-music vibe as he has on previous tours, Sting stripped his songs down to their essentials Friday. He played on a largely unadorned black stage with a basic three-piece rock band behind him.

More tellingly, he only played one song off his current 'Sacred Love' album, instead diving deep into the Police's back catalog to dust off rough gems like the reggae-splashed 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' or the punky 'What Can I Do'. This was not a show for the Sting fan who thought his duet with P. Diddy was the high-water mark of his career. This was a show for the diehard Police fans who still argue over whether 'Reggatta de Blanc' or 'Zenyatta Mondatta' was the better Police album.

''Tonight, I'm going to be singing lots of songs that I haven't sung in many years,'' Sting told the audience, who cheered loudly.

It made for a very alive and alert 100 minutes of music, as Sting and his band pounded out song after song with enthusiasm and urgency, deftly mixing favorites like 'Message in a Bottle' with lesser-known tunes. Guitarists Dominic Miller and Shane Fontayne built up churning energy on rockers like 'Demolition Man' and 'Driven to Tears', while drummer Josh Freese, of the art-metal band A Perfect Circle, added punch to tracks like 'Invisible Sun'.

Even 'Roxanne', which Sting has played to death over the years, often in a slow acoustic version, got new life with a rock arrangement that more resembled the original.

Not only did most of the songs still sound fresh, but many of them sounded uncannily appropriate for modern times. The line ''You could say I lost my belief in the politicians'' got a rousing cheer from the audience, and the anthem 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make The Best of What's Still Around' sounds like it was written yesterday instead of in the late 1970s. Pretty cool, indeed.

Los Angeles pop-rockers Phantom Planet, featuring 1996 Madison West graduate Jeff Conrad on drums, set the table nicely for Sting with a winsome opening set. During their biggest hit, 'California', the band had the audience hold up their cell phones, and the hundreds of pale blue screens in the darkness formed an eerily beautiful sight. It was sort of like the old rock concert tradition of holding up your cigarette lighter, but easier on the lungs.

(c) The Capital Times by Rob Thomas