Walking memory lane...
Performing to a sold-out crowd at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary on Sunday, we all waited with baited anticipation to see whether two '80s icons had weathered the test of time - ready and able to transcend the years, opening new doors in music, rhythm and soul.
First to take centre stage was Annie Lennox, former lead singer for the once infamous Eurythmics, the British duo that stormed the charts in the '80s with 'Here Comes the Rain Again' and 'Sweet Dreams'. With 20 years between now and those sugar-daddy hits, the test was simple. She had to breathe new life into pop songs that last reigned on wobbling vinyl, travelled in cars on tape and eventually got lost in transition to the present digital age.
The crowd loved hearing the old faves, and Lennox sang them with every ounce of her sprawling voice. Freeze frame: I always wonder though how deep do these artists have to reach inside to play the same songs night after night for 20-odd years? I've seen Nazareth perform their worn hits while leaning on speaker bins, and mic stands, begging for someone to end the agony. Old Yeller I call them now.
Lennox came out with a lot more spark, but as soon as those tinny synth-drum beats started pulsating through the 'dome, I now know pop music, despite its bland beats and formulaic writing, has left Lennox behind. After winning an Academy Award this year for best soundtrack song for Lord of the Rings, I thought she would attempt new material.
Sadly, it never happened. Her audience, standing on its feet, and swaying to the beats of 'Sweet Dreams', was not willing to let her try new material, or even a new haircut. After Lennox finished with her '80s time warp, Sting took to the stage. Achieving greater success as a solo performer since leaving the Police in the early '80s, I looked forward to hearing all those songs that span 30-odd years, and force critics to rank Sting as one of the top international stars of today and yesterday. Not willing to disappoint, Sting sang with grace and maturity, deliberately revealing how he infused reggae beats with jazz to make the Police one of the greatest rock bands of its time. Shifting gears to songs such as 'Sacred Love' and 'Desert Rose', he revealed how East Indian beats and melodies carry these pop diddies-making them international hits.
Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, David Bryne, and now Sting joins the long list of artists who have taken rhythms and beats from other continents to make bread and butter pop songs for our enjoyment. It was somewhat disappointing, the audience once again only took to its feet upon hearing the montage of Police songs Sting sang only as a means to clear the way for new material. After singing the new material, Sting read the audience and understood they came tonight to take a trip down memory lane - so he belted out 'Roxanne' for the umpteenth time. With a clean, "Thank you and good night," he smiled at the gracious audience that perhaps needs a few more years to appreciate his solo efforts.
(c) The Medicine Hat News by Paul Heywood
Grading Sting and Annie...
Here's a report card from Monday night's Sting/Annie Lennox double-bill at the Saddledome.
- PUNCTUALITY: 'A+' Set to go on at 8:05 p.m., Annie hit at 7:58. Every early-minute matters on a school night.
- ATTIRE: 'C+' Lavender blazer, black top, acid-wash blue jeans torn at the knees, sunglasses. A bit too Brandon Walsh from Beverly Hills 90210.
- BANTER: 'B' Introduced her band after a great version of 'Cold', her fifth tune. ''Thank you for a beautiful welcome to Calgary,'' she said. ''It's my first time, you know.''
- SONG SELECTION: 'B+' Highlights included 'Little Bird', 'No More I Love You's', 'Cold', 'Here Comes The Rain Again', 'Waiting In Vain', 'Walking On Broken Glass', 'Missionary Man', 'I Need A Man', 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)', 'Why'.
Lennox would have scored an 'A' had she included 'Angel'.
- EXECUTION: 'B+' Little Bird was close to CD quality and the back-up singers on 'No More I Love You's' hit the ''duh-dut-duh-dut-duh-dut-tu-aw-oh'' parts really well. 'Cold' was beautiful and poignant, but 'Here Comes The Rain Again' was too stripped down to be anywhere as compelling as the original.
- AUDIENCE REACTION: 'B+' At first, the mostly middle-aged audience sat politely and clapped loudly between songs. Towards the end of the set, they clapped during songs, giving her a vociferous standing ovation at the encore.
- VALUE: 'A' to 'C+' Tickets ranged from $44 to $129. Great value for $44, but you'd need the rest of The Eurythmics and The Police for $129 to be a decent price.
- PUNCTUALITY: 'A+' Scheduled to go on at 9:45 p.m., Sting stung at 9:31.
- ATTIRE: 'A' Black pants and black shirt with white collars and cuffs. Sharp look to go with his slicked-back hair.
- BANTER: 'B+' ''Nice to be in Calgary, thank you. I remember the first time I came to Calgary. It was 1979. I was 12 then... No, I remember it was February because it was (expletive) cold.''
- SONG SELECTION: 'B+' 'Send Your Love', 'Synchronicity II', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'We'll Be Together' (with Lennox), 'Fragile', 'Fields of Gold', 'Englishman in New York', 'Roxanne', 'Desert Rose', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', 'Every Breath You Take'. Missing hits included 'Message In a Bottle', 'Fortress Around Your Heart', 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' and 'Walking On The Moon'.
- EXECUTION: 'B+' The energetic 'Send Your Love' set the mood off right and 'Synchronicity II' helped carry it. 'We'll Be Together' with Lennox was a highlight and 'Englishman in New York' was great, but he really got our tantra brewing with 'Sacred Love', during which he had a booty video playing in the background. Sweet!
- AUDIENCE REACTION: 'B+' Dancing, singing and clapping during familiar songs, sitting quietly during newer material.
- VALUE: See Annie Lennox comment.
(c) The Calgary Herald by Nick Lewis
Sting & Annie Lennox deliver...
Have you heard the news? Annie Lennox has been mopping up arena floors all across North America with Sting.
That's the conclusion one draws, reading reviews of the co-headlining tour these icons of '80s rock have been on since late June.
And the verdict, having seen their Monday gig at the 'Dome?
Sure enough, Lennox came out solidly on top this Thanksgiving Day, but it wasn't the sound thrashing so many critics would have you believe.
Sting chose to plow his way down a harder road than Lennox.
The former Police frontman played a longer set in which he tried to push too many of his newer, less established, and, less exciting songs, rather than falling back on his many tried and true hits.
Lennox, whose set was shorter, more passionate and hit-filled did steal the show.
Sting was the first of the superstars to make an appearance Monday, briefly joining his guitarist Dominic Miller, who played an acoustic set that was predominantly classical.
Despite Miller's impressive chops, and his tender duet with Sting on 'Shape of My Heart', the set felt a tad too formal.
Luckily, Annie Lennox shook away that air of stuffiness when she took the stage in her dark shades, torn jeans and bright purple jacket, her hair short-cropped and silvery under the stage lights.
The 49-year-old Scot was simply stunning throughout her show, her voice soul-mama-strong while her band was tight as a snare drum hammering out their slick contemporary funk.
Lennox's version of 'Little Bird' was a real soul workout, with much more muscle than the version we're accustomed to on the radio.
No More ''I Love You's'' was a twinkling pop gem. Lennox gave these songs the grace they deserved too, dancing sensually, appearing almost swan-like as she delivered the goods.
But her tricks were not limited to the soft stuff. Lennox was undeniably brassy on slamming versions of Eurythmics hits 'Missionary Man' and 'Sweet Dreams'.
Sting's performance kicked off with a gusto. The 53-year-old began his show daringly, with the new tune 'Send Your Love', a rhythmic dynamo that blends an electronica pulse with East Indian grooves.
Next up was a pair of hits from The Police, the prog-rock 'Synchronicity II' and the always irresistible 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', which packed plenty of punch thanks to Sting's killer backup band.
In another highlight, Sting brought out Lennox, to the sheer gushing joy of the crowd, for a duet of his solo hit 'We'll Be Together'.
But the energy in Sting's set did wane considerably a few too many times, something that rarely occurred during Lennox's performance.
'Dead Man's Rope' felt too wispy and new-agey. 'Seven Days' was lacklustre. 'Fields of Gold' and 'Fragile' were finely rendered, but they lacked passion.
At one point the big screens featured scantily clad female dancers who appeared to tower over the stage like exotic giants. Cool effect.
Cooler than the music being played at the time, unfortunately.
At press time Sting was launching into the classic 'Roxanne' to the crowd's delight.
It was difficult not approaching this tour without a bit of apprehension.
With The Police, Sting was one of the finest songwriters in the early '80s. But his solo career has seen the guy become increasingly pretentious, self-indulgent and dull.
Though he remains an ambitious musician, Sting stopped being a rocker long ago.
Annie Lennox, whose Eurythmics were one of the only bands that mattered on the '80s synth-pop wave, has fared better as a solo artist, producing the odd cut that lives up to her classic work.
But she too fits a little too snugly in that safe, sanitized realm of adult contemporary popsters.
Either way, on the live front, they both remain creatively vital artists.
But on this tour, give Annie the edge.
(c) The Calgary Herald by Heath McCoy