For Sting, it's not musicial style over substance: it's ego...
The chiseled cheekbones. The piercing eyes. The 16 Grammys. The medal from the queen of England and the honor from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (into which he was inducted with his ex-band The Police). The actress wife with whom, he has said, he can have tantric sex for hours and hours. His dedication to rain forests and peace on earth.
It's easy to hate Sting - not just because he's beautiful, but because privilege, accomplishments and taste radiate oh-so-smugly from his angular, debonair frame.
Friday night, when the 52-year-old English musician born Gordon Sumner opened his world Sacred Love Tour with a sold-out show at Miami's James L. Knight Center, a Jean Paul Gaultier man's dress also hung elegantly on that frame. It was a daring and sophisticated fashion statement that Sting's music never lived up to. (Tonight's show is also sold out, though some tickets may become available this evening, a spokesperson for promoter Clear Channel said.)
For an hour and 45 minutes, Sting played songs from his quarter-century career as a musician who has pulled instruments, timbres and beats from a variety of world musics. Sting's knowledge of idioms has always been impressive and forward-thinking for a pop-rock icon.
However, as he did Friday night, he blends these elements into a smooth, new-age concoction subsumed by his tremendous ego. 'Englishman in New York' awkwardly skipped from jazz to funk to reggae, only landing on Sting's identity crisis: ''I'm an illegal alien.'' Sting is sincere about his appreciation of these musics, but as he sang, ''Love is annihilation.'' His nondenominational embrace of genres and religions becomes ethnic erasure, as culturally androgynous as his pin-striped pinafore.
Sting interspersed old songs with new ones from his fall 2003 release, 'Sacred Love'. The album's meditations on the global need for and failure of human compassion and community are eminently spiritually and politically correct, although Bob Marley said it all better decades ago with One Love.
On 'Send Your Love', the evening's second number, Sting sang about transformation over a trance-like disco beat. From tantric sex to desert mysticism, the son of a milkman has apparently been on a quest for conversion experiences. His memoir 'Broken Music', released last fall, opens with him trying a Brazilian ritual drug. At several points in the show, he seemed to be seeking the dynamic peaks of American gospel and soul music.
But Sting always remains too in control for that kind of release. His songs drip with irony instead of quake with vulnerability. or they glaze into nothingness.
He has a distinctive voice that was in fine form, perhaps even richer with age. But his duet with backup singer Joy Rose showed he could use some time with a church choir. But after all these years, Sting remains just a banal bassist.
(c) The Miami Herald by Evelyn McDonnell
Sting doesn't stray very far from his bass...
Sting opened a North American tour here on Friday with a few jazz-styled bars of 'Walking on the Moon', which in its original form is a reverb-soaked, rock-reggae love letter from his days in the Police. In the version prepared for opening night, Sting vamped on a large upright acoustic bass and called out the song's whistling melody with a bit of rhythmic scat.
He was using the old tune as a bit of a tease, as it turned out. Walking served as a short overture to one of his solo tunes.
Right away, the 4,600 people at the sold-out James L. Knight Center knew where Sting's priorities lay. The well-traveled British rocker, 52, would hardly ignore with the distinctive work he did in the '70s and '80s while leading the Police. But the old stuff would have a supporting role as Sting emphasized his far-longer solo career, and in particular songs from 'Sacred Love'.
That r&b-leaning new album got a considerable workout from Sting and his seven-piece backing band, and 10 days of rehearsal in South Florida had clearly helped the ensemble make a generally clean go of the songs on Friday.
The problem, at times, was the songs themselves: Apart from the brisk, open-hearted title track, most were so fixated on structure and erudition - even for Sting - their emotional potential seemed to disappear in a maze of musical charts.
Sting, in his usual strong vocal form, gave Inside's coda his all with a preacher-like string of rhyming words: ''violate,'' ''indicate,'' ''devastate,'' and the whole multitude of ''ate''-suffixed oratorical verbs.
But the roof-raising really did not get under way until Sting let his back-catalogue do some heavy lifting for him. A three-song run of Police songs - 'Hole in my Life', 'Dead Man's Rope' and 'Synchronicity II' - brought the crowd to its feet.
'Hole in My Life' sounded strongest of the three, holding to the basic, boyish bounce and melancholy humor of the original. 'Dead Man's Rope' was an acoustic breeze. 'Synchronicity II' - well, in hindsight this is the Jerry Bruckheimer movie of Police songs, even untampered-with a big-budget morass with blockbuster ambition. Maybe it's time to retire the improbable, cross-metaphorical tale of a middle-class man nearing a state of postal rage while, ''many miles away,'' Nessie rises from her Loch.
Sting flubbed a lyric on that song and on 'Roxanne', but the latter had its clipped reggae bite and its high vocal intact.
The show ended with a heavily arranged - sometimes pureed - flurry of solo-Sting songs that rolled right over another Police song in their path, 'Every Breath You Take', that deserved a little better.
Sexy Sting a make-out master...
Among the various fetching, if pricey, wares for sale in the lobby of Miami's James L. Knight Center during Friday night's Sting concert was a T-shirt bearing a line from his recent single 'Send Your Love': ''There's no religion but sex and music,'' with a bold emphasis on the ''sex and music'' part.
Whether or not you ascribe to His Stingness' particular theology, the man practices what he preaches. The former Police captain and reigning high priest of rock/jazz spiritual sensualism kicked off his North American tour with a two-hour set filled to the brim with a selection of tunes old and new, and decadent touches of straight-up sexual euphoria.
''What I like about this town,'' the trim, taut and tan singer pronounced, ''is that everyone looks as if they've just had sex, are about to have sex, or are having sex.''
The sheer bulk of Sting's musical catalog, both his Police and solo material, is stunning, and you knew from the start that there was no way he could get to everything.
There seemed to be a fear that he and his 10-member band were going to go light on the reggae-infused beats of his former band and hew to his more recent incarnation as the Pied Piper of Adult Contemporary Love Music, sort of like a yoga-practicing Barry White.
Ultimately, Sting paid tribute to his old hard-rocking self even as he paid the bills with the new material. He started with a slow, jazzy snippet of the Police hit 'Walking On The Moon', cooing over an upright base. Then it was on to the newer stuff, like 'Send Your Love' and other selections from his latest album, 'Sacred Love'.
Aided by his tight band and sexy backup singers, Sting poured out plenty of that world music-tinged light rock that fans of his earlier work love to mock, like the chanty 'Desert Rose'. He also spun out some of his earlier songs like 'If You Love Someone Set Them Free' and the Police's 'Synchronicity II', slowing some into a jazz reggae hybrid that stretched them into 10-minute mini sexy symphonies.
Even if you aren't a fan of the music itself, it'd be hard not to be a fan of the musician after seeing him live. The man glows... I mean he almost literally shines, with a confidence that would threaten to bleed into arrogance if he wasn't so dang good. He's an exemplary guitarist with a clear tenor made all the sexier by crisp enunciation and those piercing high notes he holds, and holds.
He's also a gorgeous, body-fatless and energetic 52-year-old ball of confident manliness, even in a natty blazer of a pin-striped dress over a pair of dress pants.
Just when it seemed that the glowering, spiky-haired rascal of the 'Synchronicity' era had permanently hung up his sneer, the former Gordon Sumner pulled a little something something out of his bag of tricks.
At the end of a blissfully slowed-down reggae romp through the Police classic 'Roxanne', Sting paused, and then ripped into the more traditional rocked-out, frenetically pounding original version, his back-up singers intoning the name of the song's hooker heroine as Sting closed his eyes, pleading for that woman not to put on the red light. For about 30 seconds, it was 1982 all over again. The moment was stunning, emotionally satisfying, and disappointing only because as good as it was, you knew it had to end.
And isn't that what a good make-out session should be?
(c) The Palm Beach Post by Leslie Gray Streeter