Broken Music

Boston, MA, US
Agganis Arenawith Fiction Plane
An old-school Sting energizes Agganis...

Give Sting credit for upending the assumption that he always has to play huge arenas. In a smart move, he's been on a stripped-down tour of college campuses. It's fun to imagine the aristocratic Sting at such humble places as the University of Montana and Cleveland State, but the tour evidently agrees with him, judging from his rejuvenating show at Boston University's Agganis Arena on Thursday.

It was a crowd-pleaser for the students, but also for the many older Sting fans who got to hear him do 20 songs - 12 of them from his heyday with the Police.

Sting had a great band with him Thursday - a lean, mean rockin' machine featuring guitarists Dominic Miller (who's been with him for years) and Shane Fontayne (Springsteen fans will remember him touring with the Boss in the '90s), and workhorse drummer Josh Freese, who is normally with A Perfect Circle.

Sting slipped out of the darkness to start with four straight Police tunes: 'Message in a Bottle', 'Demolition Man', 'Spirits in the Material World' (he joked that it was a song that Madonna ripped off), and 'Synchronicity II'.

The tone was set for a high-energy, back-to-basics show, but he also dug out lesser-played songs such as 'Driven to Tears', which drew gasps from the faithful.

The stage production was not as enormous as usual, but it still had a sizable lighting grid and LED lights that blinked red during the boudoir tune ''Roxanne'. Another highlight was Sting's thoughtful version of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life', where he praised the Beatles for showing his generation that ''we could also write songs and conquer the world.''

Sting conquered the Agganis this time - and it was also a pleasure to hear his son's band, Fiction Plane. Fronted by Joe Sumner (his dad's real name is Gordon Sumner), Fiction Plane had a buoyant, U2-ish sound that merits attention regardless of his family connections. Fiction Plane also performs at the Paradise Lounge on Monday night. (c) The Boston Globe by Steve Morse

Don't fix it if it ain't 'Broken'...

''Give the people what they want,'' the Kinks once sang. But Sting has never played that game.

Once his trio the Police broke up, he left the band's music behind him and, with only occasional exceptions, always seemed more committed to, ''Give the people what I think they need.''

Until this 'Broken Music' tour.

Last night's sold-out show at the Agganis Arena night featured more Police songs than Sting's solo material. The nearly 90-minute set even began with an opening triplet that would make most veteran Sting fans giddy: 'Message in a Bottle', 'Spirits in the Material World' and 'Demolition Man'.

He was just getting started. Backed by a slim, sinewy trio featuring guitarists Dominic Miller and Shayne Fontayne, along with drummer Josh Freese, Sting dipped way into his band's old songbook before he was done.

There was the inevitable, taffy-stretched 'Roxanne', but also 'Driven to Tears', 'Invisible Sun', 'King of Pain', 'Next to You' and 'Every Breath You Take', among others.

The night was a prime example of what happens when a veteran performer like Sting goes on tour with no new product in the stores: It means there is no need to sit through seven or eight fresh but lukewarm tunes to get to the real goods.

''I suppose I'm trying to get back to my roots,'' he said midway through the concert. The spartan stage setting, the small band, the simple rock songs all seemed to indicate Sting realized his last few tours were filled with cluttered, overblown settings, songs and arrangements.

The downside to visiting past glories: with the exception of the occasional post-Police tune such as 'Fields of Gold', his recent material paled in comparison to the vintage stuff.

Sting introduced 'I Hung My Head' by noting he knew he'd finally made it as a country songwriter when Johnny Cash performed the tune. He added that watching American westerns as a child exposed him to country music. ''I had this weekly diet of morality tales in the biblical landscape of the Old West,'' he said.

Clad in a charcoal pin-striped suit and black T-shirt, Sting also wore a soul patch, and when he stood at center stage with his Fender bass parallel to the floor, he looked like the ultimate jazz hipster.

His vocals were in fine shape, too, though he sprayed the contents of a variety of bottles down his throat during the show.

An effective 'A Day in the Life' was his nod to the Beatles, and Sting gave a shout-out to the defunct punk club the Rat, where his old band played its first local gig.

Early in his set, he noted, ''It's a great honor to follow your son onstage,'' referring to lead singer/bassist Joe Sumner of opening act Fiction Plane.

Fiction Plane's set was hardly another example of ''coattails rock.'' Sumner's an able frontman in a band with good dynamics and some smart songs such as 'Everything Will Never Be Okay'.

(c) The Boston Herald by Dean Johnson