Songs From The Labyrinth

Hong Kong, CN
Jockey Clubwith None
Sting & Edin Karamazov in Hong Kong...

For the few folks who left Sting and Edin Karamazov's concert at the Jockey Club Auditorium early: pffft to you. You didn't know they were going to be playing the melancholic 16th century works of John Dowland? Where was 'Roxanne', you ask? Well, you should have read at least one of the posters, perhaps one of the pre-show interviews (this one would have done), or, hell, even looked at that lute Sting was hugging in the ads. This was not a usual Sting show, as the man himself declared at the night's beginning, wearing a thick beard that made him almost unrecognisable.

Sting set the mood for the unique show by introducing an a capella choir called Stile Antico, who performed a quietly beautiful set of classics, including about the only rendition of Silent Night (aside from Simon and Garfunkel's) that doesn't induce automatic vomiting. The audience of about 700 - the Polytechnic University's auditorium was only about 70 percent full - had to wait until close to 9pm for he of the hoarse voice to make a musical appearance.

When he did, it was with a solemnity that stood in stark contrast to the exuberance of The Police world tour, which concluded in August in New York City. Sting gave the audience a lesson in the history of John Dowland, a 16th-century singer-songwriter and renowned lute player who, as Catholic, feared persecution by the Protestant Queen.

Sting, clad in a long black jacket and seated on a stool throughout the show, demonstrated competent skills on the difficult lute but impressed even more with expressive and rich vocal tones, successfully bringing back to life Dowland's master works of 400 years ago, including 'Come Heavy Sleep', 'Flow My Tears', and a truly moving 'In Darkness Let Me Dwell'.

Edin Karamazov, meanwhile, proved a virtuoso on the lute, with frighteningly nimble fingers and a caress that would soothe even the most petulant child. His prowess was most ably demonstrated on the instrumental 'Beyond the Waves'.

As Sting's Dowland set drew to a close, he told the crowd he believed the Renaissance musician laid down a musical DNA that influenced music even to this day. By way of proof, he played a song from the late 19th-century, one from the 1920s, and then a brilliant rendition of The Beatles' 'In My Life', which suited the lute and seemed to prove his DNA theory.

By this stage, a handful of the aforementioned early-departees had left the building, which meant they missed what for many was the show's high point (more fools them). With no introduction, Sting and Karamazov launched into 'Fields of Gold', with backing vocals provided by Stile Antico. They followed that with a stirring version of 'Message in a Bottle', with a slightly re-arranged and fully harmonised chorus. With these songs, Sting proved himself an equal to Dowland.

There were two encores. While the crowd might have been hoping for a luted-up version of 'Every Breath You Take', they instead got another Dowland classic and an almost-raucous (playfully so) dirty blues, with Karamazov standing and wielding his lute as if in a Hendrix electric-guitar solo.

The crowd wanted more, but the lights went up. So did most people's estimation of Sting's musical talents.

(c) Time Out by Hamish McKenzie