Songs From The Labyrinth

Perth, WA, AU
Concert Hallwith None
Sting, brilliant, but different...

After a year long break for a little thing called The Police reunion world tour, Sting's attention has returned to his celebration of the life and work of Elizabethan composer and songwriter John Dowland (1563-1626).

The top cop's name on the marquee ensured a sell-out but thankfully the crowd came prepared to hear his 2006 album 'Songs From The Labyrinth'.

There were no incessant flashes of phone cameras, no phones held aloft to send images/songs to absent friends and most importantly no chatter from the darkness.

The volume levels were so low it wasn't clear if microphones had been necessary. That's no criticism for it was refreshing to have your ears reaching for the music rather than having it attack you.

Leading his collaborator in this project, lutenist Edin Karamazov, Sting bound on stage looking like a ruggedly handsome lord of the manner.

Much of his face was covered with a thick beard and his thigh length coat suggested he was dressing to immerse himself in the role of Dowland as he read from his letters to the secretary of state of the time Robert Cecil.

The spoken word sections were included to add context to the songs. It appears the composer was a somewhat bitter man disappointed that his obvious skills did not help him curry favour at the British court. Sting moved between reading the letters and speaking of Dowland with a modern perspective.

This man, a giant in the rock world for nearly three decades, has stood with his shirt off singing to tens of thousands of people, but in front of 2000 curious fans initially he appeared quite ill at ease.

At points he read the texts too fast and the words fell in a flurry. His nervousness was also apparent in the way some introductions were lost in applause for the previous song.

Far from distracting from the performance, what was lost in detail was gained in drawing the audience to him.

By the second song 'The Lowest Trees Have Tops' any fear the night would be ruined by requests for 'Roxanne' were laid aside.

One of the most ''pop'' of the Dowland songs on show, its chorus didn't exactly invite a singalong but the connection between its 1603 copyright and 2008 was easily made.

The 57 year old Englishman has a natural connection with the material. His instantly recognisable voice has never adopted an American accent so his singing was at once familiar and appropriate. Similarly his rather serious demeanour matches Dowland's songs which are drenched in melancholy.

The eight member choir Stile Antico added a richness to a number of the songs, the sound so perfect, as on the joyous 'Fine Knacks For Ladies', it was all but breathtaking.

Sting warmed considerably during the set and by the end was sharing tales of his afternoon walk where he trekked north from Cottesloe but after hitting Swanbourne nudist beach, quickly turned right and inadvertently ended up in the SAS firing range.

By this stage in the encore the repertoire had loosened up considerably too as he repaid the more causal audience members with lute arrangements of 'Fields Of Gold', 'Message In A Bottle' and the Christmas carol 'Bethlehem Down'.

His Police hit began with both men on lutes, teasingly repeating the first musical phrase as if leading the audience in a round of Guess That Tune. It was only when he sang the opening line the crowd exploded in unbridled applause. Curiously the Beatles' 'In My Life' barely received any sign of recognition.

Karamazov's take on George Martin's ''harpsichord'' solo was exquisite. His playing was remarkable throughout and the only reasonable complaint one might make on the night was that given that the whole performance barely scraped 80 minutes, a few more instrumental pieces would have been appreciated.

(c) The Sunday Times/Perth Now by Polly Coufos