Broken Music

Providence, RI, US
Dunkin Donuts Centerwith Fiction Plane
Sting puts aside plodding grandeur for successful formula of old...

For the past 20 or so years, Sting seems to have been running away from the stuff that made us like him in the first place. Sometimes the results have been good, sometimes less so. But last night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Sting gave something pretty close to the concert everyone's been waiting for.

The Broken Music Tour consists of Sting playing songs from most phases of his career, with an unprecedented emphasis on his material with The Police, and with a band consisting only of himself on bass, longtime sidekick Dominic Miller and Shane Fontayne on guitars, and drummer Josh Freese.

The contrast with last summer's tepid Tweeter Center show, where Sting was outdone by opening act Annie Lennox, was striking. Not only was Sting, without a new record to hawk, free to select whatever songs he wanted - and for whatever reason finally willing to go with the stuff many feel is still his best - but in the stripped-down format each player, Sting included, took on more importance and had more room to stretch out. Yet at the same time, the often-too-long song-ending jams Sting specializes in were also cut out last night.

The Police number 'Demolition Man' and the solo song 'Fields of Gold', which were performed at both shows, were cases in point. Last summer, with a huge band, they were keyboard-dominated and murky from the too-many-cooks principle. Last night, 'Demolition Man', part of a relentless four-song show-opening Police suite (along with 'Message in a Bottle', 'Spirits in the Material World' and 'Synchronicity II'), was sparse and menacing. 'Fields of Gold', with a mandolin-inspired acoustic guitar part from Miller, was enchanting. Most of the solo songs done last night were given new life in their four-piece incarnations, even the usually limpid 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' (with harmonica by Fontayne).

My theory is, Sting is revisiting Police material such as 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' (which was done as a sort of live mash-up with ''Voices Inside My Head'') and 'All I Want Is to Be Next to You' because he's finally found a drummer who can handle it. Freese, who also drums for arty metalists A Perfect Circle, is a more-than-worthy successor to Police drummer Stewart Copeland's flinty, hyperactive artistry. 'Driven to Tears' was another Freese showcase.

But whatever the reason, Sting clearly had his energy back. ''I've been enjoying this tour. This tour's been quite different for me,'' he said from the stage last night. And it was clear he was having fun. Here's hoping he follows his instincts; whereas last summer's show felt like a day at the office on both sides of the stage, last night was boys' night out.

The chilly retro-'80s guitar rock of Fiction Plane, who opened the show, was tuneful and often melancholy, similar to the Echo & The Bunnymen. Singer Joe Sumner, Sting's son, had a strong voice that in fact sounded less like his father's than a cross between U2's Bono and head Bunnymen Ian McCullough.

(c) The Providence Journal