Mercury Falling

Montreal, QC, CA
Molson Centrewith Sarah McLachlan
Sting - mercury rising...

Last April, at the Printemps de Bourges, Sting was quite ordinary. Disappointing, actually. The French festival's marquee felt just like a refrigerator room where the energy flow had virtually been stopped.

Sting was breaking in the songs from an album judged adequate, even average (Mercury Falling). The audience was reacting timidly to an orchestral driving force, even though it was made of the best hired guns on the market; Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Dominic Miller (guitar) and Kenny Kirkland (keyboards) were really not being challenged much.

During the afternoon before that concert, Sting had been defending himself, saying he had not lost the flame, admitting however that he had changed the mainspring of his creation. No more suffering and belligerence, was he telling us with imperial confidence...

After listening to his new material, I was not as convinced as he was; didn't his new multi-millionaire engine need a ''carburetor job''? Three months later, it seems the turboreactor tests have been completed. Because Sting is presenting an entirely different show. One hell of a show.

Last night at Molson Centre, everything seemed superior to me than what I had heard in France; the repertoire was really played by inspired musicians (adding previously unheard variations to the repertoire and an unhidden enjoyment) and the connection between the human beings in attendance (about 13,500) was perfect. The Montreal audience, certainly one of the most faithful to Sting, and definitely one of the most open-minded in the world, certainly contributed to this evening's success.

After the audience had been mobilized by the ethereal and no less magnificent Sarah McLachlan (with good reason in this case; once again, we recognized the amazing talent of this young woman from the Maritime Provinces), the handsome Gordon Sumner showed up in combat attire: tank top showing off his biceps and triceps, military boots, commando pants.

He opened with 'The Hounds Of Winter', followed by 'I Hung My Head' (the chorus' phonetics reminding us a bit of zulu).

Behind Sting's band, a lovely imagery appeared; African batiks projected onto various screens blended together with psychedelic colors. But, one thing for sure, the visual dimension was not going to take over the music. All the more reason to hear Sting perform 'I Was Brought To My Senses' and to notice that the sound was not quite perfect yet - we had trouble hearing the brass instruments of Clark Gayton (trombone) and Conrad Thomas (saxophones) or even Kenny Kirkland's keyboards.

In front of a red and purple background, Sting then gave us a piece of advice: 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot', before serving us a well-known other, which was unanimously endorsed: 'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free', of course. Add to that 'Every Little Thing's' proverbial Io-ho Io-ho's, and you were facing a hurricane of fun.

Sting however knows how to turn down the heat and subdue passions: Seven Days, for example, was set with a very latin-jazz trombone bridge. He followed it up with 'You Still Touch Me' and a heartfelt ''you are very kind'' [in French].

A bit of audience participation? Yannick Delaney, a 22-year-old fan, was recruited by Sting, climbed up on stage and started singing the chorus of 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' with the star. Not bad at all! What could have been more effective to make us forget this song's banal country flavour, one of the least successful on 'Mercury Falling'?

This was followed by, among others, 'Fields Of Gold', the inevitable Roxanne and the revamped 'When The World Is Running Down' (featuring a punchy solo by Kenny Kirkland and a blazing exchange between guitar, saxophone and trombone). During the delivery of 'Englishman In New York', we were treated to another jazzy interlude, followed by some hip hop, until the audience looped the loop with the famous call for tolerance: ''be yourself, no matter what they say''.

'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' was performed as the encore, and then some. No doubt about it, Sting's mercury was rising.

(c) La Presse by Alain Brunet/translated by Kate B

The new improved, downright rocking Sting...

At this stage of the game, it's hard to know what to expect from a Sting concert. Are you going to get Lord Sting, just out of the 16th-century Olde England boathouse ready to play the intellectual English gentleman of rock? Or is it going to be the groove-oriented, '60s soul-flavoured rocker showcased on 'Mercury Falling', easily Sting's least pretentious record to date?

Well the good news for the packed house at the Molson Centre last night was that the wordy Architectural Digest pin-up boy got lost somewhere on the way from his Wiltshire estate. Instead we were lucky enough to be treated to an evening with the new improved, downright rocking Sting, who wasted no time in turning the new Forum into one sweaty, dance-crazy bash.

Sting even dressed down for the occasion, appearing on stage sporting a sleeveless T-shirt, army-fatigue pants, and black military boots. (Needless to say, the female side of the fence was in full swoon mode.)

The 45-year-old singer-songwriter set the tone for the soiree, kicking things off with inspired, hard-hitting runs through 'The Hounds of Winter' and 'I Hung My Head'. The Stax-drenched soul groove really hit its stride though when Sting and his crack ensemble segued into 'I Was Brought to My Senses', which rapidly swung into a loose, funky jam complete with duelling sax and trombone solos.

One of Sting's trademarks has always been his insistence on top-notch musical sidemen and the long-time supporting cast didn't disappoint last night, with Kenny Kirkland whipping off flashy-but-cool keyboard lines, Dominic Miller picking the tasty guitar licks, and Vinnie Colaiuta anchoring the whole funky gumbo with rock-solid drumming. Sting is a seasoned showman, and he knows how to milk the applause for all its worth.

He is aware that a French word is worth a thousand English words 'round these parts', and he knows all about the understated sexy moves. Sure it's a formula, albeit a high-brow one, but it works, and the strength of last night's show was that it did the trick for the kids dancing like dervishes on the floor and did just as well with the older, more sedate admirers, like Quebecois singer Michel Rivard, perched in the best seats in the reds. When he pulled a 22-year-old guy out of the front rows to take the stage and sing harmony on his nouveau country lament, 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying', well you'd have to be a critical Scrooge to be immune to the warm good-humoured spirit of the moment.

Add in a tough, Trenchtown-rock rendition of 'Roxanne', old chestnuts like 'Englishman in New York' and 'Every Breath You Take', and complaining was just out of the question. Accompanied only by bass and drums, opening act Sarah McLachlan did an admirable job of filling the rink with her to-die-for voice, sounding looser and more emotionally direct than ever before.

(c) The Montreal Gazette by Brendan Kelly