Mercury Falling

Cuyahoga Falls, OH, US
Blossom Music Centerwith Lyle Lovett
Sting's vocals soothe crowd at Blossom...

Last weekend, Northeast Ohio puckered up and got a double dose of Kiss. Tuesday night, it received a Sting, though it was anything but painful as the British singer, formerly with the band the Police, brought his new tour to Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls.

Hearing Sting's haunting vocals sail through the air over his jazz-pop rhythms during the near two-hour show was like summer bliss. He opened with 'The Hounds of Winter' and 'I Hung My Head' from his new 'Mercury Falling' album, making it appear as if this would be one of those tours where unfamiliar album cuts would be forced upon us. But by the time he got to 'I Was Brought to My Senses', another 'Mercury Falling' song, the realisation hit that some of these songs stand up nicely to Sting's older material.

'I Was Brought to My Senses' began softly, so much so it almost felt as if Sting were performing it a cappella. But a few minutes into the song, it opened up into a lovely jazz opus, complete with instrumental solos from keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, saxophonist Butch Thomas and trombonist Clark Gayton.

From there, Sting presented a nice sampling of his old and new with Police cuts such as the fluid jamming of 'Roxanne', the roaring 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', the howling 'Synchronicity II', and a pumped-up 'Every Breath You Take' thrown in for good measure.

'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', just about the closest the solo Sting has come to a party song, had the right effect, moving the crowd into dance mania territory. A quick snippet of Sam and Dave's 'Soul Man' melded into the light pop of 'You Still Touch Me'. The crowd also got 'Fields of Gold', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Demolition Man'.

Hornsmen Thomas and Gayton brought real fire to the show. Their blasts of blazing brass blew away guitarist Dominic Miller, whose instrument just didn't seem as crucial. However, the same couldn't be said of drummer Vincent Colaiuta, who helped fuel cuts such as the sublime 'Roxanne'. For 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying', Sting brought out his opening act, Lyle Lovett. Sting said the song was about divorce, then turned to Lovett and said ''You've been there, right?'' This was a not-too-cute reference to Lovett's short marriage to actress Julia Roberts not so long ago.

Lovett could manage only a stiff smile, and no wonder. Sting referred to a time when Lovett was prime tabloid fodder, when the public and the media were more interested in his private life than his music. More Police cuts would have been great for the show, even if they were done in a medley. What happened to 'Message in a Bottle', 'Spirits in a Material World' and 'Don't Stand So Close to Me'? And 'King of Pain' and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' were even bigger absentees.

The one real misstep of the night was a mid-song rap break during 'Englishman in New York', a song which isn't rap-friendly. Thankfully, the rap didn't come from Sting himself. He put it in the incapable hands of Thomas, who probably is as much a rapper as Sting. Though it was a small moment, it was also a jarring and puzzling one. Was it really necessary for Sting to try to show this mostly over-30 crowd he was still hip or something? If so, this wasn't the way to do it.

A polar bear walking across the Blossom stage wouldn't have been more out of place than this rap segment. Sting dedicated the appropriately titled 'Fragile' to those who lost loved ones last week in the crash of TWA flight 800.

Lovett's set mostly highlighted his fine new album 'The Road to Ensenada'. His set, just like the album, reaffirmed Lovett's place as one of the more diversified artists you'll find, as he and his well-dressed band (which included a fiddle player, a cellist and a congo drummer) mixed elements of country, folk, rockabilly, blues and pop.

His hourlong set was heavy on the new album, with cuts including opening song 'Don't Touch My Hat', a toe-tapping 'Fiona', the countryish 'I Can't Love You Anymore', the ballad 'Who Loves You Better', the mood-shifting 'That's Right (You're Not From Texas)', soft rocker 'It Ought to Be Easier' and the title track. Lovett, with his tall hair and black suit, also performed the bluesy song 'She's No Lady' from his 1987 'Pontiac' album.

(c) The Akron Beacon Journal by Larry Nager

Sting & Lovett rockers at heart...

On the surface, a Sting/Lyle Lovett tour might seem like an odd double bill. What could a handsome English rock star and movie actor possibly have in common with a poodle-haired country eccentric from Texas?

Judging from the pair's magnificent concert Tuesday at Blossom Music Center, the answer is, ''A lot.''

If you put aside the media-generated stereotypes and listen to the music, the similarities between these two talented artists are obvious. Both are rockers at heart, but have an affinity for jazz - its structures, instrumentation, arrangements and improvisational tradition. Both also see rock'n'roll as encompassing a universe of varying styles - country, blues, soul, Western swing, gospel, folk, Tin Pan Alley pop and a myriad of other musical spices and flavours. Both have vocal styles deeply influenced by the classic soul and blues singers of the 1950s and '60s.

What's more, they are consummate pop songwriters, combining lyrics and music in ways that frequently touch the heart and soul. But most of all, both are brilliant musicians who understand the power of playing well on stage. In concert, they work closely with their backing bands, building intricate and compelling songs out of an array of instrumental voices. Lovett opened the show, backed by an eight-piece band of cello, upright bass, pedal-steel guitar, electric guitar, grand piano, violin, drums and percussion.

The gangly Texan, who sings and plays acoustic guitar, kicked off his hour-long set with 'Promises', a haunting, whispered, unrepentant confession of murder that's featured both on his new 'The Road to Ensenada' album and the 'Dead Man Walking' soundtrack. He followed with five more cuts from 'The Road to Ensenada', kicking the tempo up with the humorous country swing of 'Don't Touch My Hat' and the Cajun swamp rock of 'Fiona', before veering into the equally funny Bob Wills-style swing number 'That's Right (You're Not from Texas)'. Humour is a key ingredient in Lovett's music, even in his most serious songs.

He prefaced a rendition of the bone-chillingly sad new country ballad, 'Who Loves You Better', by saying that the song was inspired by ''a girl I used to know who watched the 'Andy Griffith Show' and wrote poetry about it.'' Lovett and his band stretched things out on a pair of older songs - 'If I Had a Boat' and 'She's No Lady' - both from the 1987 'Pontiac' album. The sly, wish-in-one-hand 'If I Had a Boat' is a rollicking country rocker fuelled by a swinging pedal-steel guitar.

'She's No Lady' was delivered as a slow, gospel-tinged jazz number, with cool piano, pedal steel and cello solos. Lovett capped the 12-song set with three more new songs - the bluegrassy love-gone-wrong ballad 'I Can't Love You Anymore', a harmonious Crosby, Stills & Nash-style country rocker called 'It Ought To Be Easier' and the heartbreak ballad 'The Road to Ensenada'.

Sting, who sings and plays bass, is touring to promote a new record, 'Mercury Falling'. The album has a laid-back pop-jazz fusion groove that sounds a little middle-of-the-road coming out of the speakers at home.

But Sting and his touring band (lead guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Vincent Colaiuta, saxophonist Butch Thomas and trombonist Clark Gayton) breathed considerable life into the material in concert.

They opened their 90-minute, 18-song set with three cuts from the album, blending the sultry, foreboding jazz of 'The Hounds of Winter', with the dark, oddly metered, Dylanesque Americana of 'I Hung My Head' and the strolling, Herb Alpert-like lounge pop of 'I Was Brought to My Senses'. 'I Was Brought to My Senses' featured a cool keyboard solo by Kirkland. It also included a hymn-like introduction, which Sting delivered in the style of a Celtic folk song.

Many of the 8,000 fans in attendance at Blossom on Tuesday were Sting fans from way back. And he rewarded them with six songs from his other career as frontman of the 1980s British rock group, the Police.

He played renditions of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'Roxanne', 'Synchronicity II', 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' and 'Demolition Man'. He added 'Every Breath You Take' during the first encore. The rendition of 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' was the highlight of the evening, with Sting and his bandmates stretching the song out with a series of great solos and a riveting, extended jam.

Lovett joined Sting onstage for duet on the new 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying', which Sting wrote in the aftermath of his divorce. The breakup of Lovett's marriage to actress Julia Roberts did not go unnoticed. ''This is a song about divorce,'' said Sting, looking at Lovett. ''We've been there, right? It's a painful business but we can sing about it.''

Fans also got to hear great takes on solo hits such as 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', 'Seven Days', 'Fields of Gold', 'Englishman in New York' and 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. The evening ended on a reflective note, with Sting dedicating a version a 'Fragile', a gorgeous 1987 ballad about the frailty of human life, to the families of the victims of the TWA Flight 800 disaster.

(c) The Plain Dealer by Michael Norman