Mercury Falling

George, WA, US
Gorge Amphitheatrewith Samples
Even as punk pilot of The Police, he was an entertainer...

If there's one thing the English do well, it's music hall, the British equivalent of vaudeville.

American vaudeville may be dead, but the ancient English music hall seems to live on through the spirit of more modern performers.

Certainly Paul McCartney has long shown an affinity for the form and Sting, whether by design or DNA, has always brought show business to his shows. Even as punk pilot of The Police, he was an entertainer.

The Police live were about unbridled energy. Even at their most unencumbered they were never random. There was always a beginning, middle and climax, usually a hard one.

The older, more mature Sting - we should all be this well toned - doesn't move as fast as he once did but moves well. And every thing, from the songs, lighting and sets to the audience give-and-take, had a deliberate sense of design, designed to entertain.

It was a show without political pronouncements, only the drama and comedy of music and musicians. He began with some of the strongest songs from his new album 'Mercury Falling' - 'Hounds Of Winter', 'I Hung My Head' and 'I Was Brought to My Senses' - but kept the newer material to a minimum. Most of the show was of the tried-and-true and was quickly accessed.

After the bouncy 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' came the crowd-pleasing 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'. While the latter had a sluggish start, the ending is still one of the strongest rock codas ever written, and proved a foolproof finish. 'Seven Days' was a breezy break and for 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying', Sting brought up an audience member to sing the chorus. It was a shameless bit of music-hall business but comfortably done.

There was one more breather with the pretty 'Fields of Gold' before the band ripped into a savage 'Synchronicity II' and the thumping sing-a-long Roxanne. But it was the following 'When The World Is Running Down...' that was the set's true high point.

The band was stellar. Guitarist Dominic Miller is a sensitive and polished fill man who can roar when the call comes. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta easily handled the differing time signatures and Sting has always been best when he's on the bottom playing bass.

But keyboard man Kenny Kirkland was a wonder. His extended lead on World went in a dozen directions at once - from straight jazz to bop to swing to boogie-woogie to rag to bossa nova to meringue to Sun Ra outer space - and still came home on time. The smile never left Kirkland's face and his obvious joy infected everyone from the stage to the top of the hill.

'Demolition Man' then roared through the wasteland and the assault was only tempered by the ''We Are One'' sentiment of 'Englishman In New York'. Given the territorial disputes going on today, it was briefly encouraging to hear 19,000 people singing the words ''illegal alien'' without fear or contempt.

Sting's final encore was 'Fragile', a gentle finish to the night.

(c) The Seattle Times by Tom Phalen

Still rockin'...

The sky gods were assisting Sting on Saturday night.

While he was singing the ethereal folk-tinged 'Fields of Gold', a shooting star streaked brilliantly above the stage. Hmm. Could it be Mercury Falling'?

If pieces of Mars can break off and become meteors, why can't pieces of Mercury? 'Mercury Falling' is the name of Sting's new album, so I'll be content to imagine it was just that. Then, during the old Police hit 'Roxanne', another meteor shot a fiery red streak above The Gorge. And talk about symbolism: This was just seconds after Sting had sung the refrain, ''Turn on the red light.''

Too bad neither of these meteors was visible from the stage, because Sting is a man who loves poetic and literary symbolism. He also loves to rock, as he did on the Police classic 'Synchronicity II', performed by his six-piece band with as much furious energy as the original.

He performed a number of new tunes from 'Mercury Falling' but also provided a virtual greatest-hits package of tunes from both his Police days and his solo career: 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', 'Every Breath You Take', 'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free' and 'Demolition Man'.

Dressed in an olive-drab fatigue-like outfit, he never came across as the 'King of Pain'. In fact, he seemed to be having a great time on stage. One of the high points of the show was when he cajoled a volunteer from the audience to help sing his latest single, 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying'. The volunteer, named Nate, was terrific and both he and Sting seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Sting has assembled a top-notch band, featuring a fine two-person brass section (so full of energy they did what looked like step-aerobics to most of the songs) and the phenomenal Kenny Kirkland on keyboards. Several songs, even 'Roxanne' evolved into high-energy jazz jams. Sting's quieter, more folkish side emerged on songs such as 'Fields of Gold'. It was beautifully done, but I found myself thinking that it might have been even more evocative done acoustically. He didn't do a single acoustic number.

By the way, the opening band, the Samples, did a terrific set. This Boulder, Colo., band sounds like early R.E.M. mixed with Neil Young, and they were well-received by the audience. The songs by guitarist-singer Sean Kelly are solid.

(c) The Spokane Spokesman-Review by Jim Kershner