Summoner's Tales

London, GB
Royal Albert Hall
Sting always does a professional show which satisfies his fans...

Sting always does a professional show which satisfies his fans but a 110 minute indoor concert shows up the limitations of his voice.

The black-suited, black-booted, shirtless saviour of the rain forest kicked off with 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' which soon had Mr and Mrs Steve Winwood, sitting three rows in front of the press, rocking gently in their seats. 'Heavy Clouds' was funk with good guitar solos, the bouncy 'Love is Stronger than Justice' was a reminder that the man writes some of the catchiest choruses in pop, and during 'Seven Days' one noticed that the front row was full of teenage girls who knew all the words and the second row full of blokes with cameras.

His band is a highly accomplished unit with skinny guitarist Dominic Miller looking and sounding the part, David Sancious capable of serious keyboard wizardry, and drummer Vinnie Coliauta technically superb.

Unfortunately, when they jam the music sounds efficient rather than funky or exciting.

Since Sting is a good-humoured sex symbol, a dedicated environmentalist, a prolific writer of hits, an excellent bandleader and an occasional movie actor, it seems churlish to complain that he is not a fantastic vocalist as well but that's the problem I've always had with him.

When I first heard 'The Dream of Blue Turtles' I wished it had been sung by Bob Marley.

Tuesday night's outstanding songs were 'Shape Of My Heart' and 'An Englishman in New York', because they gave him less to do vocally.

Ultimately, the gig made me want to see a great singer like Robert Palmer or Mick Hucknall.

The music was very good, but it wasn't satisfying and surprisingly, the concert, the first of four, wasn't quite sold out.

(c) The Scotsman by Myles Palmer

Some of the little things he does are still magic...

The Police were on Thirty Years of Top of the Pops the week before last: skinny and nervous, jerking their way through the jittery reggae verses and rushing punk choruses of 'Roxanne'. Gaps kept appearing in the thin fabric of their late-Seventies sound, exciting and over-excited hesitations which Sting's current, super-competent band iron out of their version of the song at the Albert Hall. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta crowds the bare guitar riff with splashes of cymbals; keyboardist David Sancious plays a solo half as long as the original song; Sting himself stretches its title into a call-and-response with the audience. And they're all smiling.

Accusations of smugness and over-complexity used to dog Sting's solo career, albeit more in critics' circles than record shops. The music press never quite forgave him for using the Police's direct, melodic hits to make pilgrimages to the Amazonian rainforest and gild his lily-white pop talents with expensive jazz musicians. But now there is a backlash against the backlash, prompted by Sting's partial return to pop with last year's album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales' (A&M). His four-night Albert Hall residency opens against a backdrop of awards, not ridicule.

As Sting's four-piece flow into his 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', and he wraps his voice around the words with a new ease, any remaining reservations seem like carping. Maybe the critics were just jealous that he'd aged so well - 41 now, he's cropped and lean, black clothes against a slight tan, and relaxed too, rocking his bass with the confident, thumping rhythm. When the song ends Sting gives a swooping bow, then shouts ''thaaaaank-you'' stadium-style, showing how deftly he can play both the artist and the rocker.

The components of Sting's solo fame don't fit automatically, however, and they soon begin to quarrel. 'Love is Stronger than Justice' starts with a furious jazz-rock clatter, continues with a couple of hurried verses as philosophical as its title, then squeezes through a succession of asymmetrical tempos. Sting fights valiantly to keep the melody afloat. The band lean into their instruments with musicianly grimaces, reminiscent of those indigestible Miles Davis fusion extravaganzas filmed for French TV in the Eighties.

The evening then veers between noisy style ('King of Pain' played as a blundering as a rocker) and quiet substance (a healthy bounce through 'It's Probably Me'. In general, the more of Sting himself there is, the better; a few flashes of improvisation aside, the others are about as predictable as the guitarist's skin-tight trousers.

Sting's lyrics, can be too obviously clever - one song's chorus plays with the names of playing cards, another arranges verses by days of the week - but he sings them less fussily than he used to. He yelps and half-screams through a charging 'Synchronicity 2', confident enough to smile as the guitarist messes up the opening chords. He doesn't talk about the rainforests. And he throws unexpected shadow over the encore celebrations, singing 'Fragile' (''We forget how fragile we are'') to a slow acoustic strum. ''Thanks for listening,'' he says at the end; his mockers at Viz would have choked.

(c) The Independent by Andy Beckett

Every little thing he does is magic...

This looks like being a good week for Sting.

Not only has he just been nominated for six Grammy Awards in New York but he is back being a prophet with honour here thanks to those nice people at the Brit awards, who are almost certain to make him either Best Male Solo Artist or slip 'Ten Summoner's Tales' the coveted Best Album gong.

Trying manfully to suppress his understandable smugness, the world's most famous ex-teacher courted an expectant crowd with the stately 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' - one of those songs that cements the indelible link between a humble superstar and an adoring public.

Having established these one-on-one credentials Sting reverted to bonding with the boys in his excellent band. He's always been able to hire top musicians and the current outfit of Dominic Miller, guitar, David Sancious, guitar, and Vinny Colaiuta, drums, justify the plaudits and the wages. You want a Weather Report? No problem. Need a Steely Dan? Hey, right here. Little Feat? Can do. It goes on.

Despite the combo's efficacious rhythms it still took a crack version of The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life' to break the residual first night ice. Where George Martin once used a 41-piece orchestra to fill what he termed 'the bloody great gaps' in John and Paul's epic, Sancious merely triggered the samples in his Roland. The holes in the Albert Hall shuddered.

Sting offered his more modest, folky 'Fields Of Gold' before opening his lungs to let loose that distinctive Police vocal siren. 'A Million Miles Away' and a syncopated 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' were successfully dashed against the rocks of the band's robust fusion funk.

The cultured rasp was heard to better effect whenever Sting made like a Latin and beat it to Brazil. His plaintive yelp is ideally attuned to Antonio Carlos Jobim-styled fare like 'It's Probably Me' while the devilish 'Saint Augustine In Hell' owed quite a bit to Santana. It came with an extended free form freak-out too, just in case you thought the fellas were hiding their virtuosity.

A kind of normal reticence was restored during the Quentin Crisp-inspired 'An Englishman In New York', though even that song's flag-waving eccentricity seems tailor-made for adoption by British Airways' ad agency. At the end of his Albert Hall stint, Sting is off, wintering in the Far East and getting paid for it while you row to work.

I told you he was having a good week.

(c) The Evening Standard by Max Bell

Being Sting seems to be more fun these days...

There has been a jaunty, joshing tone to his most recent interviews, and a parallel levity has found its way into his music. After the dark and, for many listeners, rather trying nature of his series of solo albums, last year's 'Ten Summoner's Tales' came as a mighty relief.

It was literate, muso, clever, big-hearted: all the things you'd expect. But it was also (blessedly) light in tone and sometimes humorous. Consequently, listening to Sting is also more fun these days. Not to say that our man has sublimated his true self in order to escape an increasingly cliched image.

The jingle-jangle sound you heard as you walked up Kensington Gore was that of Rainforest Foundation collection tins being rattled. And the complex instrumental breaks that would later punctuate even perfectly simple little songs like 'Roxanne' or 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' showed him to be someone still punch-drunk on the possibilities for experimentation raised by the presence of three other top-flight musicians Dominic Miller (guitar), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and David Sancious (keyboards) and a sympathetic audience.

But there is something less self-conscious about the Sting of today. It's not that he no longer tries as hard, more that he no longer seems to need to define himself absolutely through his performance. Hence he can give a little of a lot of things to those who want them here, in the first of three sell-out Albert Hall appearances, we saw Sting the bobbing, weaving pop hopeful, Sting the freeform jazzer and Sting the jacket-off, no-nonsense rock god. I was particularly taken with Sting the battle-scarred but still hopeful fortysomething. This particular incarnation involves the best of the ever-clever lyrics he has written in recent years, each sung in a perfectly judged, conversational, near-throwaway style.

The grudging buddy-buddy love song 'It's Probably Me' was one such piece, the exquisite 'Shape Of My Heart' another. Little time to get mellow and thoughtful though: a brace of power chords and a canister or two of dry ice signalled the approaching end of a consummately performed show.

(c) The Times by Alan Jackson