"Trudie and I lost a friend in the Twin Towers (investment banker Herman Sandler), and singing was the last thing I wanted to do, to be honest with you. I just wanted to crawl into a corner and cry. I put it to the band. I said, 'What do you want to do' And they all said, 'We wanna play.' It was a much more sombre show than what we had planned. But as the concert progressed, the mood changed. We felt we had every right to be there, listening to music, making music, singing; because really it's the opposite of what terrorism wants. Terrorism wants us to be afraid, to be frightened and to be controlled. So even though, at the time, I didn't want to do it, I've had no second thoughts about whether or not it was right to carry on with the show."
Daily Express, Oct 2003
"My first instinct was to stop, to cancel it, to just say, 'Look, I'm too devastated to even think about wanting to sing tonight'. I was convinced by the other members of the band - a lot of them from New York, who couldn't even reach their families at that point - that we should play, because we had a duty to play; that's what musicians do. And I was told I had a responsibility to the audience, which had travelled thousands of miles and turned up to see us."
Denver Post, 12/01
"Although we began very tentatively, as the evening progressed, it became therapy, if you like, for everybody - me, the band, the audience. It ended up with a joyful, healing celebration. I wish the context hadn't been this at all. It's not the concert or the mood we'd prepared. But it was us basically thinking on our feet. We cancelled some shows immediately after that - I was paralysed. But I thought it was right, on that day, that we were compelled to just go forward and do it with the deepest respect for the people who died or are suffering as a result of that tragedy. It wasn't something I would have relished. But now that it's there, I think it's a fitting memorial to that day. I hope people appreciate that."
Denver Post, 12/01
"It was strange - throughout the evening, the songs kept surprising me with how appropriate they were, or how close they were to the situation we were in. In the second song I sang, A Thousand Years, there's an image of 'towers of souls' rising into space. That was a little too close, and I apologized to the audience that this was happening. But each of the songs recalibrated itself in the moment."
Denver Post, 12/01
"The genesis of the project was from the record company. They said, 'Look, you've played to 2.7 million people, a successful tour by anyone's standards. Commercially, a live album is what you should do.' Well, normally, you just stick the tapes on for a particular show and just put it out; it's very easy. I wasn't terribly keen on that, because I think it's lazy. So I wanted to give the fans some sort of value added - take that band that had played together for so long, and rearrange every song with the knowledge we'd acquired about them on tour, and give them an extra level of fun. And also add a few new people that hadn't played with me before, like Christian McBride on the acoustic bass or Jacques Morelenbaum on the cello. 'Just a few elements that would make everybody play 'up'."
Denver Post, 12/01
"I haven't seen the special, but what people have said about it is that it was so human to see us having to react under the circumstances. I suppose they see themselves on that day, because all of us in the world went through an alteration, completely. We'd been attacked. For me, it threw up interesting questions about what is music, what is entertainment, what purpose does it serve in this context It reminds me of the first time I was the comedy host on 'Saturday Night Live' - that was the day that we bombed Baghdad with cruise missiles. My timing is not what it should be!"
Denver Post, 12/01
"We'd spent a week rehearsing, we were going to have a wonderful, joyous celebration that evening, a concert, a live Webcast, 200 friends. We'd just had lunch. Someone said, 'You'd better come in and watch the TV,' and we saw the horror of what happened on that morning. I went outside and sat down and decided that I couldn't sing. Why would I want to sing on that night And so I called the band to have a meeting, have a kind of democratic meeting. I said, 'Guys, I don't think I can sing tonight. What do you think "Well, we - well, we have to.' Unanimously, everyone said they had - they had to play, because that's what musicians do. Some of them from New York, some of them couldn't get through to their families, obviously very, very stressed, they still wanted to play. They said, 'Besides, you have 250 people coming to your house, and you're responsible for them. So they'll need something.' So I said, 'Look, as a compromise I will sing one song. I'll do Fragile, because I think it's an appropriate sentiment.'"
"I didn't want to put out a tape of a show in some big, rah-rah stadium, which is what most live albums are. I wanted to create something much more personal and intimate - more like a love letter than a noisy concert. And I knew I could invite 200 strangers from all over the world to my home, because I know how respectful my fans are."
USA Today, 11/01
"I decided to ask for a minute's silence, and then it would be up to the audience as to what happened next - a democratic decision. And I was perfectly willing to lay down the guitar and go to bed. Well, the minute's silence was very heartfelt and devotional. And I could hear some people in the audience weeping, even some people in the band weeping."
Denver Post, 12/01
"We were all having lunch when the news came in that this appalling massacre had happened. Everybody's mood changed completely. Did I feel like singing No way. I wanted to sit down somewhere and cry. But we had a band meeting, because we're a democratic outfit, and they all said, 'We have to play. This is what we do - we're musicians. And you have all these people coming from all over. You have to deal with it. I heard at least two members of my band weeping, and more weeping in the audience. I said, 'OK, the Webcast is done; it's just us here in this beautiful courtyard on this terrible day. What should we do' And I heard this groundswell of people going, 'Give us some music.' It was my job to provide that sort of instant therapy. I began tentatively, but as the night progressed, the mood changed to one of healing, then defiance, then genuine joy. We realized we had the right to express ourselves, which is something terrorism tries to destroy."
USA Today, 11/01
"Certainly, I didn't want to sing Englishman in New York - it seemed too happy and frivolous. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic also didn't seem correct. And the way we played was changed. I'm normally pretty detached emotionally from what I'm singing, because I feel that if you've written the melody and lyrics, they already transmit emotion. But here, I was really overcome a lot of the time, and you can hear it in my voice. And the band played out of their skins. We all felt confused and frightened and angry, in varying proportions."
USA Today, 11/01
"It certainly wasn't the concert we'd prepared. And there were songs I didn't want to do. I didn't want to sing Englishman in New York. It's too happy. I didn't want to sing Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. I had to choose songs that were suitable for the context."
[In Tuscany] "This was to be a very joyous occasion tonight. Because of the horrific events of today, it simply can't be a joyous occasion. It's difficult for all of us. I'm angry, I'm confused, I am frightened, and I don't really want to give this meaningless act of violence any credence. It's totally and utterly pointless. We'll sing a song for those people who have lost their lives. Thank you."
"It was always meant to be a personal record, but the context of this day made it even more personal. You know, you see musicians basically thinking on their feet. Nothing was planned, everything was as it was. It's a memorial of that day. I wish it wasn't in that context, I really sincerely do, but it is what it is. I dedicate it, respectfully, to the people who lost their lives, one particular friend of my wife and myself."
"For all those born beneath an angry star, lest we forget how fragile we are..."
It's so rare, when you see as many DVDs as we do here at The Bits, that you're surprised by a disc. It's even more rare when that surprise is a pleasant one, and the disc is a title you've been looking forward to. As a fan of Sting since his earliest days of playing hole-in-the-wall bars with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers as the front man of The Police, I've always followed his career with interest. Lately though, I was starting to feel a little more ambivalent about the ex-Mr. Gordon Matthew Sumner. It's not that his music wasn't still very good - Desert Rose alone was proof of that. But I was starting to feel a little... distance as a fan. Who was this guy who was riding around in a Jaguar on TV This wasn't the arrogant-yet-absolutely-as-good-as-his-press former Police man I knew. This was Mr. LITE 105 FM Artist of the Day (call now to win a free dinner for two at TGI Fridays!). This was an aging rock star who lived in a moldy, thousand-year-old castle somewhere, plotting his next commercial endorsement. What you say He IS an aging rock star who lives in a moldy, thousand-year-old castle Well, yeah... but he never FELT like one before. So imagine my surprise when I popped this DVD into my player.
The program on this disc is fascinating. To start with, you get a 70-minute documentary on the recording of Sting's new album, 'All This Time'. The piece starts with the various, hand-picked musicians arriving at his gorgeous villa in Tuscany, Italy. We get to know each player in this rogue's gallery, and learn of their connection to Sting and his music - how they met, why they were chosen to participate. We watch them collaboratively re-interpreting Sting's music over the course of a week, and then recording several of the songs for his new album. We see the filming of the new video for 'Fragile', and then get to see the complete final product. Then we watch as the group begins rehearsing for the intimate live performance that Sting and his band planned to end the week with, to celebrate the album in front of a small group of their family and friends. The piece is laced with insights into the music and the process, as well as plenty of the sort of hijinks that transpire whenever creative individuals come together under pressure. And all the while, we see a relaxed and introspective Sting, in his own element, talking about his life and his music. As this week plays out, Sting talks about what it's like to be approaching his 50th birthday. This is a musician who is very much evaluating his life and his direction in it - where he's been, what he's proud of and even what he's failed at. It's all there for us to see.
The documentary also features a number of complete and partial live performances from the dress rehearsal for the final show. But if all this wasn't absorbing enough, things get more interesting still. You see... everything you see in this documentary took place just a couple of months ago, in September of this year. And that live performance that Sting and his band were planning was scheduled for a now infamous date - September 11th. That's the kind of thing that you would expect to see glossed over or even excised completely from a documentary like this. But here, the cameras keep rolling... and you actually see Sting and company struggling with their emotions as word of the tragic events comes in. What was to have been a joyous occasion has suddenly become painful and difficult, and you see everyone trying to decide what to do - questioning themselves and each other. Do we play or call it off Are we emotionally even able play Is it even appropriate to do so That's where the documentary ends. And it's where the concert portion of the DVD begins.
As you can reasonably assume, Sting and his band ultimately did decide to play, although they altered the set list considerably. The concert was also to have been webcast live to fans on the Internet. Those who were watching saw a heart-felt rendition of 'Fragile', the lyrics for which have become shockingly poignant given the tragedy, and then the webcast was shut down. But the concert continued in Italy, for the solace of those who had gathered for the show and to give the musicians something to hang on to. The concert that plays out is a visceral experience for everyone. As you watch, Sting and his band struggle with their emotions, trying to muster the courage to play at first... and then to strike the right balance between the joy of playing and the appropriate, respectful tone the evening should take. You can see the pain on Sting's face in particular, and it's absolutely honest and genuine. At one point, as the band begins 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', he signals that the audience should refrain from clapping. Later, the performers give a soulful rendition of 'Dienda', a song written by the late Kenny Kirkland (a longtime Sting collaborator and friend) and dedicated to him, and then the band segues into 'Roxanne'. Suddenly, you can feel the energy changing, becoming more electric. Sting and his company just can't help but get caught up in the music, and you can almost hear him thinking (of the terrorists): "Fuck them. We can't let them win." He absolutely nails 'Roxanne' in a way I haven't heard him nail it in a long time. After the song, he says to the crowd, "Everyone deserves to be happy. We can't let them take our joy." And then the rest of the concert plays out with great exuberance and energy. This is not the perfect Sting concert, but it remains an amazing experience nonetheless.
Oh, but the surprises aren't over yet. Given how good this content is, imagine how surprised and pleased I was to discover that the video on this disc - every single second of it - is in full anamorphic widescreen. It wasn't advertised that way, and it certainly isn't mentioned on the disc's packaging, but there it is anyway. Very cool. The quality, particularly during the concert itself, is quite good overall. Parts of the documentary (and a few audience shots during the concert) were shot with lesser-grade video cameras. So the better the camera, the better the image. But it's all 16x9. There's also occasional artifacting during the documentary, that can be attributed to the conversion of the footage from PAL to NTSC (look at the controls on the mixing board in Sting's studio - ringing abounds). But it's all really minor stuff. Given that the video is anamorphic, I can forgive almost anything else. And the color and contrast are almost always excellent, particularly during the all important concert footage.
The audio provides one last surprise. The packaging claims only Dolby Surround, but the entire disc (both the documentary and the concert) has been mixed in full Dolby Digital 5.1. And the quality is quite impressive. Even during the documentary, there's plenty of ambiance. It all depends on the footage, of course - some of this sounds like stereo audio as recorded over a handheld DV cam's condenser mike, and that isn't going to blow surround sound freaks away. But when we see the band rehearsing or recording the music, it sounds as warm and wonderful as the Tuscany landscape surrounding Sting's villa. Check out the 'Fragile' video in chapter 5 of the documentary - very nice indeed, with good low frequency and a rich soundscape. And the concert is even better, with a wide front stage and excellent ambiance. The music is surprisingly smooth and natural sounding. Fans should find it very satisfying indeed.
At first it may seem that there are few extras on the disc, but I consider the documentary itself to be an extra and a good one at that. Don't forget that it also contains the complete 'Fragile' video, as well as complete live performances (taken from the dress rehearsal) of 'Desert Rose' and 'Englishman in New York'. 'Desert Rose' is particularly nice to have, not just because Cheb Mami joins the band onstage, but because it was omitted from the final concert. Lest you think that this is because of its Arabic influence, know that the song was rehearsed with a sexy belly dancer performing with the band onstage. The sexy/sultry tone of the song was no doubt determined to be inappropriate given the tragedy. The documentary also features a Matrix-like "Follow the White Rabbit" option, in which a symbol will occasionally appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. This usually appears when you're watching Sting and the band talking about or recording a new version of one of the songs on the album. By pressing "enter" on your remote, you can skip right over to the live version of that song in the concert, then you'll be taken back to where you left off in the documentary. The disc also includes a trio of "bonus" songs that aren't edited into the concert proper, but were recorded during the performance that night. These include 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', 'Fill Her Up' and another rendition of 'Englishman in New York'. All in all, I'm a very happy camper.
The Sting you'll see on this DVD isn't Sting the rock star. This is Sting the man. Sting the human being. And if this concert isn't the polished, showy performance you'd expect, it IS absolutely fascinating - a wide open window on the inner workings of a musician I've admired for years and had lost touch with recently. I learned more about the person Sting is, and is becoming, by watching this DVD than I have in more than a decade of seeing him in concert. And I'm glad to say that I reconnected with his music in the process. 'All This Time' may not appeal to everyone, but for fans of Sting, this is a rare and rewarding experience indeed.
Review by Bill Hunt, Digital Bits