Brand New Day

Universal City, CA, US
Universal Amphitheatrewith Cheb Mami

As the adage says...
As the adage says, ''You can't please all the people all the time,'' and at Sting's sold-out show Tuesday there were two distinct types of listeners to be pleased: Those who came hoping for songs by his great former band the Police and those who love the jazzy, adult-rock stylings of Sting's more recent solo music.

So guess who went home happy?

The show (the first of four sold-out nights) started promisingly enough, with the riveting 'A Thousand Years', the lead number on Sting's so-so new A&M disc, 'Brand New Day', which (like many of the new tunes) celebrates the power of love.

This was followed strongly by a romping version of his first solo hit, 1985's 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', which found the smiling Sting swinging his hips as he played his custom six-string bass.

But much of the rest of the two-hour show (part of a Compaq Computer-sponsored U.S. tour) was a far less interesting mix of slow-moving, middle-of-the-road numbers, including many more from 'Brand New Day' (Sting's seventh solo effort), as well as updated versions of Police songs that would anger any self-respecting fan.

The live band, anchored by longtime drummer Manu Katche and talented young guitarist Dominic Miller, and including three backing vocalists, was topnotch, especially when members were given a (rare) chance to step up and show off their talents.

Show was highlighted by a guest turn from French singer Cheb Mami (who also opened the concert with a set of his own material) on the song 'Desert Rose', featuring a wonderful two-part vocal performance between Sting and Mami, with an incredible and otherworldly voice.

The jazzy swing of 1987's 'Englishman in New York' was a bright spot, as was the country twang of 'Fill Her Up' and the trumpet-filled 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong'.

As for the Police tunes played, a by-rote take on 1981's 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' was notable only for the tight interplay between Sting's bass and Katche's drums, while the encore 'Every Breath You Take' was a snoozer.

Worse, the band's classics 'Roxanne' and 'When the World Is Running Down' were shown no respect by Sting, who ruined both by turning them into painful audience-participation exercises.

(c) Daily Variety by Troy Augusto

Sting a bust as former Police man...

He was once the passionate leader of one of new wave's most powerful and enduring rock bands. Over two decades, Sting has mellowed like an expensive wine - he's smooth, relaxed, carefully balanced, romantic, high-class. And a bit more bland than most of us would care to admit.

At 48, the man born Gordon Sumner is still fit enough to elicit shouted pledges of love from women old enough to know better, yet there's no denying he's gone soft musically.

Tuesday's show at the Universal Amphitheatre (the first of four dates) was enjoyable enough. Sting sounded fine, though he was careful not to overextend his dusky voice. His band hovered in the background during the two-hour show, and while smooth-jazz trumpeter Chris Botti is no Wynton Marsalis, but he was used to good effect. (A trio of backup singers was surprisingly unremarkable.)

It's just that it's hard not to want a bit of fire and brimstone from the former Police front man. When he appeared, the sold-out crowd stood and hollered - and sat down meekly when it turned out the opening number was the mellow 'A Thousand Years' from his equally mellow new album, 'Brand New Day'.

Sting didn't ignore his past, but he didn't give it what it deserved, either. As wonderful as it was to hear 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', the nicey-nice arrangement felt like a cheat, nearly obliterating the song's reggae lilt.

Perhaps it's better that kinder, gentler Sting fit his old material into his current jazz-and-world-inflected adult pop than try and fake his youthful anger.

The proportions in Sting's blend of jazz, pop, world music and more were often too evenhanded, leaving songs like 'Ghost Story' (country? New Age? smooth jazz?) without a firm footing in any genre.

Songs worked best when there was a dominant sound - refined pop for 'Mad About You' and 'Seven Days', funky jazz on 'We'll Be Together'.

Singing from the point of view of a prostitute on the slick new 'Tomorrow We'll See', there were hoots when Sting sang ''these new heels are killing me''; it merely served as a weak segue for the classic 'Roxanne', whose reworking was a choppy disappointment.

It would have been nice to hear something other than the most obvious Police tunes - even though he stretched a note, 'Every Breath You Take' was a tired choice.

There were occasional stretches beyond the safety of smooth songs of love and desire, though most fell flat. The soft jazz of 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong' didn't incorporate mere rapping, but the French variety courtesy of drummer Manu Katche - still, it was jarring. The twangy detour of 'Fill Her Up' sent a noticeable portion of the crowd streaming to the concession stands. And Sting sang most of 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' in a marginally successful imitation of Louis Armstrong (sometimes he sounded more like a confused Tom Waits).

What did work was 'Desert Rose'. While the song itself isn't spectacular, Sting's vocals intertwined with the enchanting voice of Algerian Rai singer Cheb Mami, the night's opener.

Some of the old Police tunes came off OK, thanks to a jazz jam on the concert staple 'Bring on the Night'/'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around'.

It wasn't until the second encore, where the bassist switched to acoustic guitar for a stunning 'Message in a Bottle' (followed by his solo Fragile), that a song got its due.

(c) The Press-Enterprise by Cathy Maestri

Sting still breaking new ground...

Sixteen years after splitting from the Police, Sting has become one of mainstream pop's foremost cultural emissaries, roaming the planet in search of obscure musical textures to bring back and share with the masses.

He assumes that role again with his latest solo release (his seventh), 'Brand New Day', a typically well-crafted, propulsively polyglot disc that demonstrates the British musician's intuitive grasp of jazz, Algerian dance pop and bossa nova, to name only the most obvious elements.

Opening a four-show engagement Tuesday night at Universal Amphitheatre, Sting and his current band of collaborators made multiple forays into the ever-expanding realm of world pop without ever losing their rhythmic compass. A bass-driven reggae undercurrent remains the touchstone of most every little thing Sting does, and it sustains his music even when he can't quite mesh his wide array of influences into a seamless, organic sound. Sting explicitly acknowledged his reggae roots about midway through the two-hour set when he launched into 'Roxanne', complete with a wailing ''dub'' solo and an unprompted audience call-and-response chorus. But mostly Sting faced the musical future, as he has been doing with thoughtful curiosity for well on two decades.

Leading off with the insistent, two-beat 'A Thousand Years' from his new release, Sting cast himself in the familiar role of a mystic cosmic traveller who'd rather be home with his loved ones. 'Mad About You' and 'Seven Days' played variations on the theme of an introspective lover struggling to convey his feelings through transcendent metaphors.

Over the years, Sting's voice has developed into the perfect instrument for these kinds of expressions. An unusual fusion of grit and ethereality, it floats over his funky bass lines and skitters across the tops of his literary allusions before breaking into a bluesy groan or an ecstatic yelp.

These elements all came together on such well-constructed songs as the new 'Fill Her Up', a neat four-minute parable of Middle American redemption that segues dramatically from country to gospel.

However, the song cried out for brassier backup from Sting's three female chorines. Though he unleashed guitarist Dominic Miller for a couple of brief solos and brought back his opening act, the French-Algerian singer Cheb Mami, for an encore, the star of the show was in no danger of being upstaged by his band.

Sting closed with two encore sets that included a plaintive solo acoustic version of 'Message in a Bottle', 'Brand New Day', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and a hopeful rather than brooding rendition of 'Every Breath You Take'.

Somewhat surprisingly, he wrapped up this upbeat, future-gazing concert on an ambivalent note, observing ''how fragile we are.'' Even so, Sting's career looks as robust as ever.

(c) The Daily News of Los Angeles by Reed Johnson

Optimistic Sting looks ahead...

''We're going to do this without a net,'' Sting said early in his two-hour concert Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre, as he reached for a page of lyrics on a music stand.

The veteran English singer-songwriter had just explained that he has kept the lyrics for the song 'Seven Days' on the stand after twice blanking on them in precisely the same spot earlier on this tour - his first in three years.

In a nice bit of showmanship, he then tossed the piece of paper across the stage, and the audience cheered mightily when Sting got through the song without missing a line.

In a larger sense, Sting has been operating without a net for most of his career. After reaching superstar status in the '80s with the rock group the Police, he ventured into the uncertain waters of a solo career.

On his own, he has created what is arguably an even more distinguished body of work - one built around frequently challenging music that blends pop, rock, jazz and world-music textures in ways that are both wonderfully sophisticated yet deeply rooted in everyman sensibilities.

Sting's daring continues with his new album and tour, which finds him one of the few major pop figures willing to risk delivering a millennium message.

The musician isn't advertising either project as millennium-themed, but how big a leap is it to think of their title 'Brand New Day' as ''Brand New Century''?

And the message?

Backed by an excellent five-piece band and three female backup singers, Sting defined it in the elegant opening tune Tuesday, the first of his four nights at Universal. In 'A Thousand Years', Sting speaks of the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of love in replenishing that spirit.

Over the next two hours, he wove music from the new album and songs from the past into a beautifully designed series of reflections on various aspects of relationships.

While it was the familiar ones, from 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' to 'Every Breath You Take', that drew the most consistent response, the new tunes gave the show its most compelling moments. As with the best of Sting's songs, selections such as 'After the Rain Has Fallen' and 'Ghost Story' are far from conventional pop love songs. They deal with relationships from odd angles, and the band's arrangements aggressively highlight each of the music's uncertain turns.

The standout was 'Desert Rose', whose timeless longing and desire are underscored by the allure of Algerian strains supplied vocally by Algerian singing star Cheb Mami and members of Mami's band.

Though there were accounts of setbacks and struggles in the evening's tunes, the overriding tone was optimism - so it's fitting that Sting closed the show with 'Fragile', a reminder that none of life's blessings are guaranteed.

Besides his duet with Sting on 'Desert Rose', Mami also opened the concert. A leading voice in the rai style, Mami isn't an especially charismatic performer. Indeed, he initially seemed to simply be a guest vocalist with an extremely aggressive, percussion-driven band. As the set unfolded, however, he began to assert increased authority both in his singing and in his manner, eventually matching the spectacular beats of the band with his own absorbing punctuation. Mami is an artist worth exploring - and conveniently, he'll be featured in concert tonight at the El Rey Theatre.

(c) The Los Angeles Times by Robert Hilburn