Brand New Day

Concord, CA, US
Chronicle Pavilion at Concordwith k.d. lang
Still making magic...

So there was this French movie that played the art-house circuit a few years back. It starred Gerard Depardieu (of course) and was about love (naturally). Depardieu was married to this elegant drop-dead-and-go-to-heaven gorgeous woman. Très babelicious. But he loses interest in her and has an affair with this middle-aged, sorta plump and homey woman.

This may have something to do with the Sting concert Friday night at the Chronicle Pavilion at Concord. Hang in there and we'll see.

In the movie, almost everyone thinks the Depardieu character is out of his freaking mind for the choice he makes.

Likewise, many Sting fans don't understand why some cranky old Police fans, including this one, would rather have their guts used to string Sting's bass than have to listen to some of his solo stuff.

But he's amazingly talented, they say. True. His music is sophisticated, varied and rarely anything less than pretty. Yes. He surrounds himself with phenomenal musicians. That's right. His concerts are pretty much perfect. Couldn't agree more.

But perfection can be cold and dull. That's why Depardieu strayed. The woman he preferred was warm, human and alive, even if she wasn't a beauty queen.

The solo Sting is the impossibly perfect-looking woman. The Sting of the Police was the down-to-earth woman.

The early Sting may have been a bit raw and rough around the edges, even somewhat blowzy at times, but he was a lot more fun. We diehards prefer Sting with less makeup, and we don't mind the occasional run in his stockings. Metaphorically speaking.

After Sting's last tour, it was reasonable to expect more cool and oddly unengaging perfection on the new one. Sting was certainly perfect Friday night. But it was harder to resist his charms this time around. Maybe I'm mellowing.


More likely it's just a final, reluctant acceptance that Sting is no longer a rock musician with exceptionally eclectic tastes. He's now an adult-contemporary musician with exceptionally eclectic tastes. And, often, exceptionally good taste. God knows the genre needs more of that.

Few other popular musicians could pull off the kind of show he did. He was perfectly comfortable tossing out lite funk, jazz fusion, sunny pop, ancient folk, a little country, a touch of gospel and even something resembling rock. He played with challenging time signatures and sophisticated arrangements. He let his drummer do a little rapping. In French.

A lot of elder-statesmen pop stars surround themselves with slick session musicians on the road. That allows them to take it easy while the backing band stokes the fading embers of burned-out songs with lots of flashy but empty fills and solos.

Sting hires the best, but he uses them as a band, not decoration. This tour includes a true jazz trumpeter and a true jazz pianist, and Sting wove their sound firmly into the fabric of his songs.

By dabbling in world music, Sting has even contributed something just a little bit different to today's pop music with his latest hit, 'Desert Rose'. In concert, he supplied all the song's haunting wails himself.

The crowd gave a collective sigh when it heard the opening notes of 'Fields of Gold'. It's a timeless, painfully lovely ballad that even those who don't care for much of the latter-day Sting's ''quiet storm'' stuff are forced to like.

But let the record show that nothing Sting played got the crowd to its feet until he finally got into the Police stuff, starting with 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'.

Sting isn't just aging gracefully. He's aging magnificently. For one thing, he still looks great. He's totally buff and virile, and he still wears sleeveless black T-shirts to prove it.

The same is more or less true of his music. Some of us still want him to rock a bit harder and avoid the easy-listening stuff. But even if he doesn't want to burn as bright as he once did, he still smolders quite nicely.

k.d. lang, backed by eight musicians, opened the show with a typically sunny set of her potent crooning. Make that a tropical set, as lang and her gang were dressed in beach wear. lang herself favored comfy cotton and bare feet.

lang doesn't even pretend to know how to dance, which didn't stop her from engaging in goofy, good-natured prancing across the stage throughout the set, trying to get the sedate crowd on its feet.

Her warm, friendly stage presence was a perfect complement to her voice. That voice! Even if you don't care much for a lot of her songs, which tend towards syrupy arrangements and romantic platitudes, there's no denying that voice. It's practically a force of nature.

It's rare to encounter a singer with such a powerful sound, and rarer still to find one who controls it so adeptly. A good thing, too, because if she had really let loose she could easily have overpowered her three backup singers and five-piece band.

Her singing was bright and pure, and her phrasing was downright sexy. It didn't matter if she was singing stuff off her new album, like the unabashedly schmaltzy 'When We Collide', or her one true hit, 'Constant Craving'. Any time she opened her mouth, it was like listening to a spring-time waterfall tumbling down a mountain.

(c) The Contra Costa Times by William Friar