Brand New Day

Houston, TX, US
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilionwith Jonny Lang
Sting in Houston...

The morning after the Dallas show, it was back to Houston, just in time for the August 27 Sting show at the Cynthia Mitchell Pavillion in the Woodlands, north of Houston. Here the seats were quite expensive (mine was $125) and the security was even tighter, with rigorous searches for cameras, bottles and recording devices, not to mention security breathing down your neck at every turn. This was an amphitheatre (so none of the previously mentioned A/C) but there was a slight breeze.

I was disappointed that despite the ticket price, my seat had an obstructed view! When I discussed this with an usher, they explained that the crew set up the speakers that way, one beside the other, instead of a stack of speakers. I also learned that the tour buses arrived from Austin's show at 3:00 AM and had started setting up at 9:00 AM. (So maybe they were just too tired to stack those speakers?) Also, I heard that Sting and the band had been served a Texas style dinner of chicken and pork BBQ with all the Southern trimmings. (So he's not a vegetarian anymore, right?) Probably a dinner party hosted by Compaq, whose headquarters are right here in Houston.

Someone asked me recently, ''don't you ever get tired and feel like you don't want to go to another Sting concert?'' The answer is: NO. I may be tired getting there, but once the concert starts, the adrenalin and excitement kick in. The more I see Sting in concert, the more I want to see him in concert. I guess it's like an addiction, only a positive one!

Opener Jonny Lang was popular with the crowd, which had a much wider age range than the previous night in Austin. Sting took the stage in a maroon tank top and black cargo pants, and looked amazingly rested and energetic. He did make the comment ''Is it hot enough for you all here? My God, I'm English, and we're used to the heat, but this is too much!'' But he didn't let the temperatures stop him from putting on another great show. He invited Jonny Lang on for a scorching (no pun intended) guitar solo on 'Fill Her Up' - which was well received. I was hoping Lyle Lovett might appear in either Austin or Houston, as he did last year, because he lives around here, but not this time.

The crowd was lively and on their feet most of the show. Jason even took off his cap (probably due to sweat) I really miss Cheb Mami on 'Desert Rose' he adds a lot to that song, and of course Sting can't sing both parts, but he does attempt the middle Eastern sounding vocalization. Sting and Jason really get the audience worked up to a fever pitch on 'Bring on the Night'/'When the World is Running Down' on the extended piano solo - I think it's the high point of the show, and then they go off the stage, leaving the audience wanting more. The pace is well thought out, because the encore numbers are a little slower, but the big favourites, everyone really responds to 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message in a Bottle'. And what an exquisite closing number with the acoustic guitar on 'Fragile'. It's a very satisfying ending to a wonderful musical journey.

Basically the set was the same as the night before in Austin, and the same songs were the big crowd pleasers. I think it is a balanced mix of old familiar favourites and new tunes, although I do wish there was at least one song from 'Mercury Falling' included.

I must admit that I am amazed at the stamina of Sting, the band and crew, to keep up the touring pace for as long as they have, daily travel and nightly performances, and still keep putting on great concerts night after night. I don't know how they do it, but I hope they keep doing it!

(c) Tammi Reed for

Sting faithful bask in show of nostalgia...

You're excited to be here at the Woodlands Pavilion, clutching your bag of cosmetic goodies from the Allure magazine tour bus parked outside the entrance. You wend your way through the sea of people who share a common purpose (one that can be discerned by the uninformed thanks to the '''' banners everywhere): to see Sting.

You can't wait. You cram the coupon brochure for a Sting-approved concert photo into your pocket and take your seat. This is no time for crass commercialism... it's Sting time.

If only it were that simple.

The sellout crowd vibrated with excitement Sunday night as the venue lights went down and the stage was washed in purple light. The band members took the stage in darkness, the stage lights went up, revealing Sting, wearing a maroon tank top and baggy black pants. Fans screamed and leapt to their feet as he approached the microphone, bass guitar in hand, launching into 'A Thousand Years', the sedate opener from 'Brand New Day'. The crowd sat down.

However, as is to be expected from a big-deal concert-by-numbers, he brought the room back up with 'Set Them Free', which got the crowd standing and clapping, encouraged by Sting clapping his hands over his head, proving once and for all that old concert cliches will never, ever die.

It continues to baffle those who think about these things that artists such as Sting, who has more credibility than most world leaders, continually resort to pandering to the crowd to fire them up, when in reality, they could sit onstage in a La-Z-Boy and drink a beer to the same effect. Why can't Sting just rely on the strength of his music to keep the crowd excited?

Strong music is what Sting and company provided, for the most part. However, despite the fact that this is called the 'Brand New Day' tour, about 60 percent of the set featured songs from Sting's back catalog. A current song like 'After the Rain Has Fallen' was followed by 'We'll Be Together' and four other old songs before another new song surfaced.

The jazzy 'Perfect Love ... Gone Wrong' wasn't really doing much for the crowd until the drummer bounded out from behind his kit and began rapping in French. Sadly, that was the most interesting and exciting portion of what became a round-robin of solos by the various band members.

Sting didn't talk much to the crowd in between songs, except to complain about the heat (a gripe commonly heard from onstage at the Woodlands Pavilion) and to indulge the crowd's Houston pride.

A few unsettling truths came to light during this concert. During the country-fried Fill Her Up, it suddenly became clear that no matter what genre Sting ventures into in the name of progression, his harmony and vocalization patterns will always be the same. His musical trademarks will always transcend any other musical tricks he tries.

On a more positive note, opener Jonny Lang provided a scorching guitar solo, proving once again that music lovers should keep an eye on him.

The most successful part of the evening was the middle-to-late portion of the set, which featured older works almost exclusively.

If Sting was taking notes on this show, he'd be well served to pay attention to the fact that the old stuff is what the crowd loves. The audience went crazy from the opening strains of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', singing along and clapping happily. Even the tepid reworking of 'Roxanne' was well received, despite its marked lack of the original version's edginess. It devolved into a cheesy, embarrassing call and response of Roxanne-o with the audience that was nothing less than painful to observe.

Sting wrapped up in the nostalgia section of the evening with 'Desert Rose', which is heard more frequently on Compaq commercials than anywhere else. To bring home the fire-desert imagery, the stage was decorated with dusky-pink lighted boxes that blew orange streamers into the air, representing flames. Thanks, we get it. And Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon covered this world-beat sound a good dozen years ago.

What followed can best be described as Sting's Baroque era. He has taken to rearranging songs so that they're unrecognizable - and unpleasant to listen to. 'When the World Is Running Down's' middle jam section is a perfect example of the frightening direction Sting is headed: It introduced a disco drum beat into a song that was recorded by an anti-disco band in an anti-disco era.

The edgy persona Sting presented in the '70s is long gone and has been replaced by a soggy piece of yoga-loving milquetoast who's likely more interested in bulking up his personal coffers than producing work of any artistic merit. To punctuate that point, Sting brought the evening to a close with his cover of 'Every Breath You Take'.

It's obvious that Sting misplaced his artistic innovation and integrity somewhere between being the sexy, charismatic frontman of the Police and becoming the ''Big Star'' that he is today. But the crowd, who paid upwards of $125 for tickets, didn't mind. Fans love him because he's Sting.

Overheard outside the bathrooms after the show: ''It was all right, if you like Sting.'' That pretty much says it all.

(c) The Houston Chronicle by Melanie Haupt