Soul Cages

New Orleans, LA, US
Lakefront Arenawith Concrete Blonde, Vinx
Sting show strong...

Sting made a strong showing at the UNO Lakefront Arena Saturday night, playing a 90-minute set of songs from his bleak new album, 'The Soul Cages', mixed with greatest hits from the Police files.

However, tunes from his two previous solo albums, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' and 'Nothing Like the Sun...' were distressingly ignored. By my count, the only cut from either album was the delicate acoustic ballad 'Fragile', which Sting played as his encore number.

He covered Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' admirably, but ignored the gorgeous version of Hendrix's 'Little Wing' that graced 'Nothing Like the Sun...'

Given that he was in New Orleans, and had been walking around the Quarter earlier in the day with his significant other, you would think he would've included 'Moon over Bourbon Street', his sly tribute to Anne Rice's vampires. No such luck.

Spotted on Toulouse, Sting was dressed decidedly downbeat, looking as if he had clothed himself at Thrift City. It didn't stop a dopey frat boy from spotting him and leading a mini-stampede behind the rock star yelling his name, asking for an autograph.

Perhaps the jazzier material from those albums was too multilayered and complex for the small touring band to handle. Playing bass, Sting was accompanied by Dominic Miller on guitar, Vinnie Colavita on drums and an astonishing musician named David Sancious on keyboards.

They can do amazing things with synthesizer technology these days. On one of Sting's earlier songs, I looked in vain for the sax player responsible for a vigorous horn solo.

Turned out it was Sancious on keyboards. Whenever a sax, clarinet or other horn instrument was called for, Sancious would put a whistle-like instrument connected by wire to his keyboard into his mouth, and blow. The results were fascinating, and Sancious nearly upstaged Sting.

The gritty band Concrete Blonde opened for Sting, turning in a jagged set of Gothic-sounding songs that suggest the L.A.-based group is akin to Heart for the all-black clothing crowd.

Their set included a loose cover of Leonard Cohen's brilliantly cynical song 'Everybody Knows', which the band remade for the 'Pump Up the Volume' soundtrack. Unfortunately, the band's vocalist rendered the words unintelligible.

Sting took the stage next to introduce a musician named Vinx, whom Sting discovered in a Santa Monica nightclub. Vinx played African drums and sang a few pop tunes in a pleasing voice reminiscent of Ben Vereen's, joking with the audience between numbers.

Sting opened with the hard-hitting 'Jeremiah Blues (Part I)', which, like so many of the evening's songs, was graced by Sancious' snappy jazz piano breaks. He followed with his current radio hit, 'All This Time', one of the few musically upbeat pieces from 'The Soul Cages'.

The next number, 'Mad About You', was typical of the pensive, morose outlook of 'The Soul Cages'. The album, much of which concerns Sting's mourning of his dead father, sounds downright tuneless compared to its melodious predecessors.

Despite the potency of its lyrics, 'The Soul Cages' is not particularly interesting musically, and the audience's attention clearly lagged during these bits.

Sting surprised the audience with a jazzy cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine', which featured a scorching guitar solo from Miller counterposed with cool jazz piano riffing from Sancious, who on a later number elicited a well-deserved roar from the crowd with intense keyboard jamming.

The former frontman of The Police turned the arena audience into a vast sing-along with faithful Police covers like 'Roxanne', 'King of Pain', 'Fortress Around Your Heart', 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message In a Bottle'.

Many, if not most, in the audience grew up with these songs, and a fair number of them sang every word with Sting. A smooth segue into 'Walking on the Moon' saved the boring 'Soul Cages' song 'The Wild Wild Sea'.

Thankfully, Sting didn't bug us with any Bono-style preaching about the rain forest.

If you wanted to know about Sting's dedication to saving the Amazon basin, there was a photo of the shirtless singer fondling a banana frond in the program.

(c) The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate by Rod Dreher

Sting's crowd lukewarm to songs from new album...

One doesn't expect a man who calls himself Sting and sings in a rock band to reflect on the complications of getting old, yet that was pretty much the tone in the performer's New Orleans appearance at the UNO Lakefront Arena Saturday night. Sting's new material, heavily grounded in ruminations on lost youth, dominated the first half of his concert Saturday, but it was the more potent rock of his younger days that brought the crowd to its feet.

Sting, formerly of The Police and now firmly established as a solo act, is currently touring behind 'The Soul Cages', his new album in which he ponders the recent deaths of his parents and his friends John Dexter and Ethyl Eichelberger, who worked with him on his stage production of 'Threepenny Opera'.

The album is being promoted as a much more somber project than the usual fare from the still boyish 39-year-old British superstar, but the material, as performed in Saturday's show, actually marks less of a break with his past than the current wisdom indicates.

Pathos is certainly nothing new for Sting, whose real name is Gordon Sumner. After all, this is a man whose very stage name implies injury, and whose defining hit of the 1980s was 'King of Pain'.

The sober, moody material of 'The Soul Cages' played to Sting's strengths Saturday. With a feline falsetto that inevitably sounds wounded, Sting's songs pulse like an exposed nerve, and his high registers can put an exclamation point on brooding ballads like his opening number, 'Jeremiah Blues', that give them a solemn, hymnal quality.

Sting, perhaps appropriately wearing black jeans and T-shirt, followed with the much springier up-tempo number 'All This Time', which, unlike most of 'The Soul Cages', has some pleasant pop hooks that make it more user-friendly than the other pious tracks on the album.

'The Soul Cages' suffers from some bad timing, coming as it does on the heels of Paul Simon's 'Rhythm of The Saints' - another record that chronicles middle age, but does so with much more wit and style.

Saturday's crowd seemed as lukewarm about 'The Soul Cages' as I was. Fans gave the material a politely warm reception, but vintage Sting material like 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take' sparked the most enthusiasm - more enthusiasm, in fact, than Sting seemed to have for many of his classics. His reading of 'Roxanne', for instance, was athletic if uninspired, lacking the primal urgency that defined it as a pop anthem. Sting approached the angst of the song rather academically - like aproblem he'd already worked through - and it reminded me of a remark he made in a recent Rolling Stone interview about older rock stars implausibly singing of adolescent phases they'd already passed. Sting's made his own diagnosis here: He sometimes seemed bored with the youthful anxiety of unrequited passion chronicled in his earlier records.

At 39, Sting may be old for an athlete or a rock singer, but he's far from over the hill, and at its best moments, Saturday's show had its share of his vintage vitality. Particularly memorable was a cover of the Jimi Hendrix standard 'Purple Haze' that matched the bracing psychedelic edge of the original, and an equally competent cover of the Bill Withers ballad 'Ain't No Sunshine' that gave it just the right blues bite.

Sting's road bands are known for their technical brilliance - an earlier tour included Branford Marsalis - and Saturday's show proved no exception. Of special note was keyboardist David Sancious, whose dizzyingly fast filigree fingers often whirred into a blurr as he sped through several extended solos. Credit Sting for being modest enough to share the spotlight with Sancious, who deserved the added attention.

Sting also made the uncommon gesture of personally introducing his second warm-up act, the percussionist and a cappella singer Vinx. Vinx's new debut album, 'Rooms In My Fatha's House', was produced by Sting, and the headliner included Vinx on the tour in an apparent effort to win him more exposure. Vinx easily won over the crowd with his African drums, which are his specialty, and his comic asides were favorably reminiscent of Bobby McFerrin. I heard his album (released through Pangea Records) on the drive home from New Orleans, and concluded that at this point, at least, Vinx is a much better performer than a recording artist; the songs just don't have enough variety and lyrical insight to sustain repeated listenings.

The rock group Concrete Blonde opened Saturday's show. They emphasized a lot of ominous guitar riffs that made their music sound like an endless variation on the theme from ''The Munsters,'' but I'm told that the lyrics have more subtlety and irony than the instrumentals.

I couldn't decide that for myself, though. Because of a naggingly fuzzy sound mix, I couldn't understand what they were singing.

(c) The Advocate by Danny Heitman