Soul Cages

Denver, CO, US
Red Rocks Amphitheater with Special Beat, Vinx
Sting stingy on glamour, but generous on style and substance...

Best concert of the summer, hands down.

It's hard to imagine any performer yet to play in Colorado this summer could top the caliber of Sting's first of two nights at Red Rocks Amphitheatre Saturday.

The perfectly constructed, brilliantly played concert featured Sting sticking mostly to his 'Soul Cages' LP, but also including plenty of hits from his Police days.

Sting's previous two solo LPs, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' and '...Nothing Like the Sun', were barely touched within the one-hour-and-45-minute set - the only disappointing aspect of the show. But no matter what he and his band played, it was presented with depth and style.

The show began with a triple shot from Sting's latest LP, 'All This Time', 'Jeremiah Blues (Part 1)' and 'Mad About You'. Each song got more than a sterilized, this-is-what-it-sounds-like-on-the-record presentation. Nearly every song took several turns through dynamic range and tempo changes.

For this tour, Sting brought a stripped-down, bare essentials band to Colorado. The small four-piece succeeded in filling any holes left by the absence of Branford Marsalis, who played horns on the LP.

Sting's voice and stage presence were in top form, but that was only one of four reasons for the quality of the concert.

The other three reasons were keyboardist David Sancious, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and guitarist Dominic Miller.

Miller's slashing, reverberating guitar chords and the limited number of lead guitar breaks he took lent as much to the music as Sting's fine-tuned vocals. Colaiuta was priceless also, adding hammering drums to Sting's bass playing.

Early in the show it appeared that the only Sting material presented in its entirety would be from 'Soul Cages'. During an emotional playing of 'Why Should I Cry for You?', the band started to play the older Sting hit, 'Be Still My Beating Heart', but after only a few bars, steered back into the new song.

But then Sting made it clear that his past achievements weren't off-limits. Miller started the familiar, disjointed guitar chord of the Police's 'Roxanne', and the song quickly turned into a sing-along with Sting and the sold-out audience.

With a heavy ska/reggae beat, the band then launched into two more Police favorites, 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' and 'King of Pain'.

After 'Fortress Around Your Heart', another new song called 'The Wild Wild Sea' showed off Sting's sense of harmony.

Sancious donned a guitar and joined the band at the front of the stage for a rousing, unexpected playing of Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'. Miller and Sancious traded guitar barbs back and forth while Colaiuta and Sting held down the beat during the song's most intense moments.

After perfectly played versions of 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and the Police's 'Walking on the Moon', the concert's opening act, the Special Beat, joined the band onstage to add backing vocals to a few Police classics, 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Message in a Bottle', to end the opening set.

For an encore, Sting played acoustic guitar and Miller handled bass guitar duties for an emotional, pleading rendition of Sting's environmentally themed 'Fragile'. It was a perfect, gentle ending to a fantastic concert.

(c) The Colorado Springs Gazette by Todd Caudle

Sting concentrates on hits, but doesn't score knockout...

It's tempting to give Sting a grade of ''A,'' as in ''Annoying,'' as in ''The Most Annoying Man in Rock When He Won't Get Down Off His Stinkin' Soapbox.''

Fortunately, Sting left his pretensions at home last night at a sold-out Red Rocks and instead put on a surprisingly lean, only mildly bloated show that encompassed many of his best songs.

Sting hasn't gone through as many image changes as, say, David Bowie, but he's probably catching up. We've had the Punk Sting, the Jazz Sting, the Rock Sting, the Pop Sting, the Sensitive Sting and the Third World Sting. Throw on top of that an attitude that at times can make Donald Trump look humble.

What we got last night might have been... well, just Sting. An unsure Sting, but an unpretentious Sting as well. Maybe it's the looming 40th birthday, coming up in just a matter of days. Maybe it's a fear of backlash. Maybe it's just a maturity, brought on by the death of his parents during the recording of his latest album, 'The Soul Cages'.

Anyway, the stripped-down sound of the tour and the hard, punchy arrangements of some of the songs was a welcome relief - even if Sting couldn't resist the ''Like Me!'' desperation of forced audience sing-alongs, and ''You can cheer louder than that'' admonishments.

Backed by a tight band, with outstanding keyboards from David Sancious, Sting showed that regardless of the varying paths he's explored in recent years, he knows his strongest material. He kicked off with a soaring 'All This Time', perhaps the best pure pop song he's ever written.

He was heavy on the hits, turning in particularly fine versions of 'King of Pain' and 'Fortress Around Your Heart'. And he also hit a variety of strange cover versions, lately including in his set Squeeze's 'Tempted'.

Last night saw a biting, tough cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' and even a snatch of Bob (sic) Seger's 'If I Was a Carpenter' at the end of 'Why Should I Cry for You?'

He tended, however, to undercut himself, depending too much on that loping mid-tempo that marks songs like 'Wrapped Around Your Finger'.

And 'Roxanne' lost all pleasure when he insisted on yet another audience sing-along. While those hits were nice to hear, it would have been nice had he veered this tough band through tougher songs like 'Synchronicity II'.

Opening the show was Special Beat, a hybrid of two great early '80s bands: The English Beat and The Specials. The best songs of both bands got full-speed treatment, easily the best opening act of this summer's lineup. The audience went wild. L.A. singer Vinx, accompanied only by his own drumming, also opened. My mom always said that if you can't say anything nice...

(c) The Rocky Mountain News by Mark Brown