Brand New Trust Fund

Sting

Chicago Theatre - Chicago, IL

December 3, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2000, Volume 7, #2

Written by John Metzger

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It's been quite a few years since rock 'n roll began its slide down the slippery slope to corporate hell. The influx of money at first was good in that it helped artists earn a reasonable living over the course of their often brief careers. However, as is the case with all things corporate, the culture quickly has spiraled out of control as each individual succumbs to greed. This, in a nutshell, is how the rock world inevitably slid to the wrong end of the spectrum.

It was bad enough when every classic rock song imaginable was pilfered for a commercial jingle, but did we really need last week's hit single to peddle automobiles? Of course, just when you thought it couldn't possibly get much worse, the large businesses the same ones that are undeniably running the world set their sites on concert-goers. Not that this is new. After all, the Rolling Stones sold their souls to the corporate devil years ago, pioneering the sale of the concert stage. This time around, though, companies are back with a vengeance.

This past summer, patrons at Tinley Park, Illinois' New World Music Theatre were tortured with a barrage of commercials during the break between Wilco and R.E.M.'s sets. Although neither band profited directly from this endeavor, it was a tremendous imposition on their fans, and the headline act's claim of ignorance and innocence is hardly acceptable, given their stature and clout.

Be that as it may, Sting is the latest artist to flaunt his new-found source of wealth in the face of his fans. At his Chicago Theatre appearance on December 3, advertisements for his primary sponsor were emblazoned everywhere even appearing on the marquee in large letters, comparable in size to his own name. A second sponsor was prominently displayed at the merchandise booth.

This corporatization is completely unnecessary and seriously undermines the integrity of an artist. Does Sting really need the money infused by these companies? Perhaps he chose his main sponsor, a computer manufacturer, because he squandered his fortune trying to solve the instability problems inherent in the Windows operating system, and mistakenly thought it was a hardware problem. However, it's more likely he simply sold-out to the highest bidder. In any event, at least the offending advertisements were removed from the stage once the show began.

Unfortunately, Sting's performance was a largely uneven affair, featuring far too much of his overplayed, older material. Sting waltzed through tunes like All This Time, Englishman in New York, and Every Little Thing She Does is Magic as if he felt obligated to perform them. As a result, many of these songs lacked the energy that they've carried on past tours and instead, sank into pale imitations of themselves. Even a guest appearance by Me'Shell Ndegeocello failed to lift Roxanne out of the doldrums, and her talent as a bassist was wasted by bringing her out towards the end of the song for an impromptu jam as Sting ad-libbed a repetitive vocal.

On the other hand, there were plenty of moments that worked quite well. An uplifting After the Rain Has Fallen drifted into a punchy We'll Be Together as Dominic Miller laid a muscular guitar solo over Manu Katche's pulsating drum beat. On Fill Her Up, the group perfectly made the transition from country to gospel at the pivotal point in the song, giving it a transcendent quality that matched its story line.

In addition, Sting has been working jazz-oriented themes into his music since his days with The Police. Consequently, his touring bands have always explored these songs more fully in concert, and this evening was no different. In particular, keyboardist Jason Robello and trumpeter Chris Botti brought these selections to life with their rousing instrumental prowess. The best of these was by far an intoxicating rendition of Moon Over Bourbon Street on which Sting delivered sang with a raspy, Louis Armstrong-inspired voice, while simultaneously performing a sultry Fever-induced melody on bass.

A few softer moments also stood out, including the gentle strains of Miller's guitar on Fields of Gold, Sting's haunting solo acoustic performance of Message in a Bottle, and the beautiful Fragile that concluded the show. Yet, the disjointed nature of the set list combined with the aforementioned boredom as well as several songs like the captivating swirl of Desert Rose and the joyful optimism of Brand New Day that didn't quite realize their full potential served only to undermine any momentum that started to build throughout the concert.

Me'Shell Ndegeocello began the evening with a short, but strong set of material that effortlessly crossed the boundaries from smooth jazz-pop to brawny funk to slinky rhythm & blues. Better still, she and her talented band weren't afraid to explore the musical periphery of her songs, allowing the grooves to take root and blossom into exquisite jam sessions.

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Copyright 1999 The Music Box