Saturday, September 2, 2017

Sting transforms Bethel in a field of gold

Former chief of The Police offers perfect set



BETHEL, N.Y. – The fields that surround the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts are the most historic fields in the history of rock music. They are the fields where, in 1969, Woodstock took place. Sting was only 17 years old at that time and was living on the other side of the Atlantic, but when he performed at Bethel Woods on Friday – and the sounds of his music echoed over those same fields - he, too, created something special.

They became, for the receptive crowd of 8,000, fields of gold.        

The former leader of The Police and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer offered a remarkable set at Friday night’s show. So remarkable, in fact, that some of the gold records that line his walls were not represented at all, and yet somehow, one would have hardly noticed. It was an engaging mix of solo material and Police material. And it did not disappoint.

Sting opened the show with the rocking  “Synchronicity II”  and followed with an extended version of “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” which featured thumpy bass, a rhythmic jam and perfect vocals. A funk-fueled performance of “Spirits in The Material World” and a fun rendition of “Englishman In New York” followed. (The New York state crowd gave a loud cheer during the chorus, as if to warmly welcome its British guest. Sting smiled.) Next came a fabulous performance of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”  

“It’s great to be back in Bethel,” said Sting, prior introducing his tight and polished band. The unit featured his son, Joe Sumner, and members of the group The Last Bandoleros, both of which also served as opening acts on the bill. The musicians helped bring a fresh energy to songs such as  “She’s Too Good For Me” and a perfect touch to “Not The Shape Of My Heart,” both from 1993.       

In addition to retaining his fine vocals, Sting also remains an accomplished bassist and simply watching his fingers slide about the fret board is enjoyable. And, he has great wit. He introduced “Mad About You” as a song that was inspired by the Bible, King David and Bathsheba. “He fell in love with a married woman,” he said. “Problem was, she was married … It ended badly.”

“Petrol Head,” from Sting’s latest album, “57th & 9th,” came with the same zing and swagger of early Police, and “50,000,” also from 2016 album, served as a tribute to fallen musicians such as Prince, David Bowie and Glenn Frey and offered a look at mortality through the eyes of a rock star. “Desert Rose,” from 1999, offered a glimpse at Sting’s interest in Middle-Eastern music and came with a tribal flare and a gorgeous performance of “Fields A Gold,” perfectly accented by some stirring instrumentation, served as one of the show’s highlights.

Still, for every soft moment, such as with “Fields of Gold,” Sting was also willing to celebrate his own pop/new wave roots, particularly with a torrid and driving rendition of “Message In A Bottle.” The guitars soared and the songwriter seemed delighted at how a song that he had written 40 years ago was still able to energize the crowd.

“Thank you!,” he said with a broad smile. “I love it when you sing. It makes me happy.”

The reggae influence on Sting also remains evident, and numbers such as The Police classic “Walking On The Moon” served as a nod and wink to that influence. “So Lonely,” from 1978 - with its burning guitars and pounding drums - sounded as fresh on Friday as it did when it first appeared on the band’s debut album. And with the set’s closing number, “Roxanne,” Sting showed that he can still hit the high notes and - by seamlessly segueing into a few verses of Bill Withers’  “Ain’t No Sunshine” – that he’s not afraid to tweak the arrangements of even some of his signature songs.   

Encores included “Next To You,” “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” and “Every Breath You Take.” The show ended with “Fragile,” which Sting dedicated to the people of Houston.

Sting, as a solo artist and with The Police, has sold more than 100 million albums. That is indeed a lot of gold records. On Friday night in Bethel, he offered a set that didn’t even include any material from “Dream Of The Blue Turtles” (“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”) or “Zenyatta Mondatta” (“Don’t Stand So Close To Me.”) The only way an any artist can do something like that is if they have so much quality material that it doesn’t matter. Sting is such an artist. And he did not disappoint.

Fields of gold, over Bethel.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His commentaries on music and concert reviews are published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)




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