Forget the competing
entertainment up north in Wrigleyville: The place to be in Chicago on
Tuesday night was Grant Park.
There was much to be cynical about as Sting performed a "free" concert
that in fact required tickets handed out in advance by aggressive street
teams as part of a giant corporate marketing blitz.
While I'm firmly opposed to artists living in the past, it's still
difficult to accept Sting's transformation from a high-octane New Wave
pop-punk with the Police into an easy-listening faux-jazzbo solo artist
shilling for sports cars, designer clothes and credit cards.
Advertising was ubiquitous throughout the show. And fans who've been
following the history of rock music in the park had to wonder why this
concert -- and a recent show by Shania Twain that was also a corporate event
-- were allowed to happen while the Smashing Pumpkins, the surviving members
of the Grateful Dead and a return appearance by Radiohead were all barred by
Maybe it had something to do with the $300,000 check that the sponsors
handed to city officials to support music in the schools. (Everything is for
sale in Chicago.)
The reason why music fans should question the city's attitude about rock
in the park is because it is our finest venue to hear live music. The sound
system was pristine, the backdrop of city lights was brilliant, and even the
weather cooperated, with a slight breeze wafting off Lake Michigan on a warm
Indian Summer night complete with a blazing harvest moon.
All of this combined for such a pleasant evening that you had to forgive
Sting even his most egregious overindulgences -- and there were plenty of
The unnaturally buff, artfully unshaven, peroxide-blond crooner used the
show to launch his newest album, "Sacred Love," which finds him taking the
coffeehouse pop of recent solo discs to the Middle East via the addition of
an odd trance drone here, a little doumbek or tabla there, and some
obnoxiously artsy video projections of naked belly dancers splashed up
behind his eight-piece band as it performed.
New songs such as the album's title track, the VH1/adult contemporary
single "Send Your Love" and the ponderously self-important political
toss-off, "Let's Forget About the Future," are, in a word, dreadful --
tuneless, pretentious, overwrought and (despite the best efforts of master
drummer Vinnie Colaiuta) positively leaden in the groove department.
With the exception of "Walking on the Moon," which opened the show and
was ruined by a rendition that found it reconfigured as a cabaret ditty
featuring only Sting on bass and vocals and pianist Jason Rebello tinkling
behind him, the songs of the Police were by far the highlight of the
Nearly a third of the show was devoted to that timeless, energizing
material: "Message in a Bottle," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,"
"Synchronicity II" and of course "Roxanne" (which Sting offered almost as an
apology for a truncated version of "Englishman in New York" -- apparently he
forgot where he was for a minute, mistaking Grant Park for Central Park).
When you compare twee solo fare such as "Fields of Gold," "All This Time"
and the new tunes from "Sacred Love" to these Police classics, you can't
help but ask: Sting, what the heck happened? Perhaps if you spent a little
less time on those marathon Tantric sex sessions that you brag about and
saved a little of that energy for your current music, you'd still be an
artist that matters.
Opening the concert were two modern bluesmen: Keb' Mo', who tries so hard
to be "authentic" that he ought to confine his performances to museums, and
Jonny Lang, who errs too far to the other extreme, churning out a hopelessly
generic brand of frat-party chooglin' that is distinguishable from countless
mediocre bar bands only by the fact that Jonny is the one with the
major-label hype behind him.