Sting has dubbed his summer
pairing with Annie Lennox "The Sex and Music Tour," a name that comes from a
line in his typically bland adult-contemporary hit, "Sacred Love."
"There's no religion but sex and music," the former Gordon Sumner crooned
at the opening of his set at the Tweeter Center on Sunday. But the
52-year-old singer's brand of sex appeal is ultimately as cold, lifeless,
one-dimensional and artificial as an airbrushed Playboy centerfold.
In stark contrast, opener Lennox was a searing presence from the moment
she stepped onstage through the end of her sultry and passionate 12-song
Sting and Lennox, who is about to turn 50, are a natural pairing for
several reasons. The two London neighbors both made their names in superstar
pop bands in the '80s -- the Police and the Eurthymics, respectively -- then
went on to forge successful solo careers with new and decidedly adult sounds
that continue to draw on their roots in black music, with Sting trading
reggae for light jazz and Lennox remaining faithful to R&B.
For discerning listeners, Lennox's appearance was the much bigger treat.
For one thing, the Scottish native tours much less frequently. More
importantly, though, she offered a warmer, more sensual and more credible
model for aging gracefully in the unforgiving world of pop -- for growing
old without growing boring, pretentious or self-important.
Backed by an eight-piece band that included two keyboardists, two backing
vocalists, guitar, bass and drums, resplendent in her blond buzz cut, purple
jacket, leopard top and artfully torn jeans and moving with a lithesome,
feline elegance, Lennox surveyed her two-decades-plus career.
Avoiding her Oscar-winning hit "Into the West" from "Lord of the Rings:
The Return of the King" and drawing more songs from 1992's "Diva" than last
year's "Bare," she was less concerned with peddling her latest product than
with taking listeners on an emotional roller coaster ride, and the set
veered from quiet seductions to defiant statements of self-empowerment.
Lennox infused old favorites such as "Missionary Man" and "Sweet Dreams
(Are Made of This)" with fresh and fiery grooves, stopped the show with a
soulful and distinctive cover of Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain" and let her
robust voice soar on solo material such as "Pavement Cracks," the opening
"Legend in My Living Room" and "No More 'I Love You's.' "
The resulting performance drew connections to the themes and sounds
common to all of her music -- from the synth-pop of the early Eurythmics to
her current sophisticated blend of R&B and cabaret -- and underscored her
position as one of the most distinctive and enduring stylists of her
Meanwhile, Sting delivered a slightly retooled version of the show that
he performed in the massive arena of Grant Park last October. Though he
offered fewer hits by the Police and emphasized more of his snoozy solo
material -- especially last year's ultra-slick "Sacred Love" -- the
dichotomy was still jarring, with his recent cocktail-party fare thoroughly
lacking the energy, conviction and humanity of his earlier work.
The shortcoming of recent Sting sounds found their visual analog in the
silly videos that flashed behind his 10-piece band, depicting absurd scenes
of a topless, Hula-Hooping fairy nymph, a gyrating belly dancer, fluttering
fireflies and falling leaves that seemed to have been drawn from a cliched
New Age screen saver program.
If this is the pinnacle of religion as sex and music, as Sting claims,
then consider me an abstinent atheist.