Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Gordon and the gang

Warning: A fan possibly goes overboard and writes a lot about her recent concert experience in this entry. If you would like to experience it along with her, read on...but only at your own risk.

A little over two weeks ago, on Labor Day, Casey and I made a trip to Nashville (just four hours away!) so that I might be indulged for the second time this summer...

Yes, folks, I attended my fifth
Sting concert in eight years. Some might wonder why on earth one would see a concert in St. Louis in July, only to go to Nashville seven weeks later to see the same thing. And my response to that is, "Why would you not want to see Sting in concert again?" (Casey's answer: the temporary deafness.)

For those not aware, Sting is touring with
Annie Lennox this time around. I was not a big Annie Lennox fan before, but after seeing her in concert I was amazed. But let me start at the beginning...

When I bought tickets for the St. Louis concert, I had missed the start of online sales by about, oh, eight hours. That's a disappointment. So I knew that our seats wouldn't be all that great. They weren't lawn seats, but they did miss being under the amphitheatre covering by several rows. This turned out to be pretty important, because unfortunately it rained! Ah, but we were wise enough to bring our Disney World ponchos (hey, don't laugh, they're cute!). Still, it was cold, drizzly, and the crowd did not please me.

Let me explain what I expect from a Sting crowd: for one, they have paid a bit of money to see a musician I assume they want to see. And for most, this is going to be the only Sting concert they attend in their life. When the lights dim and you know things are about to start, the whole crowd should be on their feet. They should be excited! When the old familiar tunes are played, they should cheer and be excited. For the uptempo stuff, I want people to stand up with me. Alas, I could only see this happening in the section right by the stage. Granted, it was drizzling, it was cold -- but you've got to get your money's worth, people! Put something into it!

A lot of the time, I was the only person standing in a huge crowd of what seemed to be disgruntled attendees (not because of Sting, I'm sure). There were the two girls in front of us who did not let the weather deter their excitement, which I appreciated. Otherwise, that was about it. Annie Lennox was awesome, Sting was incredible, but if you've got not-so-great seats in a mostly-dud crowd the atmosphere is a bit disappointing.

Poor Casey. He left his first Sting concert with a wife who was unhappy for the first time after a Sting concert. Eventually I had to let it go, right? I had to just go on and be grateful that I'd seen him in concert four times -- seen three tours in a row since 1996. But no.

I called Casey one day during work and told him I'd found some ebay tickets for the Nashville concert on Labor Day. There was a lot of discussion over it, but we did come to a compromise in the end. I put in a bid, waited three days for the auction to end and won the tickets!

But that is not the best part. I wanted to make sure that we would be among actual Sting fans, not just people who were at a concert just to be there. The tickets I found were on the fifth row, which is about seven rows closer than I've ever been. When we arrived, we made our way to the front section where there was a sign that said, "Welcome to Storyland" or something like that, then below it was something like "where your dreams come true." Okay, if I'm being completely honest, my "dream come true" at that concert would have been a front row seat, but should I really be complaining? Our seats were almost at the end of the row, but that turned out to be a good thing.

Having been to the concert about seven weeks prior, we basically knew what to expect.
Dominic Miller, Sting's guitarist, has been opening on this tour. He has a new album out called Shapes which I would like to have after hearing him alone on stage. He played for fifteen or twenty minutes and covered a wide range of styles and music, from Bach ("Air on a G String") to some funky riffs to our national anthem. He is not an American, so when introducing the "Star-Spangled Banner" he said he wanted to play us a nice tune that he first heard being performed by Jimi Hendrix when he was eleven years old. He really did a beautiful job and is an incredible musician. The last -- or near last -- song he played was "Shape of My Heart" which I believe he co-wrote with Sting. The best part was when he began playing the intro, and Sting walked out on stage to sing with him! I think he was still in his yoga pants and looked very comfortable.

Annie Lennox (Dominic pronounces the last part like the animal name: "Lenn-OX") was on stage for an hour or so. I knew or recognized most of her songs, but not all. Wow, her voice is fantabulous! Very powerful. It seemed as though a lot of people were there to see her more than Sting, which at first was hard for me to believe, but she is good. My favorites were "Walking on Broken Glass", "No More I Love You's", "Waiting in Vain", "Pavement Cracks" (Casey and I kept singing this one later) and "Here Comes the Rain Again". She did this one solo while playing the piano. It was really beautiful. We're still singing that one too. I have to mention her encore, and the fact that we knew what would happen made it all the more exciting. First, only her lead guitarist came back on stage. As the others joined him, he began playing the familiar intro to "Sweet Dreams" followed by the thump-thump of the bass. Everyone was going crazy, of course, and the crowd really went wild as Annie came strutting out to the beat, wearing a black leather jacket and I think I remember black shades as well. It was so much fun.

I guess I should eventually get to the part where Sting actually came on stage. There was, of course, about a fifteen-minute break before that in which everyone rushed to the restrooms. We made it back in time, and finally these three black clothlike screens were lowered in front of the stage. Casey and I didn't remember these from the St. Louis concert, and wondered if we had just been too far back to see them. Then, as the lights went down, lyrics from the Sacred Love album began floating over the screens! We certainly didn't remember that part, and it was a really interesting visual. But I was mainly watching for the band to come onstage behind those screens, and if you can't see that, then the deafening noise of the crowd is always a good indication.

Wow. I had never been close enough to see everyone so clearly! Dominic was over on our side of the stage, while Sting remained mostly in the center. He started out with "Send Your Love" which I had finally learned the words to and could sing along. This has always been important to me for some reason. I guess it's a participation thing and really feeling like you're a part of the whole experience, not just sitting there and watching. And let me say that the Nashville crowd did not disappoint. Everyone was so excited to be there -- I just loved all that energy!

An interesting thing about the setlist that Casey and I noticed was that Sting did not perform "This War", although he had in St. Louis. I know he took a break for a while in August, so maybe he decided to change it up at that time. "This War" has not been one of my favorites from the new album, but I enjoy the melody and the beat. But the best part is that he replaced it with one of my Police favorites -- "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic". Sting had left this one out in St. Louis, and to me it is a concert essential. It is so much fun, so upbeat and has some of my favorite lyrics:

Do I have to tell the story of a thousand rainy days since we first met?
It's a big enough umbrella, but it's always me that ends up getting wet.

Plus, who can resist joining in with the "Ee-yo's" that go on and on at the end? I was so happy that he had added that one back in. To me, it was the equivalent of leaving out "Every Breath You Take". Sting has cleverly added the above lines in at the end of "Seven Days", another favorite of mine. I remember realizing this years ago and thinking, "That is so cool!" and so I have looked for other places where he has done this. I could go on a while on this subject because there are quite a few, probably some I haven't even found yet. I love that kind of artistry. Paul McCartney did the same thing at the end of "All You Need is Love" when he added (near the very end), "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah..."

Some of the new songs performed were "Never Coming Home", "Dead Man's Rope" (one of my new favorites) and the Grammy-winning "Whenever I Say Your Name". On the album, Sting sang this duet with
Mary J. Blige. It is a great song. Mary J. Blige was not on the tour, of course, so her part was covered by one of Sting's two backup singers. What was her name? Sting introduced both of the women as "two lovely English roses." This woman pretty much made the whole song her own and was cheered just as much as Sting. He did a lot of dancing around with his guitar on this one, and I believe this is when he came over to our end of the stage -- the only time -- and played a bit. He was right there, and I went back and forth between trying to cheer and be in the moment and actually catch the moment on the dinky disposable camera I brought. I got some photos, but I'm not happy with the result. Oh, I guess they're alright, and maybe I'll add some here a little later. Still, when I got the photos back it took me a bit to get over the disappointment.

Another very cool aspect of the tour was that, on the second chorus of "We'll Be Together", Annie Lennox did her little strut onto the stage again and joined in! We knew this was coming as well, and from where we were I could even see her in the wings, already dancing. Everyone just loved seeing them perform together, and they looked like they had a blast the entire time.

"Roxanne" was either the last song or next to last song before the encores. There is usually one song that Sting will really drag out (and I mean that in the best sense) on the tour, and this time it was "Roxanne". I suppose some people might wonder why the song was going on so long, and some even sat down at one point, probably thinking he was on another song altogether. Actually, I guess this is partly true because (and how cool is this?) in the middle of it all, Stings suddenly sings, "There's a little black spot on the sun today..." and everyone goes crazy because they think he's started "King of Pain". I just soaked it all up, because once he came back to that "ROXANNE!" and the lights shone brighter and he headed into the chorus full speed -- the wait was worth it. And what I had wanted so badly to be a part of at the previous concert and hadn't, happened there in Nashville. In the middle of all the "Roxanne" goings-on, Sting begins this call-and-answer with the audience: "Roxanne-o" ("Roxanne-o") and so on. The St. Louis crowd didn't even do this! Well, at least from what I could hear. So before I knew they weren't going to join in, I sang loudly and was all alone and felt very foolish. Not so in Nashville. The audience sang out and I sang out with them. Casey joined in too!

Sting was not ending the entire thing with "Fragile" this tour -- which he has done for at least the last three, since '96 -- but thankfully still played it earlier on. I believe it is Casey's favorite. My favorite version of this is on the live "All This Time" album that was made either on or right after 9/11.

The encores. There were two. My memory might be fading on this, but I believe the first consisted of "Fields of Gold" and "Every Breath You Take". If I'm wrong, I'm wrong -- but I at least know these two were performed! I've always loved "Fields of Gold", and most people who don't know a lot of Sting's music will still know this one. The part I get completely lost in, though, is Dominic's guitar work. There is a phrase that he plays, and not throughout the song but just on particular verses, that is so mesmerizingly beautiful. So I was really on cloud nine when Dominic walked to our end of the stage, and I got to experience one of my favorite musical phrases happening right in front of me. "Every Breath You Take" seems to be everyone's favorite, and I've always loved the concert version more. It's more upbeat, and Sting introduces every member of the band and we get to cheer for them. Mine and Casey's favorite part is his introduction of "the amazing, the fabulous Mister Kipperrrrr!" which we imitate every so often.

Everyone left the stage, and at this point the woman next to me asked, "Will he come back?" I told her he would, one more time, and she happily turned back toward the stage and continued clapping. The final song was "A Thousand Years" from the Brand New Day album. It is not one of my all-time favorites, but it is beautiful and I do enjoy that Sting ended with a similar song to "Fragile", in that it is not loud and raucous but instead rather poignant. Why didn't his first encore include "Message in a Bottle" as in times before? This is, by far, one of the coolest songs concert-wise. When I've seen him perform it before, it's just him onstage with a guitar, and the audience contributes a huge amount, actually singing the chorus while Sting does a descant of sorts. So beautiful. But, he has his reasons for leaving it out, and I will just have to be content that I have experienced that moment at least a couple of times in my life.

And that is it. That was the concert. I wanted to share it because music is an enormous part of my life, and Sting's music in particular. I became the fan that I am a little more than ten years ago, just as I was starting college, and love for his music and lyrics has stuck with me ever since.

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