Sting - concert review (Pantages Theatre) - February 11, 2004

Sting is currently on tour to promote his most recent release entitled "Sacred Love".  The last time I saw him was on his last tour in 1999 promoting "A Brand New Day" when he performed at the Universal Amphitheatre.  This time around, though, he has decided to play different venues, places where one is normally more accustomed to seeing theatrical productions, like the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles.  It is a much more intimate venue than regular concert venues like Staples Center.  The trade-off, though, is that there are far fewer tickets available, so they're much more difficult to come by.  Sting played Tuesday and Wednesday at the Pantages, and both shows sold out fairly quickly.  His tour is covering North America and Europe.  Most of the North America dates are sold out, with tickets still available in a few locations.  For more information, click here.


I arrived about half an hour early for the 8pm show.  I was dismayed that the nearby parking lots, which normally charge $7 or $8, were this evening charging $20 to park.  Nice.  I've paid $20 to park at other venues before, but I guess the shock came because I'd parked in that lot before for theatrical productions and so I knew what they normally charged.


Both in the parking lot and during the walk to the theatre, I encountered a number of people trying to scalp tickets.  That normally bothers me anyway, but it particularly bothered me this evening, partly because they were being more aggressive than usual, and partly because since there were significantly fewer tickets than usual, that meant that people who actually wanted to go to the concert weren't able to go because someone decided to turn their own profit.  I was going to this concert alone precisely because I could not get two tickets and only through repeated attempts was I even able to get one ticket.  It's always bothered me that a fan can't necessarily get tickets through regular channels, but if someone can afford the exorbitant re-sale prices, they can go.


Annoyances aside, I went into the theatre.  They had one merchandising booth set up in the lobby.  Because there was only one booth as opposed to the multiple booths that are usually set up, the lines were a bit longer, but they moved pretty quickly.  In addition to the normal t-shirts (including a few differently-styled t-shirts, like a tie-dyed one and t-shirts with song lyrics on the front), there were quite a few other merchandise items available as well, all with the tour logo.  There was a long-sleeve thermal as well as a hooded jacket, something I've not seen before.  There was also a pin available, a poster specifically made for the Los Angeles concerts, yoga shirts and sweatpants, mugs, caps and headgear.  Copies of Sting's CDs and recent autobiography were available as well.  They also had programs available, and while it had some nice pictures as programs normally do, this program also had a bit more information, including Sting's inspirations for writing the new songs and detailed explanations of each song.  All of the merchandise was also fairly decently priced, given some of the more expensive merchandise I've seen at other recent concerts.


With my purchases made (and I've appreciated the various venues that have started to have plastic bags for your purchases), I made my way to the mezzanine area.  As I was walking to my seat, I noticed that the music had already started, so I hurried to find my seat.  I either hadn't checked or had forgotten where my seat was, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that my seat was in the second row, to one side.  It had a great view of the stage.


The opening act for this tour is trumpeter Chris Botti, who had toured with Sting on the "Brand New Day" tour.  He had a band with him who played instrumental pieces, and they were very good, playing selections off his new release "A Thousand Kisses Deep" and his previous release "Night Sessions".  They took the stage promptly at 8pm and played until 8:35.  There was an intermission while the roadies re-set the equipment, and then Sting and his 7-member backup (drummer, percussionist, 2 keyboardists, guitarist and two singers, with Sting alternating between various guitars and his bass) took the stage at 8:55.  The band was set up so that Sting was front and center, with his guitarist next to him, and one of the keyboardists slightly behind the guitarist with the second keyboardist on the other side of the stage.  The drummer and percussionist were centered behind Sting, and the backup singers had two elevated places to stand, one on either side of the stage, where they alternated.  There were also three vertical screens at the back of the stage that had various projections during the songs.  The lighting equipment was also fairly elaborate, and it was actually kind of funny and odd to see the humongous speakers on either side of the proscenium.


Sting's opening number was "Walking on the Moon", which I thought was an interesting choice.  During the evening, he played quite a few selections from "Sacred Love".  I'd heard the CD a few times but didn't know the songs all that well, although I did like them, so it was a bit of a different experience for me as I'm used to knowing most of Sting's songs when I see him in concert.  Among the highlights of the other songs that were performed:


My absolute favorite moment was the realization that they were launching into "Synchronicity II".  Sting's signature wail at the beginning was awesome, moreso when he revealed later that he had a cold and so was having some problems with his voice.  I did notice some difficulties with some notes on various songs, but he did an excellent job all around, especially with this song.


"Fragile" is a song that I think is absolutely beautiful, and they played a very nice version of it.


They also played a fairly spirited version of "Englishman in New York", another song I particularly like.


"Desert Rose" is a song I like as well, and it was fun to hear them perform it on the "Brand New Day" tour because Cheb Mami, who sang on the song on the CD, was also the opening act for that tour, so it was great to be able to hear him sing it live.  They did a good version of the song on this tour, with Sting also singing Cheb's part, and while he did an admirable job, I missed hearing Cheb singing his part.


When the first familiar notes of "Roxanne" were played, a cheer erupted from the audience.  Sting then stopped it down to say that he'd sang this song about 5 million times, so now it was our turn.  For most of the first half of the song, he would provide leading words, but for the most part, it was a group sing-along by the audience.  It wasn't until later in the song that the entire band joined in.  It was fun to listen to the song, even though, being a "Moulin Rouge" fan, my first association with the song now does not involve Sting or even Eddie Murphy for that matter.


The main set ended at 10:30, and then they came out for two encores.  The first encore included "Every Breath You Take", and the second encore consisted of "A Thousand Years", which they finished up at 10:55.


After taking a group bow, the rest of the band left, and Sting remained on stage for a minute.  He motioned to his throat and made a sort of apologetic gesture, telling the audience that they sounded better than he did, and he thanked everyone for coming and then said goodnight.


I really enjoyed seeing Sting in this smaller venue, and while the ticket prices were significantly higher, it was definitely worth it.  The songs he chose seemed to fit well in this venue, and that might have been that he chose different songs specifically because he wanted to play different places than normal.  I also thought the opening act worked well in this smaller setting.  I think they would have been lost in a large concert venue.



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