One of the most summery concert tours of the year came about a half-month too late and was a bit too half-baked to live up to its full, bright potential.
The unexpected twofer pairing of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer Sting and Jamaican reggae/hip-hop star Shaggy finally came around to the Armory in Minneapolis on Sunday night, eight months after the duo made one of its first public appearances together here as part of the frigid Super Bowl party fray.
This time, their two-hour performance turned out to be, in a word, breezy. The adrenaline level never really got above that of a beachside vacation, and the sound level was unusually low, too — so much so that audience chatter overtook some of the mellowest numbers, even including the Sting solo hit “Fields of Gold.”
And it wasn’t a very big audience. The 8,000-person Armory — which Sting packed with his old band the Police in 1980 when it was a far more inferior venue — was just over half-full Sunday.
No surprise: Sting and Shaggy didn’t exactly shoot up the Billboard charts or garner much acclaim for their odd-couple album, “44/876,” named after the country codes for their respective homelands and all too easy a pun target about being phoned-in. So it was something of a surprise that many of the new songs did come off relatively well in concert.
After kicking off with a clumsily reggae-fied version of Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” the new pals found a steadier pace with their album’s title track and soon settled into a nice, ultra-laid-back groove with “If You Can’t Find Love” and “To Love and Be Loved.” Those latter two new ones each boasted a smoothly soulful sound more reminiscent of Toots & the Maytals than the gruff, Buju Banton-like spattering reggae that Shaggy often echoes.
With former Nine Inch Nails and “reunion”-era Replacements drummer Josh Freese behind the kit — he’s been Sting’s regular drummer of late — the duo’s six-piece band seemed poised to break into more of a rocking pace here and there, but it never really did. The show was almost defiantly not a rock show.
Of course, the Police was always heavily influenced by reggae, so performances of “Walking on the Moon” and “Message in a Bottle” didn’t have to be altered much to fit the mold. “Every Breath You Take,” on the other hand, was given a faster, poppier tempo that seemed weirdly out-of-place.
In most of the night’s six Police songs, Shaggy did little more than play the part of a hip-hop hype man, sprinkling in “yeahs” and “uh-huhs” and prompting the crowd to clap and sing along. His own songs were peppered in throughout the set, including a fun singalong version of “Angel” with Sting manning its sample of the original “Angel of the Morning” refrain.
But for the most part, Shaggy got the shaft. He especially seemed to draw the short straw when he came out mid-show wearing a white curly wig and black judge’s gown opposite a black-and-white-striped, jail-bound Sting, turning the song “Crooked Tree” into a bad early-’80s MTV video come to life.
The most awkward moments, though, were the handful of times Shaggy’s songs were cut into snippets and dropped in the middle of Sting or Police songs, including a mash-up of “Oh Carolina” and “We’ll Be Together” near the start of the set and “Roxanne” with “Boombastic” just before the encore. What could have been a cool, experimental hybrid of urban sounds instead came off more like shtick by a Sandal’s resort lounge act.