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DVD Review: Sting – All This Time

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I put off buying this DVD for the longest time,  mostly because I was so disappointed by Sting's previous Brand New Day Tour DVD. I've mostly enjoyed Sting's work, beginning with the landmark Police debut Outlandos d'Amour, and throughout most of his solo career, although he is beginning to lose me after those last few mediocre albums. I last saw Sting in concert during the height of his solo career on the Ten Summoner's Tales tour, and still yearn for that long-lost video from one of those great shows. As a Sting fan, I knew I would eventually have to pick up this DVD, but my curiosity peaked after discovering its ill-fated timing with the terrorist attack of 9/11.

Much like the excellent Bring On The Night video, All This Time begins with a documentary that follows the band as they come together at an exotic locale to rehearse for a concert that would culminate in the video. In early September 2001, Sting invited several gifted musicians to his beautiful Italian villa in the Tuscany hills to come together as a band, create new arrangements for many of his most beloved songs, and then rehearse them all for a concert that would take place less than two weeks later. This is all captured in a wonderfully intimate documentary that shows the musicians getting to know each other, doing a little partying, and jamming to some great music.

I could spend a few paragraphs describing the documentary portion of this DVD, but I will focus on the concert portion instead. The documentary concludes on September 11th, 2001, the day the concert was scheduled, and the day nearly 3,000 people lost their lives during the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. The documentary captures Sting and the band as the events of 9/11 unfold before them, and they agonize over whether they can still carry on with the show.

By that afternoon, they do decide to go on with the show, but realize it cannot go on as originally planned. "What was to be a joyous occasion simply can't be," said Sting, just before the band decided on which songs no longer seemed appropriate after the day's events. The most obvious omission was the Arabic-inspired "Desert Rose", which features the vocals of Algerian singer Cheb Mami. This song was joyfully performed during the previous night's dress rehearsal but was dropped from the concert.

Sting's intention with this concert and subsequent album and video was to completely strip down and then rebuild these songs in order to keep them fresh, extend their life, and, more selfishly, to rejuvenate himself. Some of the songs take on such a different air of mostly intimate jazz and blues that they are nearly unrecognizable. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

"Fragile" was a hauntingly somber opener that seemed to be written specifically as a memorial to the day's events. After a couple more melancholy ballads I was beginning to wondering if Sting and the band would be able to overcome the depressed mood that was clouding over them. Rousing back-to-back performances of "All This Time" and "Seven Days" certainly gave the impression that they would overcome. "The Hounds Of Winter", my favorite song from the underappreciated Mercury Falling album, was also an early highlight of the show. This was one of the few to be performed somewhat faithfully to the original but it felt much more electric with this band.

There were a few performances that just didn't work for me. Although Chris Botti is easily one of the world's best trumpeters, his muted playing throughout the otherwise rollicking "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" was annoying and out of place. Where the soft acoustic rendition of "Roxanne" was carried by Sting's expressive vocals and upbeat jazz outro, the much shortened "Don't Stand So Close To Me" was nothing more than a boring ballad stripped of all of its emotional impact.

Sting's performance was obviously affected by the events of the day, and his vocals sounded weak on several songs. The stress of the day robbed him of the energy and passion that normally shines brightly, but was now diminished mostly to frustration, and sorrow. He appeared to be on the verge of tears throughout much of the show. The difference between the dress rehearsal performances and the main concert clearly shows the toll that the news of 9/11 took on the band, and especially Sting.

As the concert progressed, Sting became more inspired and more willing to let the power of music drown out the emotions of the day – telling the audience, "Everyone deserves to be happy. We can't let them take our joy." "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" was a bouncy Latin-jazz flavored alternative to the original, and was followed by an electrifying rendition of "Brand New Day", which let the apprehensive crowd know it was okay to let go and celebrate the music. The band brought it to a close with vigorous, jazzed-up performances of "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You" and "Every Breath You Take", which had everyone dancing, and wishing the magical night would not end so soon.

This DVD is extremely well-produced. Both the documentary and the concert look and sound fantastic. The only audio option provided is a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, which is very unusual, but when it sounds as good as this one, that is all you need. The soundstage was enveloping, thanks to some excellent use of the rear channels and a mix that allowed each of the small orchestra of instruments to shine through brightly. The audio still sounded excellent even without the use of my surround sound system.

The anamorphic widescreen presentation was incredibly sharp and colorful, and the cinematography made you feel as if you were one of the exclusive guests sitting in the backyard of Sting's gorgeous villa, watching the performance from only a few feet away. I could almost smell the lush Italian foliage surrounding me. The only bonus features were three extra tracks that were, for some reason, cut from the main feature.

Although I'd still prefer to get my hands on some Sting concert material from the early '90s, before he became so bored with his music and felt the need to completely overhaul everything, All This Time still offers a very unique experience, and is definitely worth checking out.

Track Listing
01. Fragile
02. A Thousand Years
03. Perfect Love…Gone Wrong
04. All This Time
05. Seven Days

06. The Hounds of Winter
07. Don't Stand So Close to Me
08. When We Dance
09. Dienda
10. Roxanne
11. If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
12. Brand New Day
13. Fields of Gold
14. Moon Over Bourbon Street
15. Shape of My Heart
16. If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
17. Every Breath You Take

Bonus Tracks
01. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
02. Fill Her Up
03. Englishman in New York

Performance: 7/10
Production: 9/10

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