Nothing Like The Sun

Portland, OR, US
Portland Memorial Coliseum
Sting superb: solos, band, music...

Forget the stories of arrogance and pretension; people with truckloads of talent always have been handed those labels. With his 'Nothing Like the Sun' world tour, Sting is not only showing himself able to rise above such criticism, he's making a lot of people eat their words.

Playing before 10,957 cheering fans at Memorial Coliseum Tuesday night, Sting, former lead singer for the Police, and his eight-member band turned in a show of rare sensitivity that wasn't afraid to rock.

Throw in Latin ballads, free-form jazz and crackling good pop arrangements, and you've not only got one of the hottest tickets in music today but one of the hottest bands on the touring circuit.

And what a band Sting has assembled. In addition to Branford Marsalis' celebrated reed contributions, pianist Kenny Kirkland's electric piano work frequently elevated what already were good pop songs into the higher reaches of jazz art.

Kirkland and Marsalis are at work on the latter's new album for Columbia.

Guitarist Jeffrey Campbell's soaring and evocative runs - especially near the end of the show on 'Little Wing' - were the perfect lead-ins for Sting's acoustic Police solos. Backup singer Dolette McDonald and synthesizer player Delmar Brown frequently stole the spotlight from Sting with energetic dance steps; Brown's vocalise scats were show-stoppers, as well.

By mixing it up - quiet ballads such as 'Sister Moon' and 'Straight to Your Heart' - juxtaposed with Police rockers such as 'King of Pain' and 'Murder by Numbers' - Sting and his band set a tone that was at once danceable and thoughtful, political and plain good fun. Mino Cinelu added the right amount of ethnic touches with outstanding percussive fills.

In his lyrics, Sting proved time and again to be a sensitive wordsmith. For example: ''Like singing in the wind/Or writing on the surface of a lake,'' from 'Be Still My Beating Heart'; or the ''Sword that cut him open was the sword in his mother's hand'' from 'The Lazarus Heart'. Using the visualization techniques of the poets, Sting went for a deeper meaning while keeping the songs at once upbeat and introspective. His voice was flawless.

He also seemed to have loosened up since his show last week in San Diego. While some of the stage choreography was predictable, his audience rapport helped give the cavernous coliseum the appearance of a much smaller nightclub.

Other highlights included that scorching, extended jazz-rock version of Jimi Hendrix's 'Little Wing'; the starkly beautiful 'They Dance Alone', which starts out somberly but eventually turns into an uptempo salsa dance track; and the reggae-inflected 'Bring on the Night'.

Sting dedicated his acoustic ballad 'Fragile' to Portlander Ben Linder, who died last year while working as a volunteer in Nicaragua.

(c) The Oregonian by Stuart Tomlinson