Brand New Day

Akron, OH, US
E J Thomas Performing Arts Hallwith Me'Shell NdegeOcello
Hits help show surmount minor glitches...

Do we really believe Sting's boasts about how he can make love for hours at a stretch?

Only his wife knows for sure how this tantric sex symbol performs in private. At any rate, Sting proved he remains a potent performer onstage last night at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron.

The sold-out show got off to a less than auspicious start with 'A Thousand Years', a wispy new tune that seemed to drag on as long as its title. It was typical of the overly seasoned yet paradoxically bland material on Sting's latest album, 'Brand New Day'. Exotic? Yes. Catchy? Compared to the sound of a dripping faucet, maybe.

Sting, 48, quickly rebounded with an energetic rendition of his first solo hit, 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'.

He was accompanied by Manu Katche on drums, Jason Rebello and a barefoot guy introduced as Mr. Kipper on keyboards, Dominic Miller on guitar and Chris Botti on trumpet.

Sporting a black jacket, black shirt, gray cargo pants and clunky boots, Sting seemed less self-possessed than usual. Between songs, he even cracked a few jokes at his own expense.

''I've given tantric sex up,'' he informed the audience. ''I'm trying to get my wife into tantric shopping. That's when you go shopping for five hours and you don't buy anything.''

Where was that rimshot from Katche when Sting needed it?

'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', still infectiously lilting after all these years, was an early highlight. Many of the 2,900-plus middle-age fans bounced along in their seats, although they resisted the urge to actually get up and dance.

Another treat was a stripped-down take on 'Fields of Gold'. The simple arrangement showcased Miller's exquisite arpeggios on guitar and Sting's fluid bass playing.

The former Police chief's voice was strong throughout the show, which lasted just under two hours. He flubbed the lyrics to an otherwise solid version of 'All This Time'. But he restored our faith in him by nailing the high notes in 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'.

Sandwiched between older favorites like 'We'll Be Together' and 'Englishman in New York', some selections from 'Brand New Day' were easier to take in concert than they are on the album. The bouncy title track had the crowd clapping along. 'Fill Her Up', a twangy tune with a gospel-flavored grand finale, also went over well.

Botti was a welcome addition to the band. He provided jazzy trumpet flourishes on several numbers, including 'Moon over Bourbon Street'.

Rounding out the show were a handful of blasts from Sting's past with the Police, including 'Message in a Bottle', 'Every Breath You Take' and a medley of 'Bring on the Night' and 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around'. 'Roxanne' featured a cameo by opening act Me'Shell Ndegecello, who laid down funky bass riffs while simultaneously managing to avoid being swallowed by the biggest turtleneck sweater ever seen in these parts.

Ndegecello did a fine job of warming up the audience earlier in the evening. Her own spellbinding set revealed there is much more to this underrated talent than the one thing most people know her for - her 1994 duet with John Mellencamp on 'Wild Night'.

Ndegecello sang and sometimes rapped with a dusky, soulful voice, often accompanying herself on bass. She and her band worked the middle ground between folk and jazz on sensual songs like 'Satisfy' and 'Loyalty'. They were capable of rocking hard, too, as they demonstrated during a spirited jam in the middle of 'Faithful'.

(c) The Plain Dealer by John Soeder

Brand-new material slows Sting's show - fan favourites go over best...

Gordon Sumner is a venerable entertainer.

One of the four truly significant pop artists of the ''Big '80s'' (see also U2, Prince and R.E.M.), the man now known as Sting is also something of a risk-taking Renaissance man. In an era dominated by disposable, candy-coated craft, Sting and The Police introduced a manic blend of punk, jazz and pop to the cultural landscape. They threatened to derail the synth/technopop trend altogether.

No stranger to risk, Sting then began an explosive solo career that started with a solid jazz ensemble.

Flirting with danger again, his solo debut 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' challenged his more conventional audience to expand its horizon and palate.

Sting has continued down that path ever since, winning people over with a worldly (and sometimes otherworldly) pop sound. His sold-out performance at E.J. Thomas Hall last night found the mighty Brit reaching deep into his songbook and poetic bag of tricks for a rousing evening.

Backed by an eight-piece band that included guitarist Dominic Miller and percussionist Manu Katche, Sting delivered a solid, two-hour show. His set featured several cuts from his sixth solo effort 'Brand New Day'; they were used as bookends for a plethora of fan favorites.

Most of the new material delivered didn't go over very well - a sign supporting the poor sales of 'Day. It was when Sting and company trotted out old favorites like 'We'll Be Together', 'All This Time', 'Every Breath You Take' and 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'.

''Well, here we are in Akron!'' the singer/songwriter laughed early on. ''I think the last time I played here was back in 1978... and I was 8 years old at the time!''

He kept that light-hearted tone throughout the evening, popping off jokes in between hits like 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', 'Englishman in New York' and surprise reworkings of 'Seven Days' and 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.

Yes, Sting flirted with danger last night, too. He shut down a fan's reverent request for the Jimi Hendrix classic 'Little Wing', which he had covered on 1987's 'Nothing Like the Sun' release. Sting also spent a little too much time with his new material, which often came off uneven, uninspired and patronizing.

Of those songs, only the single 'Brand New Day' brought the crowd to their feet.

Sting may be following a New Age bent of his last two solo efforts ('Day' and 1997's 'Mercury Falling') a little too closely. He's not putting much thought into new material these days, either. But he is still a master at playing the human heartstrings like exposed electrical wires.

The gruff punk - the one who once cried out for 'Roxanne', announced that 'Everything She Does Is Magic' and tossed his helpless 'Message In a Bottle' out to sea after she left - is gone. But he did play them all with a reflective fervor last night.

Sting proved he hasn't exactly softened the way that Billy Joel and Phil Collins have over the years. And that alone merits kudos, since money often makes an artist's angst go away.

Pint-sized bass powerhouse Me'shell Ndegeocello offered a brilliant opening set, filled with avant-garde soul, searing grooves and a powerful heart. She would return later on to jump-start Sting's signature classic Roxanne with her own brand of musical fire.

(c) The Akron Beacon Journal by Pete Chakerian