SHOW REVIEW

Sing along with Sting...

''Be yourself, no matter what they say,'' Sting sings at the close of 'An Englishman In New York', his jaunty tribute to the late Quentin Crisp.

It is a neat summation of how the former Police frontman has dealt with critical hostility and increasing public apathy to his cerebral and rather pompous oeuvre.

His albums may not sell as well as they used to, but he can still fill up open-air stadia like the one currently occupying the south-east corner of Hyde Park.

And if he is aware of how unhip he has become, he certainly did not show it on Saturday night as he launched into a confident two-hour set which deftly combined new material with old favourites.

Seven tracks came from his most recent album, the 1999 release 'Brand New Day', though only 'After The Rain Has Fallen' and 'Desert Rose' (featuring magnificent guest vocals from Africa's Cheb Mami) had a galvanising effect on the audience.

He was on safer ground with such rousing pop anthems as 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' and 'We'll Be Together'.

But the crowd were just as responsive to slower, more thoughtful compositions like 'All This Time' and 'Mad About You' - the only songs to be taken from his ''difficult'' third album 'The Soul Cages'.

Dressed in a ghastly floral print shirt and baggy slacks, Sting was in his element marshalling a band of expert jazz men, with pride of place taken by Chris Botti's soaring trumpet.

And as the sun set over the London park, the poignant 'Fields Of Gold' had punters humming along in wistful reverie.

But as tolerant as the audience were to his solo offerings, the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Police classics like 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take'.

Sting even played along with this, nonchalantly incorporating a few bars of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' during his rendition of 'Seven Days'.

After encouraging his fans to belt out the chorus to 'Message In A Bottle' at the top of their lungs, it was probably a mistake to close the concert with the funereal 'Fragile'.

But then you can always count on Sting to infuriate as much as he entertains.

(c) BBC on-line by Neil Smith

Tour de force...

Not for Sting any swift two-week tour and then back to the country pile. After a global itinerary comprising an astonishing 300 dates played to three million people over two years, it was fair to expect that the boy Sumner band might be well warmed up as the expedition reached its conclusion over the weekend with two London dates.

But there's warmed up and then there's burning hot. The three-act bill on show at Hyde Park on Saturday felt like a festival with focus, and other big stars would do well to ice the touring cake in this way.

Leading off, Nitin Sawnhey worked estimably from a giant mixing bowl that added layer upon layer of world flavours to his Indian base ingredients. 'Broken Skin' was at the soul end of this resourceful spectrum, but the overall construction had tiers of jazz, funk, Latin and many other components in a delightful Anglo-Asian stew.

The presence of a bona fide lion of British guitar such as Jeff Beck sailed over the heads of many present, but it was a pleasure to be awestruck anew by his nimble fingers. The once-revered art of the master axeman has become endangered, but Beck, now 57 but passing for much younger, played with his customary nonchalance. A version of 'A Day in the Life', Beck's contribution to George Martin's valedictory In 'My Life' album, drew the widest response.

While many of his former chart-sharing contemporaries find themselves adapting to much-reduced circumstances, Sting has managed to accelerate through the middle-aged mud and reach new and even firmer ground. The secrets are the simple basics of good records and hard graft, and that triple-century of gigs with a marvellously expressive band has driven sales of his 'Brand New Day' album to seven million worldwide.

Soon to be 50, Sting has lost none of his magnetism, especially for women, whose gaze would have remained glued stage-front if you had told them their house was on fire. But he is much more than a poster-boy for middle age, and beyond the inbuilt swagger that sometimes made his boots seem a good few sizes too big, Sting has reached a new plane of creative dedication that made 'Brand New Day' the pound-for-pound equal of any of his previous achievements.

All of that was reflected in a formidably assured performance that rang around the park, from the first notes of 'A Thousand Years' to the last of 'Every Breath You Take'. The improbably excellent sound mix was another key feature, and after 'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free' and an adroit mix of 'After The Rain Has Fallen' and 'We'll Be Together', a large contingent made a spontaneous rush from the stands surrounding the stage to shake a leg.

Contributing to the communal well being were drummer Manu Katche, with his French rap on 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong', and French-Algerian superstar Cheb Mami on 'Desert Rose'. (The performance drew much of its energy from such current material - while a Sting show visits many former glories, it doesn't depend on them).

Among the standards, 'Roxanne' was deconstructed into a dub version and 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' played up its jazz inspiration, this and many others given vivid new colour by trumpeter Chris Botti on an evening that became, and remained, mellow and fruitful.

(c) The Times by Paul Sexton

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