Sting adjusts focus...
Firmly and forever entrenched on the conservative FM airwaves through his distinguished solo career and those heady days with the Police nearly 20 years ago, Sting is still musing on affairs of love and continues to send his now middle-aged, middle-class audience's hearts aflutter.
Far from what the heavy ticket price might suggest, Sting needed none of the extravagant staging we have come to expect from his equally costly peers.
And the opening show of this 'Mercury Falling' tour showed Sting adjusting the focus slightly away from his dominating role as a celebrated solo performer to instead encompass his entire band.
Mind you, with his simple songsmithery, a few well-placed gags and the sheer power of his vocal cords, he manages to steal the limelight anyway.
Striding tall, very tall, upon the stage to the opening strains of his latest album, 'Mercury Falling', Sting continues to play bass in the live arena, somewhat easing any preconception that his on-stage world revolves around his occupation as a solo performer.
His gaunt, blue-singleted guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Vincent Colaiuta (whose recording credits include work with Frank Zappa) and the horn section of Clark Gayton and Butch Thomas are the perfect foils for their main attraction.
The group's roving boisterousness truly feeds the great singer and songwriter in such diverse musical genres as the balladry of 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot', the guitar power of 'Demolition Man' and the pseudo-Calypso of 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'.
The first part of the performance concentrated on the sentimental and slower-paced tracks that dominate his latest album, and it wasn't until the full range and variation of the Sting back-catalogue came to the fore that the audience as a whole embraced the group.
There was a danger at critical stages of being mired in the keyboard-oriented wistfulness of 'Hounds of Winter', 'I Hung My Head' and 'All Four Seasons', but then the big radio-friendly classics burst forth, particularly 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and the Police's 'Roxanne' and 'Synchronicity 2'.
And while the band as a whole shone marvellously, at the forefront Sting towered - dressed all in black, his head near-shaven - driving proceedings with quick wit and his unmistakable vocal range that begged adoration. When his standard gesture of bringing up an audience member to join him in song (I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying) turned into a brilliant rapport between a Scouse and the Geordie, you couldn't help but love the guy.
This simple touching of an audience member is pretty much a Sting trademark, along with his much-reported humanitarian and environmental deeds. By the encore of 'If I Ever Lose My Faith', 'Every Breath You Take' and his final submission to an acoustic guitar for 'Fragile', the long-awaited return of Sting was sealed with some definitive vocal gymnastics, bows and the rattling of jewellery from the front rows.
A truly great performer and a musical statesman, Sting continues to hold his now firmly established audience in the palm of his hand.
(c) The Australian by Adam Connors