A chatty Sting still has the magic...
A lot has changed in the 20 years since Sting played the Orpheum with the Police, even though the dressing room hasn't changed - down to some chewing gum he stuck there, Sting told fans Saturday at the first of two sold-out nights at the theater.
The Police became the biggest pop band of the '80s (before breaking up and turning over that honour to U2). Sting embarked on a solo career, in which he has smoothly incorporated jazz, world music, and adult pop, cultivating an older, well-heeled audience that wasn't shy to scoop up Orpheum tickets costing up to 5.
Sting's concerts can be tightly scripted to the point where even spontaneity seems rehearsed (his musicians had a play-by-the-numbers role on his last tour at Great Woods in 1996), but the singer redeemed himself in the Orpheum's intimate setting.
As casual as a performer who glances at notes on a music stand can get, Sting chatted up the crowd, talking not only about past Boston visits, but the un-English concept of Thanksgiving (relaying a nightmare about a ''giant, inflatable Garfield'' outside his New York home) and imitating fans who might be whispering,
''He looked better with the Police.''
But at 48, Sting looked and sounded great, fronting an eight-piece band that included his longtime guitarist Dominic Miller, ex-Peter Gabriel drummer Manu Katche, contemporary jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, keyboard programmer Kipper, and three female singers.
After a mere half-hour given to Me'shell Ndegeocello (whose quintet augmented her moody songs with a fluid, jazz-funk feel), Sting began his near-two-hour set on the tepid side, with the atmospheric new 'A Thousand Years', before strapping on his bass and stirring the crowd with 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'. Katche came forward for a frisky rap in 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong', then laced the seductive syncopation of 'Seven Days' with a spicy swing behind Botti's burnished trumpet lines.
Gimmicky tunes like 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' (another Botti feature, during which Sting wore a black hat and rasped like Tom Waits to a moon on the backdrop) and the country-style 'Fill Her Up' even worked. And Sting got fans chanting to Police standard 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Englishman in New York'.
Despite the lush textures of his solo material, Police songs fared best, including a deliriously extended 'Roxanne' and 'When the World Is Running Down', which found Sting dancing and stalking to a jazzy piano break. 'Every Breath You Take' approached stock nostalgia, but Sting's voice still soared, as it did during a sublime second encore of 'Message in a Bottle' (done solo on acoustic guitar) and 'Fragile', both of which found Sting working the crowd as deftly as he did his nylon strings.
(c) The Boston Globe by Paul Robicheau