Atlanta, GA, US
Chastain Park Amphitheatre
Sting musically potent at sold-out Chastain...

In the past decade or so, Sting has turned his songs inside out. We've heard the symphonic versions. The lute versions. The electro-enhanced 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' version.

So what, at halfway to 61 years of age and nearly 35 years into a career, is left to do?

Why, play the songs in their basic, original forms, of course.

That's exactly what the still-muscular, still intelligently sexy Sting is doing on his ''Back to Bass'' tour, a two-hour historical romp through his career that will have many grousing about the lack of huge hits (thankfully, even he has realized that the formless 'Roxanne' is overplayed and overrated and axed it from the show) and longtime fans perking up at the appearance of 'Sacred Love' and 'The Hounds of Winter'.

Here's the thing about Sting: No matter what he's playing, whether it's the tangy twang of 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' or the unusual 5/4 time signature that powers 'Seven Days', it's always musically interesting and lyrically potent.

At Thursday's sold-out Chastain Park Amphitheatre gig, Sting and his terrific five-piece band, including 22-year vet Dominic Miller on guitar and awe-inspiring violinist Peter Tickell, effortlessly ping-ponged from the jaunty bounce of opener 'All This Time' to a silken version of The Police's 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'.

The sometimes-moody Sting was in a jovial mood, chatting early and often with the crowd (an annoyingly chatty lot themselves, but that's a story for another day) and mentioning how happy he was to be back at Chastain, where he played in 2010.

Throughout the set, the singer/bassist, in a tight, white T-shirt, a spiky row of blonde fuzz on his head, sounded as hearty as he looked, holding notes until the veins in his neck popped and ably navigating key changes.

After noting that he'd never written a song about Georgia, he and the band dove into 'Englishman in New York', its elegant message of individualism emphasized as he led the crowd in a singalong of the refrain, ''Be yourself, no matter what they say.''

Sometimes striking a professorial stance - this is Sting, after all - he shared that the two things that fascinate him most are sex and religion (a suitable intro to 2003's 'Sacred Love'); he harbors a deep affection for westerns (hence, 'Love is Stronger Than Justice [The Munificent Seven]'); and that he respects the beauty of the fox, even after one snuck into his chicken coop for a meal (an unexpected segue into 'The End of the Game').

In a perfect set list world, could we have heard 'Brand New Day', 'Fortress Around Your Heart' or even the cheeky semi-hit 'Nothing 'Bout Me' instead of some of these deeper album tracks? Well, sure.

But fans only there for the radio hits were still sated with a lithe version of 'Desert Rose' and a soaring take on perhaps The Police's most intriguing song, 'King of Pain'.

It is hoped that moments such as Sting's subtle bass work on 'Never Coming Home'; the expert cymbal work of drummer Vincent Colaiuta (whom Sting called ''the best drummer in the world'' - ouch, Stewart Copeland) on 'Driven to Tears'; and the gripping crescendo between Sting and Tickell at the close of 'Love is Stronger Than Justice', reminded attendees of the art of musicianship.

And really, isn't that more important than screaming ''Roxanne'' for the 800th time?

(c) The Atlanta Journal & Constitution by Melissa Ruggieri