Soul Cages
London, GBWembley Arena
With John O'Kane, Vinx

Every move he makes, we're still watching him...

Given the unremitting turgidity of his solo output, it is easy to forget that for several years Sting was pop music. The Wembley Arena crowd have not forgotten. When he calls a halt to the jazzy meanderings and strikes up 'Roxanne', they rise as one from their torpor to shake a withered limb. The neatness of the song's construction survives intact, as does its schoolboyish prurience, but what of its author?

Sprightly in big boots and a bright yellow waistcoat highlighting self-consciously well-muscled arms, Sting sometimes struts across the stage like a relaxed cockerel. Mainly though he just stays where he is. His stage persona is likeably demure. Far from the living embodiment of vanity one might expect, he performs with beguiling modesty, deferring constantly (if not always wisely) to industrious keyboard player David Sancious and foppish guitarist Dominic Miller.

Humility is still not Gordon Sumner's middle name. The lavish book of ''visual interpretations'' of his lyrics which pads out Sting's current Acoustic Live in Newcastle CD is adorned with Andy Warhol-style portraits of himself as, amongst others, Fellini, Jung, Beethoven and Chairman Mao. The conviction that Sting is a renaissance man capable of flitting at will between complementary roles as actor, songwriter, friend of the Kayapo Indians and - latest and most irritating - rootsy son of the Tyne, is not shared by all who've ever tapped a foot to 'Walking on the Moon'. Furthermore, the only sensible visual interpretation of the lyrics to 'Russians' or 'Soul Cages' is a dog being sick.

He can sing, though. The strength of his voice even shines through the opacity of recent compositions, and when he wraps his tonsils round some more old Police numbers - especially a vibrant 'Every Breath You Take' - the crowd's ecstatic reaction seems wholly justified. He certainly does more favours to his own songs than to other people's. A version of Bill Withers's 'Ain't No Sunshine' is interspersed with instrumental excursions so pointless as to make a day-trip to Basingstoke seem an attractive prospect, and Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' is not so much covered as ritually circumcised.

(c) The Independent by Ben Thompson

Gamekeeper with Soul...

Unnecessary perhaps to feel sympathy with a chap whose last album, 'The Soul Cages', tops the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet Sting's endurance as a commercial heavyweight has been achieved despite a significant shift in critical perceptions of him both as an artist and general media presence.

Once feted as the perfect pop person - physical yet cerebral, sexy but sensitive he has more recently been written off as self-indulgent, pretentious - a musical dilettante. That his work post-Police has increasingly moved away from the slick wordplay and naggingly memorable hook lines for which he was once prized towards more jazz influenced dispersions on life, death and the universe has only accelerated his fall from grace. It seems we like our rock stars to be clever, but not too clever.

Forsaking both stage set and soap box, and having assembled around him perhaps the best band he has worked with to date, Sting tackles this problem head on. And in toughening up the less immediately user-friendly 'Soul Cages' material on which the current set is largely based, he found the conviction necessary to turn lengthy songs such as 'The Wild Wild Sea' and 'When The Angels Fall' from potential liabilities into genuine highlights.

Taking the stage in the garb of the Laurentian gamekeeper - black boots, a chirpy yellow waistcoat showing off biceps straight from a physiology textbook, he called early but appropriate attention to the excellent trio of drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, guitarist Dominic Miller and keyboard player David Sancious. From then on, with repartee reduced to a minimum he offered a head down no-nonsense demonstration of exactly why he became so famous in the first place.

And though it took the opening chords of an old crowd pleaser like 'Roxanne' to bring the Arena to its feet (or the dedication of a passing song title, 'Fragile', to the memory of Freddie Mercury to induce those smokers present to adopt the obligatory lighter-aloft position, this was still a compelling and ultimately triumphant performance.

Sting turned 40 recently. Just when he might be expected to coast on his reputation he offered instead welcome proof of an intention to confound his critics rather than collude with them.

With the doctor's 'all clear' Sting playED the first of two RAH shows before starting the first European leg of the 'Summoner's Travels' Tour. The shows received rave reviews.

(c) The Times by Alan Jackson