Brand New Day
Berkeley, USBerkeley Community Theatre
With Aswad

Sting Mixes New Songs With Old Hits...

Sting showcased a generous selection of songs from his latest album, 'Brand New Day', and a sampling of familiar hits Wednesday in a two-hour performance that was long on precision and short on spontaneity.

After a short opening reggae set by Aswad, the former Police frontman (born Gordon Sumner) kicked off the second of two shows at the Berkeley Community Theatre by diving right into one of his crowd pleasers, 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', a #3 hit from his first solo album, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' (1985).

The stage was dressed simply and elegantly, with angled spotlights throwing criss-crossed purple, pink, yellow and green lights against long white scrims draped behind the multilevel set. Scream - three lithe backup singers in spangled cocktail dresses - were perched on the set's platform to the audience's left.

In front of them was guitarist Dominic Miller. At center was drummer Manu Katche, and to the right were trumpeter Chris Botti and two keyboard players (Sting's producer, Kipper, and Jason Rebello). Sting, on bass, mostly stayed at center, except when he wandered to the lip of the stage to converse with the crowd.

''It's odd to be so close to the audience,'' Sting, 48, mused while looking over the theater, a 3,600-capacity high-school auditorium that often doubles as a concert hall. ''The weirdest thing is... I can hear everything you guys are saying.''

Then the relaxed and chatty Sting - in a black leather jacket, black button-down shirt and taupe pants - pretended to reproduce comments he overheard fans in the front row make: '''He looks younger.' ... 'Has he had his face done?' ... 'I really like his jacket.' ... 'You know, he was much better with the Police.'''

The new songs, love stories told from unusual points of view, demonstrated Sting's songwriting flair. 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong' seemed to be about a dog in lusty love with a cat (with Katche coming out from behind his drum kit to deliver a high-spirited rap of the cat's response, in French). The countrified 'Fill Her Up' told a plaintive story about a gas station attendant dreaming of a big heist and an escape to Las Vegas. The song
swelled to a gospel-like final chorus before stretching into an extended hootenanny.

A high point was the addition of Algerian singer Cheb Mami for the new song 'Desert Rose'. The two singers' voices - Sting's ragged and soft, Mami's clear and ringing - intertwined and rose and fell beautifully.

From 'Tomorrow We'll See', a winsome story of a prostitute, Sting segued into his other hooker song, 'Roxanne', from 'Outlandos d'Amour', the Police's 1979 debut. On some of the tougher vocal parts of 'Roxanne' and the Police's 1983 chart topper 'Every Breath You Take', he sang lower than he did on the original versions.

''I never realized how prolific he's been,'' said 39-year-old Pinole, Calif., resident Russell Marquez, who came to the show at his girlfriend's insistence. ''I've heard so many of those songs on the radio for years, but seeing him do them all live makes you see how much of a presence he's had.''

Most of the crowd in the nearly full house appeared to be between 30 and 40, but a smattering of teens and 50-something baby boomers were present, too. Sting's tour opened in mid-October in Las Vegas. After wending its way through California to Los Angeles for four shows Oct. 26-27 and 29-30, the troupe will journey across Arizona, Texas and Louisiana to Florida. Then it will move north for four shows Nov. 16-21 in New York before concluding Nov. 24 in Connecticut. Dates will be added before Sting brings in the new year at Celebration 2000 in New York, according to a press release.

(c) The Sonic Net Website by Jenny Slater