Brand New Day
New Orleans, USSaenger Theatre
With Lili Haydn

Who needs The Police when every little thing Sting does alone is magic?

Sting is well aware that his reputation as a pop Renaissance man makes him eligible for all manner of petty sniping. So he launched a pre-emptive strike during his sold-out performance Wednesday at the Saenger Theatre.

Acknowledging that the folks in the orchestra seats were close enough for him to overhear their conversations, he speculated aloud as to what they might say:

''He looks younger, he must have had something done.''

''I liked The Police better.''

''Do you really think he does it for five hours?''

That last line referred to his infamous comments some time ago regarding the increased stamina made possible by ''tantric'' sex. He added that he's now trying to interest his wife in ''tantric shopping. That's when she shops for five hours, and doesn't buy anything.'' Ba-dum-bah.

Cracking jokes at his own expense, playfully mugging for audience members who surreptitiously snapped his picture, pausing to inquire about the type of the flower a woman presented him - this was Sting at his most genial and personable, reveling in his music and comfortable in his role as entertainer.

At times the punkish energy of The Police seemed to bristle beneath the surface sheen, but the well-heeled, suit-and-tied fans who forked over $95 a ticket did not come to slam-dance. They came to see and hear the post-Police Sting render his very adult contemporary pop.

During nearly two hours on a minimalist stage, Sting, his five-piece band, augmented briefly by a violinist and percussionist, and three backing vocalists served up a generous helping of his current, cosmopolitan 'Brand New Day' CD, a sampling of his previous solo albums and a handful of well-chosen Police chestnuts.

Sly thematic couplets turned up in the set: 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' was followed by another city-song, the spry 'An Englishman In New York'. A new prostitute tale, Tomorrow We'll See, preceded The Police's most famous ode to a lady of the evening, Roxanne.

He and his able musicians tip-toed through the hide-and-seek stop-and-starts of 'Seven Days' and easily navigated the abrupt tempo shift from the revved-up country stomp of 'Fill Her Up' to the quiet 'Fields of Gold'. Sting's electric bass was lost in a muddied sound mix at times, but his voice was clear and strong.

Branford Marsalis' saxophones graced Sting's first solo albums and tours with jazzy accents. On this tour, jazz musician Chris Botti's muted trumpet substitutes for Marsalis' sax. His horn was considerably more effective than Sting's weak attempt at a Louis Armstrong growl. Mimicking the studied eclecticism of 'Brand New Day', the show featured guitarist Dominic Miller for the country licks of 'Fill Her Up' and drummer Manu Katche at the microphone for the French rap in 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong'.

Sting and his latest band treated the Police material with respect but not reverence. They showcased 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and the stalker theme song 'Every Breath You Take' with versions faithful to the originals, but played a retooled 'Roxanne'.

Sting's former Police band mates have indicated that they are willing to reform the trio that disbanded in 1985. But if Sting's solo career continues to flourish with shows as satisfying as this one, such a reunion seems as unnecessary as it is unlikely.

(c) The Times-Picayune by Keith Spera