Brand New Day
Upper Darby, USTower Theatre
With Me'Shell NdegeOcello

A slightly unfocused Sting plays the Tower...

Restless experimenter or unfocused dilettante? ''Be yourself, whatever they say,'' Sting urged the sold-out crowd at Upper Darby's Tower Theater on Sunday in 'Englishman in New York'.

But exactly who is the bassist formerly known as Gordon Sumner, the performer who has successfully carried on a peripatetic solo career since parting ways with The Police 15 years ago?

He's a worldly guy, that's for sure. At the Tower, his grainy wail soared heavenward in the luscious Algerian rai number 'Desert Rose'. Drummer Manu Katche popped out from behind the kit to rap in French in the anthropomorphic romance 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong'. And the leader pulled a fedora over his eyes and imitated Louis Armstrong in the patently silly 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.

As the 48-year-old dressed-in-black rock star proved yet again with the impressively varied if slow-in-selling 'Brand New Day', he's at home moving from the likes of the bossa nova 'Big Lie, Small World' to the overreaching honky-tonk/gospel rave-up 'Fill Her Up'.

But if Sting's accomplishments as a bandleader and writer of often hauntingly lyrical pop lounge-jazz songs are to be admired, they're not always easily enjoyed.

''You might say I've lost my sense of direction,'' he allowed in 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', and the tasteful, two-hour survey of his solo career dotted with Police hits played like a portrait of an artist whose ample talents have drifted out of focus.

The six-piece band with trumpeter Chris Botti as featured soloist was supple and precise throughout, but the overly fussy arrangements of grabby hits such as 'Roxanne' and 'When the World Is Running Down' diminished their power.

In contrast, the minimalist versions of 'Fragile' and 'Message in a Bottle' (which the affable star recalled playing at Grendel's Lair on South Street in 1978) stood out for their understated clarity.

Sting got into a media flap recently when reports of his support for Pennsylvania death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal resulted in reports that the Upper Darby Fraternal Order of Police first was, then wasn't, planning a protest outside the concert.

On Sunday, a dozen advocates flashed ''Free Mumia Now!'' placards, but there was no apparent police presence outside the Tower, and a lieutenant at the nearby Upper Darby police station on 69th Street refused comment. Inside, longtime Amnesty International supporter Sting said not a word about Abu-Jamal or capital punishment, choosing instead to make jokes about his taste for tantric sex.

(c) The Philadelphia Inquirer by Dan DeLuca