Brand New Day
Newark, USNew Jersey Performing Arts Center
With Me'Shell NdegeOcello

Sting finds true love at NJPAC...

He's the King of Pain no longer.

Sting defined the 1980s by penning some of the decade's most haunting melodies. From the desperate 'So Lonely' to the mysticism of 'Tea In The Sahara', his songs cornered the market on angst.

But after 20 years of beautifully expressing the depths of emotion, the former Policeman spends his days contemplating more refined thoughts, among them true love.

Love's many forms provide the central theme of 'Brand New Day', his sixth studio album and most musically complete since 1993's 'Ten Summoner's Tales'.

Sting's lyrical musings took center stage Tuesday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where a sold-out crowd of 2,750 gathered to hear his latest offering.

"I don't think I've ever been in a theater this beautiful," he told the audience.

Prudential Hall, replete with mahogany-stained cherry wood, brass handrails and a coruscating chandelier, provided an ideal venue for the pop icon.

Opening the 17-song set with the mid-tempo 'A Thousand Years', the lead cut from 'Brand New Day', he blistered through a bevy of material drawn from two decades of hits.

'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free' sent 30-something Wall Streeters clamoring down the aisles like so many screaming teenagers. For two hours, they were seniors in high school again, starched collars and power ties be damned.

New material blended effortlessly with crowd favorites. Noticeably absent were songs from 1996's 'Mercury Falling', Sting's only record without a clear hit single. The album featured much musical experimentation but few hummable hooks and was regarded as a snoozer by his American audience.

Side by side with the roar of 'Roxanne' and 'We'll Be Together', the musical amalgamator presented his audience with food for thought as well as spirit.

The jazzy 'Perfect Love... Gone Wrong' told the tale of puppy love from a dog's eye view and featured drummer Manu Katche rapping in French. 'Fill Her Up' hit the crowd with a country music melody before disintegrating into an improvisational jam powered by keyboardist Jason Robello.

Among the new material, the clear standout is 'Desert Rose', combining elements of electronica with middle eastern melodies to create yet another foray into the realm of obsessive love. Sting has mined this thematic genre time and again and come back with gems including 'Every Breath You Take' and 'When We Dance'.

The backing band, which counts sax man Branford Marsalis and drummer Omar Hakim as alums, underwent several line-up changes since the 'Mercury Falling' tour. Most noticeable was the absence of long-time keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, who died of an alleged drug overdose last year.

With Kirkland gone, the burden of fueling the performance with serious musical hooks fell to newcomer Chris Botti. The kid trumpeter provided a soaring counterpoint to Sting's jazz-based material, most eloquently on 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', while Sting's vocal styling paid homage to the great Louis Armstrong.

On 'Seven Days', one of several compositions written in an odd time signature, Botti's obbligato played off the melody with the force of a red kick ball on pavement.

The $55 minimum ticket may have kept the starving musicians at home but there was no lack of diversity in the seats. Sting's career has lasted long enough to draw fans from multiple generations. Like the shows of his contemporaries James Taylor and Elton John, a Sting concert has become a family affair.

Those who remember the brooding punk bassist who fronted the Police in the late 1970s have mellowed along with the former Gordon Sumner and are now introducing their children to his music.

At 48 years old, even Sting doesn't pretend to be a spring chicken. Soliciting the age of a young fan in the front row, he quipped, "You're 12? This song is way older than you," before launching into an acoustic rendering of 'Message In A Bottle'.

For the audience, it was like sliding into a favorite easy chair.

(c) The Daily Record by Joseph McLaughlin