Brand New Day
Wallingford, USSNET Oakdale Theatre
With Me'Shell NdegeOcello

Congenial Sting makes fun of himself at Oakdale, but his show is no joke...

The questions and comments follow Sting everywhere. ''He looks younger. Did he have something done?''

''Where'd he get that jacket?''

''I liked him better with The Police.''

''Does he really do it for five hours?''

Actually, Sting and his band did it for slightly more than 90 minutes in front of an ecstatic crowd Wednesday night at Oakdale Theatre, laying down a set that mixed the big hits from The Police and his solo work with a generous dose of 'Brand New Day', his latest album.

The chatter about Sting's sartorial and sexual habits actually came from the man himself. Though he kept the patter to a minimum, he seemed quite content to be the butt of his own jokes.

Of course, when one possesses the sort of butt, and face, and charisma, as Sting does, it is probably quite easy to poke fun at yourself.

The audience - mostly thirtysomething females and their dates - fed off the Sting charm from the opening notes 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', the second song of his 20-song set.

Sting and his eight-piece band, including three female backing vocalists known collectively as Sté, returned the favor, providing an pleasant mix of musical textures coated with a pop gloss.

This latest edition of Sting's band expands the jazzy flavor that has marked most of his solo work with some nods toward world music and other genres. The enhanced worldview was heard most notably on 'Big Lie Small World' and 'Desert Rose', both tracks from the new album. Young guitarist Dominic Miller also brought a rocking edge to the music that had been lacking from some of Sting's previous efforts.

These forays from the Sting formula were tolerated, but it was the big hits - 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', 'Roxanne', even 'Fields of Gold' - that had the crowd on its feet and dancing politely in front of their seats.

Thoughout the night, Sting looked, acted and played every inch the confident - bordering on cocky - rock star.

Sting backs up the poses with solid musical chops. Though the distinctively keening falsetto of The Police era is long gone, Sting is still a formidable vocalist, trading vocal lines with Miller on 'We'll Be Together Tonight' and scatting his way through a deconstructed 'Roxanne'.

Sting offered a solid, if somewhat controlled performance, never letting what's left of his hair down. That restraint continued right through the encore, where he finished with 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Every Breath You Take'.

The audience seemed to be lying in wait for Sting, and was basically indifferent to the opening act, Me'shell Ndegeocello.

The newly hirsute bassist, best known for her 'Wild Night' duet with John Mellencamp, returned the favor. Ndegeocello turned in a 30-minute set of acoustic-tinged funk that was far from wild.

(c) The New Haven Register by Brian Hellauer

Despite slow start and poor pacing, Sting still a crowd-pleaser...

Like Richard Chamberlain, who graced the same stage a few weeks earlier in a production of ''The Sound of Music'', Sting can excite female fans of a certain age just by showing up and continuing to look good.

In his most intimate solo show in Connecticut (and by far his most expensive), Wednesday night at the SNET Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, he also played a good deal of music - 21 songs over two hours - at times stepping back with his five-piece band just to play his bass and jam.

If you believe his VH1 special, all Gordon Sumner wanted to be was a jazz bassist, even before his fling with the Police made him one of rock's biggest stars two decades ago. He gets his chance now, at 48, on material that could be too slow and contemplative for even his biggest fans.

One couldn't imagine a much slower start to a show than Wednesday's, with one unfamiliar mid-tempo song alternated with a slowed-down version of an earlier solo hit. Playing seven of the 10 tracks on his largely unknown 'Brand New Day' couldn't help but put the brakes on his momentum. And the first time he got the sellout crowd on their feet - 10 songs into the set, with the first of just five Police hits - he just as quickly sat them back down with another new one.

Sometimes you just had to wonder about his pacing, following a version of 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', sung, at first, in Louis Armstrong voice, with the very similar 'Englishman in New York' and not following the standout new song Tomorrow We'll See with the hit about the same subject, 'Roxanne'. (Instead, he played a song between the two).

With Chris Botti on a muted trumpet and Jason Rebello on piano, there were echoes of the excellent jazz band that backed Sting on his first tour 14 years ago.

Joking around at times and calling the Wallingford crowd ''New Haven'' more than once, Sting still managed to eventually deliver the goods. Highlights included a spare version of 'Fields of Gold' mid-show and a solo turn on 'Message in a Bottle' in the second encore. And despite the pressure of being a middle-aged sex symbol, he had the dignity to keep his shirt on all night.

(c) The Hartford Courant by Roger Catlin