Brand New Day
Chicago, USChicago Theatre
With Me'Shell NdegeOcello

Sting still making greatest hits...

Sting must get bored easily. How else to explain why, unlike most rock stars settling into a midlife routine of greatest-hits tours, he still puts on a show that suggests he's in it for something more than fattening the bank account?

Make no mistake: Sting's wallet is bulging after selling out two shows over the weekend at the Chicago Theatre, with tickets topping out at $86.50. But the 48-year-old Brit wasn't just going through the motions of keeping the customers satisfied. He also challenged them, playing almost the entirety of his new album, 'Brand New Day', and generally elevating the elegantly sleek but sleepy tunes with performances that surpassed the recorded versions - his reedy, dry-as-husk voice still pliable and potent.

One minute he was donning a floppy black hat, pulled tight to shade his eyes, doing his best be-bopping, gravel-voiced Tom Waits impression. The next he was wiggling his hips, playing the peroxide pop star while leading the audience in nonsense chants: ''Beeee-yooooo!''

He opened by stealing a riff from Bach (on the Bryan Ferry-worthy seduction 'A Thousand Years'), dipped into some Middle Eastern rhythms (Desert Rose), let his drummer rap in French (Perfect Love...Gone Wrong), played the folk troubadour (a luminous Fields of Gold'), flirted with Miles Davis-like jazz impressionism (thanks to Chris Botti's consistently fine trumpet playing), two-stepped into a honky-tonk saloon (Fill Her Up), and then segued into a Baptist church for a rousing gospel hymn. He folded the themes of older songs (We'll Be Together) into new ones (After the Rain Has Fallen) and reinvigorated both.

What substance lies beneath Sting's smorgasbord of sound is sometimes difficult to detect. When the singer paused midway through 'Tomorrow We'll See', his first-person tale of a drag-queen prostitute, he declared in his best va-va-voom Mae West voice: ''Being pretty is my only crime.''

At times, the gleaming surfaces of Sting's music, with its synchronized lights and preprogrammed rhythms, verged on Vegas routine. His harmony singers wiggled in sync, his guitarist (Dominic Miller) and keyboardist (Jason Rebello) dutifully flashed their chops in extended solos, and Sting made sure to trot out all the key Police hits: 'Everything She Does Is Magic', 'Roxanne', 'Message in a Bottle', 'Every Breath You Take'.

But he also embraced serious jazz improv, simple singalong choruses, cerebral introspection and prog-rock time changes, sometimes all in the same tune. At times he could have been Yanni, with his facile round-the-world musical flavors and fascinating cheekbones. But mostly, he came across as an affable if highly self-aware celebrity having a good time, slyly juggling risk and routine, and suggesting along the way that pop can aspire to be both sophisticated and fun.

(c) The Chicago Tribune by Greg Kot