Brand New Day
Portland, USRose Garden
With k.d. lang

Sting tour a hit with fans...

There's something to be said for leaving 'em wanting more.

Delightful in every regard except for her brevity, k.d. lang made the most of an unusual role Saturday night at the Rose Garden arena. Though the Canadian pop singer had always appeared in Portland previously as a headliner - and a passionately well-received one, at that - this time she came as an opening act for the British superstar Sting. And so instead of the usual long and dramatic flow of tunes and witty banter we get from lang, she played a quick-paced and compact 40-minute set that gave tantalizing tastes of her vocal prowess and engaging personality.

If it all seemed like a tease, well, that's the whole strategy. Looking to capitalize on the sunny accessibility of her new album 'Invincible Summer', lang is using the Sting tour to get her music out to some new listeners and to get her core fans even more excited for a headlining tour set to start in November.

Mission accomplished.

The sheer power and grace of lang's voice have been at the heart of her appeal from her days as cowpunk rebel through her torchy crooner phase and into the cosmopolitan pop sound she currently favors. But she increasingly uses that great instrument with a relaxed restraint that keeps the focus on the song more so than the singer. Add in an eight-member backing band, powered by the colorful drumming of Abe Laboriel Jr., and the bright optimism of such giddy romantic odes as 'Summerfling', 'Miss Chatelaine' and 'When We Collide' became a wonderfully infectious thing. Even if there wasn't enough of it.

Sting, on the other hand, left his fans sated with a frequently dazzling hour-and-50-minute set. In a week where the Rose Garden was filled with much more flash than substance in shows by Kiss and Ricky Martin, it was refreshing to see a superstar act focus on songcraft and singing, musicianship and meaning, rather than flashpots and video screens.

Backed by a superb band featuring the tasteful drumming of Manu Katche and the buttercream trumpet tones of Corvallis native Chris Botti, Sting covered the whole of his impressive career - from a rousing version of 'Roxanne' and a poignant solo reading of 'Message in a Bottle' to the cool, jazzy groove of 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' to the catlike reggae of 'Englishman in New York' and the sweet, lazy shuffle of his recent, Grammy-winning 'Brand New Day'.

(c) The Oregonian by Marty Hughley