Brand New Day
Sacramento, USSacramento Valley Amphitheater
With k.d. lang

Sting serves Sacramento his revamped light rock...

Don't let the smooth taste fool you. Sting may be the king of adult-contemporary pop, but he proved Tuesday night at the Sacramento Valley Amphitheatre that light rock doesn't always have to mean less filling.

Sting certainly lives a much-less edgy musical life now. His debut with the Police in the late 1970s was driven by angsty mixes of punk-inspired pop with reggae grooves. But since going solo in 1985, Sting's lyrics have become more confessional and his music more textured with elements of jazz and ethnic flourishes.

In the process, Sting has lost some fans, the ones who find his soft-rock solo outings whitewashed and pretentious compared with the Police's bouncy pop-punk. While it's true that many of Sting's tunes featured Monday had more of a dance-in-your-seat groove than a rock-till-you-drop vibe, the show still had its share of musical treats.

A good chunk of Sting's 100-minute set was culled from his new album, 'Brand New Day', a collection of mellow, mid-tempo numbers such as the show-opening 'A Thousand Years' and 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong'. Both of these tunes could have been snoozers had they not been given such an insistent attack on the backbeat by drummer Manu Katche.

Still, Sting's band could probably elevate 'N Sync's ''Bye, Bye, Bye'' into poignant jazz-rock fusion. Sting has always been surrounded by fantastic musicians, from Police bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers to his first solo group, which featured such jazz heavyweights as saxophonist Branford Marsalis and the late pianist Kenny Kirkland.

Sting's latest lineup doesn't slouch either. His longtime guitarist, Dominic Miller, showcased slick nylon-string plucking on 'Fields of Gold', and trumpeter Chris Botti seems to have taken Marsalis' role in the group by blowing heapings of jazzy horn flourishes (If You Love Someone Set Them Free, Seven Days). Keyboardist Jason Rebello added rich accompaniment and powerful solos, though his style wasn't as harmonically imaginative as Kirkland's.

Sting's own musicianship was on point. Though his bass playing has always played second fiddle to his singing and songwriting, he wove warm and funky low-end lines to such songs as 'After the Rain Has Fallen'. Vocally, Sting shined with colorful howling in 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' and the warm 'Fields of Gold'.

Sting's clunkers were few. His singing sounded a tinge raspy in 'A Thousand Years', and his voice had a nasty breakup when straining for a high note in the Police favourite 'Roxanne'.

But the crowd of 8,600 was forgiving and responded loudest to such reinventions of Police material. Roxanne had much of its original reggae groove stripped, but an extended vamp at the song's end showcased fiery band chemistry. That tune also brought an impromptu call-and-response of ''Roxaaaaane-ohhh'' between Sting and the crowd.

The Police standard 'Every Breath You Take', featured as an encore, also showcased a sunnier vibe than the brooding version from 'Synchronicity'. Police fans also went nutty when Sting and company kicked in to 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', though that version wasn't, well, very magical. It's one of the Police's most charming tunes, but the rendition featured Tuesday lacked much of its insistent and yearning force.

Better was a take on the Police's 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around', which was transformed into a solid jazz-rock rave-up.

In all, sophistication is Sting's current game. He'll add rap to a tune - if it's done in French (the milquetoast 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong') - and reference Chaucer for an album title (Ten Summoner's Tales). Sure, much of Sting's music sounds catered to the wine-and-cheese crowd, but coupled with the right band the sounds can still wind up meaty.

(c) The Sacramento Bee by Chris Macias