Brand New Day
Reno, USReno Hilton Amphitheater
With k.d. lang

Sting adds twists to his latest songs...

Attention, Sting fans - the dude is not a jukebox, even though one guy in the audience loudly shouted ''ROXANNE!'' multiple times before the show even began.

Although he sprinkled his 20-song setlist with both solo and Police hits (yes, including 'Roxanne'), the English singer-songwriter and his ace band reinvented many of them during his packed Wednesday show at the Reno Hilton Amphitheater. He also played a surprising amount of quality album cuts to balance the hit parade, a brave move for an artist with such a hit-packed catalog.

The floor ticket prices were still a little too steep for some (close to $90 a person, which may explain the empty floor seats bum-rushed by some tightly packed bleacher patrons). Still, Sting and Co. gave value for the money - 20 songs, a 90-minute first set and two brief but potent encores.

The first half of the show felt a bit like going to church. The audience stood up in unison for familiar songs like 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and 'All This Time', and then sat down and listened for the more unfamiliar songs from his newest CD, 'Brand New Day'.

That's not to say those obscure tracks fell on deaf ears. In fact, they were definite highlights. The song 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong', sung from the point of view of a dog that's losing his master to a new boyfriend, was particularly vibrant, with a great mid-song rap in French from drummer Manu Katche.

In fact, Sting's rep as an egotistical rock star should be decimated after this tour. Besides Katche's little turn, guitarist Dominic Miller, brilliant trumpet player Chris Botti and lead keyboardist Jason Rebello all took substantial solos throughout the evening. Sting's not really a spotlight hog.

Many of the songs were transformed due to the format of the band (joining Sting on bass and the others were another keyboardist and another singer and guitarist). 'We'll Be Together', one of Sting's weaker efforts on CD, was turned into a fun and funky rock number not unlike latter-day Prince.

'Fields Of Gold' was extremely hushed and kind of spooky. 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' - another big highlight, especially with Botti's playing - was given an edgier vocal by Sting, who was in great voice throughout the evening.

The more familiar songs were even redone, although not so much that their charms were destroyed. 'Roxanne' started quietly with Sting and Miller, then descended into its singalong big rock chorus. But the song then turned into a percolating and subtle jam with a great new bassline from Sting (who it must be noted still chooses to be a limber, excellent bassist when he could simply sing and get the crowd moving).

By giving these minimalist readings of his songs, it didn't really feel like a big outdoor rock show. At the same time, that laid-back feel did a diservice to some songs, including his too-relaxed version of 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' and the finale medley of two Police classics, 'Bring on the Night' and 'When The World Is Running Down'. Down went on a bit long despite Rebello's fine solo and his surprise musical duet with Sting on a little snatch of Stevie Wonder's 'I Wish'.

The encores, though, were a nice capper, with a good 10-minute medley of 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' and 'Every Breath You Take' and a final pass through 'Fragile', with Sting on surprisingly adept classical guitar.

While Sting didn't have to earn the audience's rapt attention (although he certainly deserved it), pop-country-disco-whatever crooner k.d. lang had to fight for that attention and the frustration was evident during her good, but not great, 45-minute opening set.

Opening with the best track off her new CD (the catchy 'Extraordinary Thing') lang was exuberant to say the least. Before singing 'Summerfling', she announced that ''I'm here to rev you people up. I want you to fall in love with me in 45 minutes or less and then I'll get the hell off the stage.''

But, lang decided to ''rev'' up the audience with far too many midtempo songs that were better suited to a theater show than a big outdoor venue. Plus, her still-excellent singing was drowned out by a bad mix that favored the drums and keyboards over the vocals most of the time. She also had some very Dadaist stage patter, covering everything from Dick Cheney to Lawrence Welk.

The audience at times had an obvious collective question mark above its head.

Even if the audience didn't really get into it quite the way lang hoped, she gets points for trying her heart out with fake surfing, microphone twirling, the occasional Elvis sneer and lots of goofy loose-limbed dancing. But, the too-subtle songs didn't match the wacky floor show.

Still, by the end of her set - capped with a version of the new 'It's Happening With You' that was miles better than the version on her CD - lang did have the audience dancing in their seats and revved up sufficiently. I would suggest seeing a full show of her to get the full impact she deserves.

(c) The Reno Gazette Journal by Mark Earnest