Brand New Day
Las Vegas, USMGM Grand Hotel
With Remy Zero

Sting didn't seem to go to much effort to do concert right...

So Las Vegas caught Sting at the beginning of a long tour and again near the end of it. Too bad there wasn't a happy medium in there somewhere.

His October shows at the Hard Rock Hotel were priced (at $60 to $300) for the hard-core fan or the wealthy, and the master of adult pop was breaking in all nine songs on his 'Brand New Day' album. I still maintain any fan loyal enough to pay those prices should have been down for that, but a lot of people wanted to hear more hits.

Saturday's return was a tour leg designed for the type of summer amphitheaters that Las Vegas doesn't have. The newly reopened Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts is close to their size and the hotel bid for the concert, but the MGM paid Sting more money to play the larger, more impersonal arena.

As a result, ticket prices passed down to the consumer weren't all that much better than the Hard Rock ($40 to $125, with $75 putting you in the back of the room). The value-added opening act in most cities, k.d. lang, was replaced by the little-known Remy Zero here. The subtle, sophisticated light show came off as a bit too discrete, and the star didn't compensate with any video cameras or overhead screens.

Nor did Sting even bother any of the usual ploys to reach the back row, such as brightening the house lights during an old hit like 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'. Heck, he hardly even talked. The usually charismatic star seemed a little tired or bored, and only acknowledged his whereabouts to say ''This song's about Las Vegas'' in introducing 'Fill Her Up'.

The jokey country tune was curiously less fun in person than on the album, and was among seven of nine new songs still clinging stubbornly to the set list. Only the lilting title track and the French rap-fused 'Perfect Love ... Gone Wrong' seemed to hit a looser groove for all the times since they were first performed here.

But mediocre Sting is still better than a lot of acts at their peak.

In today's music industry, he's the rare pop star who can still play new songs to adults on the nostalgia-driven summer tour circuit. And even in arenas, his ability to combine a melodic hook with a complex jazz arrangement from his six-piece band is impeccable.

And to some degree, he still mixes things up in concert so you don't just hear rote versions of the hits. As he did in October, trumpeter Chris Botti won the lion's share of solos and audience applause with horn parts that aren't even on the new album. Sparse arrangements for two ballads, 'Fields of Gold' and 'Fragile', made them seem more heartfelt and less phoned-in than fast tunes (We'll Be Together) that were less fun than they should have been. 'Roxanne' illustrated how the years have gone by - grown-up, a little bittersweet and not much fun at the beginning, but gradually shaking its inhibitions as the reggae beat kicked in midway.

A solo encore of 'Message in a Bottle' offered a call-and-response to fans and helped reconnect bonds with an old friend. Now if Sting had come out with his guitar to do that song at the beginning, who knows how the rest of the night would have gone?

But a veteran entertainer like Sting surely could have thought of that on his own. It was more like he couldn't be bothered.

(c) The Las Vegas Review-Journal by Mike Weatherford