Brand New Day
Roanoke, USCivic Center
With Dominic Miller

Every little thing he did was magic...

The former Police man laid down the law early.

Sting asked the Roanoke Civic Center crowd if they saw the ''Ally McBeal'' episode in which he played himself last week. He was being sued by a guy played by Paul Reubens who claimed his marriage was ruined when Sting sang a love song in the wife's direction at a concert.

Many women in the audience - yes, we're making an assumption there - whooped and screamed when he mentioned ''Ally.'' Then, Sting spoke directly to the men in the crowd.

''You can't sue me for looking at your wife,'' he said. ''It was just a show.''

That's a good thing for ol' Gordon Sumner, aka Sting. Otherwise, fellows would've been lined up around a city block outside the Roanoke Courthouse on Monday morning. Sting gave the kind of performance Sunday night that made the knees of the most stouthearted women jiggle like Jell-O in an earthquake. Then again, his performance also made the most macho of men cheer long and lustily.

Dressed in baggy pants and a tight, black tank top revealing broad shoulders and well-toned arms, and with his blond hair typically cropped short, Sting at age 49 has the manly good looks that make pretty-boy pop stars flee for the backstreets. More important than looking great, Sting sounds great. He still has the vocal chops to do justice to his hit songs from the late 1970s right through 2001.

Whereas Sting's solo stuff is super-polished, glossy pop that critics occasionally deride as pretentious and overwrought, Sting appears to have fun in concert. He's playful with bandmates and the crowd, and he never fails to sing old favorites, even from the Police era - which are his songs, anyway. Truthfully, the only way he could've messed up would have been to come out and say something like, ''Hey guys, we're just gonna noodle around on some old Yes covers for a couple of hours.'' He didn't, and all went well.

He ran through 20 songs - all his, no Yes - in a two-hour set that included two encores. He brought on the funk and jazz, played acoustically and even opened for himself when scheduled opener Jill Scott cancelled for the second night in a row because of illness. Sting took the stage at 7:45 p.m. and introduced his guitarist, Dominic Miller, who flashed his finger-picking dexterity.

''I looked at my band and asked, 'Can anybody do anything for 20 minutes?''' said Sting, who joined Miller for a version of 'Shape of My Heart', a song from Sting's 'Ten Summoner's Tales' album.

Refunds were offered for those who wanted to see Scott, but people didn't seem to be flocking for the exits. Even so, the disappointing crowd of 5,142 was several thousand short of a sell-out. Maybe it had something to do with tickets that ranged from $40.50 to $60.50. (Or maybe Roanokers who are familiar with the city's star-crossed arena football franchise heard ''the Steam's at the civic center'' when someone said ''Sting's at the civic center.'')

Sting and his six-man band started sluggishly with a less-than-revving 'A Thousand Years' from his most recent platinum-selling album, 'Brand New Day'. Gradually, things picked up, as he slipped effortlessly from older solo material like 'When You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and 'We'll Be Together' to newer songs like 'After the Rain Has Fallen' and 'Perfect Love ... Gone Wrong'.

By the time he started rolling out Police songs like 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' and 'Roxanne', the crowd - which appeared to be mostly 30 and up - was dancing and singing along.

When he encored with 'Every Breath You Take' then again with a solo acoustic version of Message in a Bottle followed by the show-ender 'Fragile', he'd hit about everything any Sting or Police fan could've wanted. That's a real pro.

(c) The Roanoke Times by Ralph Berrier Jr.