Brand New Day
Chicago, USAllstate Arena
With Jill Scott

Sting of many facets...

What a complicated mix of competing identities Sting has to manage. During his Friday night concert at the Allstate Arena, he came off as a pop star and serious musician, sensitive guy and bad boy, worldly sophisticate and clown, deep thinker and, of course, sex symbol.

Perhaps that's why his performance never really got off the ground. Instead, Sting dutifully ran through a well-played but flat set of hits and a few obscurities.

The most energetic moments came not from Sting, but from the jazz trumpeter who played high climbing solos on songs such as 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'. Giving so much of the spotlight to a sideman reflected Sting's emphasis on musicianship, and the rest of his coed backing quintet was equally accomplished.

The band easily kept up with Sting's genre-hopping, from the Frank Sinatra meets L.L. Cool J hybrid 'Perfect Love... Gone Wrong', to the faux-country of 'Fill Her Up' (with a gospel coda that never reached the holy-rolling fervour of the recorded version), and across the exotic sub-Saharan swirl of 'Desert Rose'.

For all Sting's worldliness, though, the best moments came when he kept it simple. His way with a groove was evident on songs as old as 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and as new as 'Brand New Day', as he prodded the music with his own supple bass playing.

'Fields of Gold' was the evening's high point, a gorgeous reverie set amid lullaby keyboards and flamenco-style guitar. Sting's solemn delivery of the song's beckoning melody conveyed an emotional connection with his music that seemed lacking through the rest of the show.

Of course, it's understandable that after more than 20 years of singing 'Roxanne', Sting can't seem to muster much real concern for her. It's a shame, considering that his voice is richer and fuller than in his peroxide-blond youth, with most of its range and force.

He showed signs of animation during 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', but the extended jam on 'When the World Is Running Down' was more about displaying the band than putting on the hits. Sting shook his booty as the band riffed behind him, but his moves were more James Taylor than James Brown.

He's certainly well-aware of his sex appeal, enough to joke about a recent marriage-busting cameo on ''Ally McBeal'' and to display his remarkably lean and chiselled 40-something build with a sleeveless T-shirt. Furthermore, his many personalities add up to the stuff of every female fantasy.

It's not clear, though, where the fantasy ends and the artist begins. He seems to be pushing and pulling in every direction as he tries to reconcile his intellect, his talent, his stardom and his looks. No wonder he seems tired.

Jill Scott preceded Sting with a set drawn from her break-out debut that showed why she's one of R&B's most promising new acts. She mixed hip-hop beats with old school soul melodies, and her sumptuous band complemented her edgy, jazz-influenced singing.

(c) The Chicago Tribune by Kevin McKeough