Brand New Day
Philadelphia, USFirst Union Center
With Jill Scott

Old songs carry Sting when new ones flounder...

Sting is lucky to have such potent songs in his catalog.

On nights when he's less than galvanizing, as was the case Wednesday at the First Union Center, he can count on the material he wrote for the Police - bracingly blunt, refreshingly compact pop ditties such as 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Roxanne' - to get his increasingly middle-aged audience moving around.

More important, those old songs carry Sting when the new ones flounder. The early part of the set featured several compositions from the relatively wan current effort 'Brand New Day', and because they're so ordinary rhythmically, it took until the odd-meter 'Seven Days', at least 20 minutes into the set, for the five-piece band to reach room temperature.

Even then, Sting wasn't nearly as persuasive as he's been in the past. At various points, he hurried through highlights from his solo albums (the second encore 'Fragile' and 'Desert Rose', on which he sang the Cheb Mami part) as if desperate to reach an imaginary finish line. He devoted too much time to two of his least interesting scene sketches ('Moon Over Bourbon Street' and 'Englishman in New York'). He struggled with high notes early on, and though his range expanded the more he sang, he rarely displayed the improvisational phrasing that has been a trademark.

And what Sting did to those usually bulletproof Police songs ought to be a crime.

A medley of 'Bring on the Night' and 'When the World Is Running Down' was a jerky mess that served to blunt the edges of both tunes, and 'Every Little Thing' suffered from an awkward backing-vocal part.

Only 'Roxanne' clicked, in part because it was the one moment when Sting built a new groove from the ground up: After several verses, he launched a double-time bass line that inspired a skittish drum-and-bass beat from drummer Manu Katche. Pretty soon the whole band was in the midst of a 'Roxanne' remix. Reggae organ breezed in and out, Dominic Miller contributed guitar squiggles, and when Sting stepped up to resume the chant, he sounded inspired for the very first time.

(c) The Philadelphia Inquirer by Tom Moon