Mercury Falling
Kansas City, USSandstone Amphitheater
With Lyle Lovett

But seriously Sting, your show was fine, guy, but remember when it used to be more fun...

There he was, in the seventh or eighth row - the young Sting fan with close-cropped blond hair dyed teal green. He looked out of place among the genteel fans that surrounded him in their well-coiffed hair, diamond earrings or Tommy Hilfiger shirts. In a large, mostly middle-aged Sandstone Amphitheatre audience Sunday night, he was one of the few reminders that Sting, the upper-middle-class icon, was once Sting the Rock Star.

When the Police released its first album nearly two decades ago, Sting was edgy - innovative, fresh. Someone who appealed to the green-haired fans of his day. It's not that Sting's music isn't still innovative; on many pop-music levels it is. But Sting has grown up - and increasingly serious.

It's wrong to fault someone for moving on, exploring new territory. It's particularly wrong to fault someone like Sting - whose forays into adulthood are so strong, sure and ultimately successful. Even so, it's hard not to be winsome for the edgy, amusing kid who could make us dance even if his lyrics weren't perfect.

Sunday night Sting was the consummate showman - of course. His five-member band was as sharp and solid and confident as Sting himself. The jazz improvisations glimmered, floating effortlessly among Sting, horn players Butch Thomas and Clark Gayton and keyboardist Kenny Kirkland. Dominic Miller's guitar riffs were impeccable. It was all so good. And so safe. And, in many ways, so darn somber. From the opening notes of The 'Hounds of Winter' through the dark strains of 'I Hung My Head', the wistful 'I Was Brought to My Senses' and the rhythmically solemn 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', the initial four-song set was musically brilliant, introspective and shadowy.

The set became more spirited with the inclusion of the Police standard 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', a trend that would continue as Sting segued between solo songs and Police classics. The ethereal 'You Still Touch Me' drifted into 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying' (a duet with opener Lyle Lovett) before brightening again with 'Roxanne', 'Demolition Man' and solo track 'Englishman in New York'.

It was an ideal balance between sober and buoyant numbers and a perfect way to contrast the stages of Sting's career. And the music merged effortlessly - so effortlessly that it was hard to believe that 75 minutes had passed when the band broke for an encore. That, in itself, is testament to Sting's ability to hold an audience's attention.

His penchant for minding musical detail is legendary, and it makes his music so compelling that listening seems like second nature. It's hard to find higher praise for a musician than that.

Lovett shares Sting's musical dedication, which made him the optimal opener. While the musical styles may, at times, seem contradictory, Lovett's presence, composed delivery and strong songwriting turned a noisy Sting crowd into a fairly rapt audience.

Lovett and his eight-member band devoted most of his 55-minute set to his brilliant new album, 'The Road to Ensenada'. From the be-boppy 'That's Right (You're Not From Texas)' to the delicate 'Private Conversation', Lovett showcased his adeptness at telling a story - big or small. It was a delight - and decidedly un-star-like, that Sting joined Lovett on stage for 'Long Tall Texan'.

Sting stood on tiptoes to look taller in his white cowboy hat to take Randy Newman's part of the duet. It was an amusing little reminder that, even in adulthood, Sting knows how to have some fun.

(c) The Kansas City Star by A. Scharnhorst