Mercury Falling
San Diego, USSan Diego Sports Arena
With The Cowboy Junkies

Sting blends many moods seamlessly...

Imagine, if you will, a Sting action figure. It has the head of a poet. It has the body of Adonis. And it has enough spare ideologies, images and public personas to make Mr. Potato Head look like a one-trick tuber. He is the King of Pain and the Swami of Self-Invention, and Sting has stepped into so many roles over the years - punky chief of the Police, sensitive solo poet, ecological crusader, sex god in steel underwear (in the movie ''Dune'') - that they all tend to blend into one great mix-and-match mass of essential Sting-itude.

It almost seems plausible that when Sting played the leather-sheathed Ace Face in the 1979 film 'Quadrophenia', his fightin' words to the rival gang's leader were: ''If you love someone, set them free.'' Sting showed off a few of those incarnations Saturday night in a rousing, 105-minute show at the San Diego Sports Arena, culling the 19 songs almost equally from his days with the Police, his older solo work and his new album, 'Mercury Falling'. He also exhibited what may be his finest role of all: that of a consummate showman who can deftly guide a concert's tempo and mood. One role at this show, though, may have been new even to Sting: that of marriage broker.

On his current tour, the singer and bassist has made it a staple to bring an audience member onstage to sing with him on the new song 'I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying', a bittersweet meditation on divorce. This time, Sting held up a letter he'd received from a man named Rocky, containing some manner of mysterious request. After Rocky stepped onstage and sang along with Sting, the mystery turned out to be Rocky's very public marriage proposal to his girlfriend, sitting in the audience. Sting did his part by launching into the suitably lyrical 'Fields of Gold', from his 1993 album 'Ten Summoners' Tales'; the crowd of several thousand did its part by whooping in approval of the whole spectacle, which apparently had a happy ending.

The music held a few surprises to match that episode, from a hip-hop interlude during 'Englishman in New York' that seemed to poke knowing fun at the song's studied earnestness, to the ska feel of the horns on the old Police favourite 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'. The horn section of Clark Gayton and Butch Thomas added delicious twists to a lot of familiar songs. The Police were highly influenced by reggae, while Sting's solo work has leaned more toward jazz. Gayton and Thomas weaved those Caribbean and jazz textures together with Motown Latin and other styles, making the Police's 'Roxanne sound straight from Jamaica and Sting's hiccup-y 'Seven Days' (also from the 'Tales' album) sound as if it had just visited New Orleans.

In a concert of such seamless competency, standing out wasn't easy, for either song or musician. And then along came the Police's 'When the World is Running Down', and suddenly keyboardist Kenny Kirkland had the show in his pocket and piano magic at his fingertips. His solos, by turns rippling and roaring, made the song worth every minute of its stretched-out-rendition.

Then again, in a concert of such seamless competency, some songs were less equal than others. The Police's 'Synchronicity II' was big and blustery and yet bereft of much personality. Guitarist Dominic Miller has an abundance of talent and a flashy style that sometimes, as on this number, veered a bit too close to rock-god cliche. 'Every Breath You Take', another from the Police's catalogue of usual suspects, also received a perfunctory read (during the first of the show's two encores) - perhaps understandable for a song that Sting laments has been misconstrued as a love ballad when it's actually supposed to be a creepy tale of obsession.

If the show had its minor faults, though, Sting's conspicuously well-dressed, well-behaved fans were too zonked on bliss to notice. The first words of the first song, 'The Hounds of Winter', were greeted with screams. When Sting slung an acoustic guitar over his shoulder for the last song, the pretty and soulful 'Fragile', he could have put Ross Perot on backup vocals and still induced swoons.

(c) The San Diego Union Tribune by James Hebert