Mercury Falling
Austin, USSouthpark Meadows
With Jars of Clay

He had them buzzing - Sting plays it smart with crowd-pleasing but short Meadows concert...

A concert, unlike an album, is supposed to reach beyond the ear, allowing you to take in the added emotions of the scene. On his new release, 'Mercury Falling', Sting begins his first song and ends his last with the same two words: ''mercury falling.'' Though his concert Saturday night at Southpark Meadows opened with those two words, it was soon obvious to the pleased crowd that Sting would allow them to reminisce as well. He obliged, not only willingly but brilliantly.

Like any seasoned performer, Sting did what he should have early in the set: play material from his new album. Opening with the 'Hounds of Winter', the first song off 'Mercury Falling', Sting followed with two other new titles before progressing to a few earlier classics such as 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'. Once the older material was unleashed, those in attendance began to wave their hands and sing along. Not known for his humility, Sting (knowing how good he sounded) said, ''Now, how do you feel?''

It was said, when the Police formed, that Sting had brought to the band pretension and peroxide, and not much more. The rest was left up to drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers. But when the Police broke up after five albums, Sting, who got his name from the bumble bee colours of the English football jerseys he used to wear, surrounded himself with the best from the best worlds - first with jazz great Branford Marsalis, then singing Gaelic with the Chieftains' backing and later giving the popular world a taste of opera next to Pavarotti. Whereas Sting knew what was popular and good, Copeland and Summers were caught up in movie scores that were either good or popular, but never both - Copeland with 'Rumble Fish' and Summers with 'Weekend at Bernie's'.

Friday, when the Englishman returned to his new material with his best song in years, 'I'm So Happy That I Can't Stop Crying', he did it in true troubadour fashion, and those who've followed his tour brought signs in anticipation. At every show, Sting invites someone from the audience to join him onstage for this song (thus the attention-getting signs), and like most impromptu comedy skits, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. On Saturday night, it worked.

Sting picked an excited young man who told him and the crowd he was ''too young for divorce'' (the subject matter of the song), but that he was ''starting a band and played a little guitar.'' As they sang, one sometimes off key, the audience roared and Sting, once again, was smart enough to know when to share the spotlight.

From there, Sting gave out hit after hit, playing 'Synchronicity II', an extended jazz-tinged version of 'Roxanne' and a rendition of 'An Englishman in New York' that included a rap from horn player Butch Thomas, who, along with Clark Gayton, reminded everyone just how much fun a horn section can have and still sound great. Thomas and Gayton, along with keyboardist Kenny Kirkland (who has been with Sting since he first went solo), drummer Vincent Colaiuta and guitarist Dominic Miller provide exactly what's needed.

After giving the audience an encore that included the most famous stalking song to date, 'Every Breath You Take', Sting left the stage after only an hour and a half. We're left to decide if the high ticket price was worth a show that left out songs like 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' and 'Don't Stand So Close to Me'.

Opening act Jars of Clay performed a fine, but not especially inspired version of their hit, 'Flood'. The band is made up of six young college-types who spread gospel in an alternative fashion. In one song, written as an open letter to God, the band takes a far more supportive approach than veteran alt-rockers XTC , did years before with their similar song.

(c) The Austin American Statesman by Jeremy Read