Mercury Falling
Sheffield, GBArena
With Paul Carrack

Old ones are the best - Great rocker, poor jazzer...

Sting emerged into the Sheffield Arena with shorn head, black pants, tiny black vest and a miniscule beard that looked like a moth had landed on his chin. It was a typical Sting gesture - in his mind, a bare chest equals a bare soul. The outfit also drew particular attention to his newly rippling muscles, confirming that he is still one of the most narcissistic men in rock. Unlike Bowie or Jagger, he doesn't play characters except his own, Sting, the one that has consumed former schoolteacher Gordon Sumner, preferring to think that he is more interesting than anyone could conjure up. This isn't entirely unreasonable. For 20 years, Sting has elevated the confessional to an art form (and yes, he did attend a Catholic school).

The Police were always the most inward looking band of New Wave and early hits such as 'So Lonely' and 'I Can't Stand Losing You' were typical of his oeuvre. If you had a tenner for every ''I'', ''me'' and ''my'' in Sting's canon you'd have no need of the Lottery. But every self-obsessive becomes boring eventually and Sting's recent albums have plumbed depths of navel-gazing tedium.

The scene was set for an evening of unremitting twaddle and at first Sting didn't disappoint. 'Mercury Falling'' - the title of his latest clanger - was a sophisticated soup remarkable only for some spectacular musicianship, mostly percussive.

'Every Little Thing' promised better things to come, but the gig did not really hot up until a savage 'Synchronicity II', which Narcissus preceded be telling us his beloved Newcastle had lost 3-1. They should get stuffed more often. 'Roxanne' was sublime. Illustrated with fetish imagery, red light (naturally) and double dose of reggae, Sting sang it with all the desperation of when he wrote it, inspired by seeing prostitutes on a visit to Paris. As sweat poured, Narcissus uncharacteristically loosened up and was only slightly thrown when Heather, 19, from Rotherham was hauled up for backing vocals and mercilessly upstaged him (''Gis yer towel, lemme have your sweat''). Maybe that should happen more often too.

Narcissus soon forsook jazz tedium for rock power: 'Demolition Man' and 'Every Breath You Take' (''...I'll be watching you'', the original stalker's anthem), delivered a power and a delight we'd every right to expect from him. Narcissus showed what he secretly must concede - that he still makes a great pop-rocker and is plainly hopeless at being an old jazz duffer. On this form, he should do a rock album pronto. Perhaps if Newcastle were relegated, he would do. Don't hold your breath.

(c) The Guardian by Dave Simpson