Mercury Falling
Brighton, GBBrighton Centre
With Paul Carrack

Sting's pleasures remain simple enough...

You can fairly accurately gauge the tone of the current Sting tour from the fact that the show is nearly stolen by the trombone player. Up at the back - and quite often down at the front - he swings that carnival instrument around like a fool. His antics are, however, upstaged by our main man, unselfconsciously chicken-strutting across the stage.

Sting, whose various incarnations as eco-warrior, Proust manque and thinking woman's yoga-honed crumpet have often failed to score high on slapstick, dedicates his latest appearances to having a lark. At Brighton on Tuesday, Sting was wearing nothing fancy - a black singlet, black jeans, black combat boots and a GI hairdo. The singlet revealed a pair of sportingly healthy shoulders and what is perhaps the rock world's most fully-developed set of biceps.

Dominic Miller, beside Sting on guitar and under a curtain of hair, was wearing an identically bland outfit, but he's altogether thinner and looks like Sting after fewer bowls of Fruit 'n' Fibre. Behind them sat the drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and the keyboard player Kenny Kirkland, completing the supple unit which has become pretty much Sting's permanent band.

They opened - as does the 'Mercury Falling' album, Sting's most recent - with 'Hounds of Winter', and followed with the fiendish 'I Hung My Head', which, in common with several of Sting's recent compositions, adopts one of those complicated time-signatures that are generally audible only to jazz musicians and, perhaps, their dogs.

But even the most convoluted songs punched home eventually, driven there in part by the conviction of Sting's singing. And when the old Police songs came around there was nothing grindingly dutiful about them. On the contrary, 'Roxanne' received a slowed-down treatment which allowed Sting's voice room to open up and push out. 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic' was dispatched with glee as if written last week rather than a decade ago.

It's hard to watch Sting now, playing his sophisticated, catchy jazz-pop songs to enthusiastic but sensible audiences of adults without casting back to his past, when there were charts to climb and markets to conquer, and Americans jammed Shea Stadium in their thousands to scream at him as if he were The Beatles whom, in any case, he outsold.

How someone's ego copes with that at the time, and then recovers from its passing - or at any rate its conversion into something quieter - is anybody's guess. If Sting was now no longer able to do anything other than slouch open-mouthed on an expensively upholstered throne while minions came and went bearing fast food and comic books, we could hardly be disappointed. The fact he's capable of movement and gracious behaviour in any measure at all amounts to something like a small miracle of humanity.

Down the years, he has acquired a virtually complete set of the obligatory rock star accoutrements: a mansion in Wiltshire, a beach house in Malibu and an accountant in Her Majesty's Prison, Wandsworth. (Keith Moore was sent down last year for embezzling some $6 million of client's funds.) Yet his pleasures remain simple enough: some smart tunes and a hot band to play them with. When security guards tried lamely to re-seat the people who had flooded to the front, Sting's intervention was telling. 'Come on, guys,' he said. 'Have a sense of humour.'

(c) The Mail On Sunday by Giles Smith