Summoner's Tales
London, GBRoyal Albert Hall

More than capable of conquering the world...

Sting always puts on a display of consummate musicianship in concert.

But never in an eight-year solo career has he marshalled his resources to such elemental yet stunning effect as in the new show which he unveiled on Friday.

Having been forced to postpone three concerts earlier in the week due to a bout of laryngitis this was, by default, the opening night of his world tour to promote 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. But the band cruised with perfect poise into the opening verse of 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You'.

The four musicians were located with a minimum of clutter in front of a tasteful, abstract backdrop which altered to signal changes of pace at strategic points. During the show, Sting, who wore a black frockcoat, black jeans and played bass guitar, was supported by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, guitarist Dominic Miller and keyboard player David Sancious.

This was the same virtuoso outfit which he convened in 1991 to tour the disappointing 'The Soul Cages' album. Now armed with a more upbeat collection of songs, they have matured into an absurdly capable team, romping through the excruciatingly complex arrangements of 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice' and 'Seven Days' with a nimble touch that chimed perfectly with 'the light-hearted tone of Sting's lyrics.

The first bravura stroke in a masterfully paced set was a version of Lennon and McCartney's 'A Day In The Life', which Sting announced as the only song so far as he knew, which contained a reference to the Albert Hall. Later, as an encore, they tackled 'Penny Lane', and in both cases faithfully reproduced the original arrangements.

Sting occasionally singing with a faintly jazzy inflection just behind the beat and Miller taking care of the trumpet voluntary in 'Penny Lane' by way of an oddly treated guitar sound. Neither of these adventurous choices - the Beatles deemed them ''unplayable'' live - taxed the quartet unduly; both were entirely convincing and enjoyable.

By wedging old favourites among new material and ignoring most of the grey stuff in between, Sting managed to play all but two tracks from the latest album, yet still make his two-hour stint seem like a Greatest Hits show.

The new songs worked well, especially a quiet, section encompassing 'It's Probably Me' and 'Shape Of My Heart', while the uptempo shuffle of 'She's Too Good For Me' made another rollicking encore.

Among older highlights were 'An Englishman In New York' and 'Fortress Around Your Heart' while a generous helping of Police songs included an impressive 'Roxanne' (spliced with a version of 'Consider Me Gone') and a sensational, piano-driven finale of 'When The World Is Running Down: You Make The Best Of What's Still Around'.

With such a wealth of musical talent and financial means at his disposal the temptation for Sting to opt for a blockbuster production must be ever present. In the past, he has veered from the all-star ''jazz'' ensemble of 1985/6 to the mob-handed arena extravaganzas of 1987/8. But every thing about this show reflected Sting's ultimate triumph in devoting a maximum of effort simply to playing a great set of songs.

(c) The Times by David Sinclair

More Sting in the tales with a lighter touch...

The Albert Hall doesn't often hear much screaming these days and even Sting looked taken aback at his raucous reception. Perhaps the fans were just relieved that Gordon was among them at all.

After keeping a Carnegie Hall date on behalf of the rainforests Sting caught something tropical - you could say he lost his voice - and pulled his early London shows.

Still, the omens were good. Sting's recent 'Ten Summoner's Tales' is a much more accessible venture than 'Soul Cages' and there was a concomitant lightness of touch in everything the band attempted, beginning with the aptly celebratory 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You'.

'Heavy Cloud No Rain' found guitarist Dominic Miller firing off the acceptable face of rock fusion while David Sancious, a fabulous keyboards player, took 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice' off into funky Little Feat territory, throwing in a cowboy clip-clop western motif for good measure.

With Vinnie Colaiuta's virile drumming conjuring all the variety of a New York minute and Sting no slouch on punching bass the quartet were as good as it gets in this context. They were fluent in the offbeat jazz signatures of 'Seven Days' and relaxed enough to elevate the, folky 'Fields Of Gold'.

It didn't stop there, either, as Sting, playing Lennon and McCartney, introduced a creaking version of 'A Day In The Life', emphasising the song's surreal qualities rather than relying upon its idiot-proof potential; 'Penny Lane', which they did later, wasn't as good but does Sting know something about a Beatles reunion we don't?

The squealing ''get yer kit off' brigade were treated to their main-man doing The Police in funny voices - including a new, improved XTC styled 'Synchronicity II' - and several raft-loads of organic, eco-friendly encores. OK Sting, you can put your sick-note away. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you at all.

(c) The Evening Standard by Max Bell

Emphasis back on music as pleasure rather than pain...

Sting has long been pilloried for being the conscience of the planet.

It's evident that even he has tired of that role. He has not exactly become Mr Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, but he has put the emphasis back on music as pleasure rather than pain. The change is apparent in his refreshing new album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales', which forms the spine of his show, lifting the spirits with its musical playfulness and jokey wordplay.

The breezy rock of the opener, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', revealed a relaxed Sting, looking dapper in his black velvet frock coat and pinstripe drainpipe trousers.

The games continued with 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)' with its gorgeous chorus, only offset by the pretentious title.

After the lush upbeat frivolity of 'Seven Days', Sting said he knew of only one song that featured the Albert Hall and convincingly re-interpreted The Beatles' 'Day In The Life'. David Sancious's piano took care of the psychedelics.

His playing throughout, particularly in the rapid jazz interludes, was unbelievably fluent. But the later cover version of 'Penny Lane', Sting's favourite Beatles' song, was faithful and plodding.

When it came to Police numbers, Sting stuck to his sedate style. He's content with his place in the firmament now that he's 41 and has lost that old punky fire. He gave songs such as 'Roxanne' and 'Every Breath You Take a powerful jazz sound. He played others intently and reflectively, as in 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'.

His lightest moment was a bit of smut introducing 'It's Probably Me' - although the song that he and co-writers Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen produced is in fact incredibly sensitive.

'The Epilogue' from the album, 'Nothing 'Bout Me', was back to the lightness of being that makes the current Sting so much more palatable.

Sweat soaked, he put away his bass and picked up an acoustic guitar to say goodbye with 'Fragile'. His prodigious talents were brought into sharp focus - the reedy intensity of his voice, his musicianship, and his determination to plough his own furrow defying fashion and the snipers.

(c) The Daily Mail by Spencer Bright