Summoner's Tales
San Francisco, USBerkeley Greek Theater

Every breath he took and every move he made was dull...

Even Sting isn't perfect.

Yes, he's written some of the finer songs to roll down the rock pike in the past decade; he truly has a voice for all time; and his performances are usually a cut or two or three above those of most of his contemporaries.

But none of that seemed to work for him at his show Friday at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. There's just no other way to say it - Sting had a bad night.

Nothing seemed to go right at this show. Sting's voice seemed strangled by the cold night air; his high notes didn't put in an appearance. His group did appear, but might as well not have bothered, given a miserable sound mix that obscured everything but Sting's bass and Vinnie Colaiuta's bass drum.

And most of Sting's finer songs were also there, but mostly in sound, not in spirit. He opened with the lovely ballad, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', from his recent hit album 'Ten Summoner's Tales' and it soon became apparent that things were going awry. The crystalline layers of sound of the recorded version were not to be heard and the song moved at an almost glacial rate, as if Sting and his group were sleepwalking their way through it.

As the set went on - and on, and on - the feeling of ennui intensified. On 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)' pianist David Sancious tried to perk things up with a jumping solo. But it didn't jump as much as stumble. And when Sting and the boys tried their hand at a version of the Beatles' masterpiece 'A Day in the Life' they performed the song with a blandness that was mystifying. If they had nothing new to bring to it, why did they bother?

At that point, the capacity crowd had responded politely but with subdued enthusiasm. But when Sting burst into the Police's 'Synchronicity II' the crowd came to its sneakers and went bonkers as he made his way into 'Roxanne' and 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'.

But the crowd seemed to have more energy than Sting and his group. The fans danced and shouted. Sting simply played it all very straight, as if these old songs were merely some sort of exercise in nostalgia. The rest of the two-hour show was much the same. There were more Police songs - like 'King of Pain' - and more songs from the new album and others from Sting's solo career.

The exquisite 'Englishman In New York' had its moments, with Sting's vocals nimbly negotiating the song's intricate turns of phrase. But on most of the songs he recited the words and melodies as if from a script.

The group didn't help matters (guitarist Dominic Miller was particularly subdued). These guys were obviously there to back Sting and that's about all they did. Not that Sting added that much more of his own.

At this show every little thing he did wasn't magic.

(c) The San Jose Mercury News by Harry Sumrall