Summoner's Tales
San Francisco, USBerkeley Greek Theater

Concert abundant with passionate performances...

Has ever there been a courtlier rock star than Sting?

When he was lead singer of the platinum-plated new wave trio the Police in the late '70s and early '80s, he could be as surly as England's prototypical angry young man. But that was then and this is now.

The trim, tensile Englishman has developed into quite the gallant sophisticate as he enters middle age. At the Greek Theatre on Saturday night for the second of two sold-out shows, Sting was dressed like a character in a 17th century period film - velvet waistcoat, white ruffled shirt, thigh-hugging grey pants. There were many in the crowd who would gladly have done a little thigh-hugging themselves if he had been in grabbing range.

He greeted the house with an elaborate bow after the first song of the set, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You'. Screams of adoration burst from the audience. Even a ticket-holder as celebrated as Robin Williams - seated fifth row centre with his wife - smiled and joined in the applause. Rather than delve into much of his earlier work as a solo artist, Sting showed justifiable faith in his latest recording, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'.

He played all but one of the songs on that well-crafted album, showcasing a reborn gift for composing that favourably compares to his hit- making stint with the Police. The rest of the program, 20 songs in all, was dominated by a well chosen selection of his most memorable and enduring tracks with the Police - 'Synchronicity II', 'Every Breath You Take', 'Every Little Thing She Does', 'King of Pain' and others.

He showed excellent taste in his choices. Sting knows what songs from his past are his best and hisbest-loved, and he went for them. His voice bloomed with emotion or soared and scatted like a zephyr. The result was the finest local concert by Sting since he began his solo career. 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' - the glowing single from the album - was a sublime introduction with its blend of optimistic verse, exhilarating chorus, glorious ascending bridge and hip-hop grooves.

The other selections from 'Ten Summoner's Tales' each had some specialized appeal: the humorous jazz-pop hybrid 'Seven Days', the pastoral, sweeping folk strains of 'Fields of Gold', the gentle Brazilian samba rhythms of 'It's Probably Me' and 'Shape of My Heart'.

With the break-up of the Police, Sting indulged his interest in jazz and improvisation in a tight compositional context. To achieve those ends, he used larger ensembles that featured the work of accomplished jazz musicians such as sax-player Branford Marsalis. For this tour, he has scaled back to a quartet format - Sting on bass, Dominic Miller on guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and David Sancious on keyboards. They were right in the pocket at the Greek.

Sting - a fine bass- player - worked well with Colaiuta. Miller was as delicate as Gilberto on the folk-influenced material and as scalpel-sharp as Satriani on the edgier rock songs. Sancious - a jazz player who broke into the music business as the first pianist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band - was given some room to flex on compact solos that displayed his fluid arpeggios and a knack for vamping to a Latin beat.

On 'Nothing 'Bout Me', they did a cool bit of urban jazz-funk in the Blackbyrds manner. 'She's Too Good for Me' was a hyper boogie with an unexpected, arty break for a recitation in the middle. 'Roxanne', with its familiar refrain and its polished reggae beat, brought the audience to its feet and dancing.

In midsong, 'King of Pain' briefly transmuted into an arena-rock strut. Sting even threw in a surprisingly full-bodied cover of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life'. Sting's own good humour was infectious. He offered sly sexuality in offhand glances at the audience. He was suddenly overcome with exuberance during 'When the World Is Running Down', the bad-ass funk-rocker from his Police days. He began leaping around the stage during some bass-and-keyboard interplay with Sancious.

The concert was abundant with passionate performances, genre-splicing pop, gorgeous melodic invention and more than a little mirth amid the savvy lyrics.

(c) The San Francisco Chronicle by Michael Snyder