Summoner's Tales
Memphis, USMud Island

Sting draws from Police, loosens up on Island...

The female employees of Mud Island Amphitheater were all abuzz about the show Sting gave Wednesday.

Not the concert he performed that night. It was the yoga exercises the charismatic, Speedo-clad British rocker did onstage during afternoon soundcheck that brought every woman on the island to the stage area. Compared to Mick Jagger, who according to reports had to work overtime for his sex symbol status, Gordon 'Sting' Sumner gets his without hardly breaking a sweat.

The majority of his sellout crowd of 5,254 was female, but Sting avoided the usual rock star burlesque show. When he moved to the music, it seemed out of genuine enthusiasm rather than as an excuse to shake a provocative body part. By the evening show, the Speedos had been replaced by tapered tuxedo trousers and a white ruffled shirt, as Sting stood playing bass and singing his moody, jazz-tinged ballads.

But the King of Pain has lightened up a bit. His past solo tours found him leading a large jazz-rock band as he broodingly played guitar in the role of rock's resident Hamlet. But he's back on bass and rocking again.

He seemed to genuinely enjoy his 110-minute show, even returning to the stage after his first set of encores for an unscheduled finale that found him singing a bit of the Beale Street Blues before plucking an acoustic guitar for a soft, Brazilian-flavored ballad. More to the point, at this stage in his solo career, he has become secure enough to dip back into the Police songbook, playing some of the songs that made him a star in the first place.

He opened the show with his current single, 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' and went on to perform most of the material from his new album, 'Ten Summoners Tales'.

But the crowd didn't really come alive until 35 minutes into the concert, when Sting and his fine three-man band - guitarist Dominic Miller, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist David Sancious - ripped into a trio of Police songs, 'Synchronicity II', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Roxanne'. The familiar songs turned Mud Island into a dancing mass of humanity.

Sting could have easily drawn several thousand more fans (the show had been sold out for more than a week) at a larger venue, but he seemed to appreciate the more intimate setting of Mud Island, even complaining that the audience wasn't close enough, as he peered at the crowd over the pit dividing the stage from the first rows. And though he sang 'Heavy Cloud No Rain', the third Mud Island concert of the season took place on another ideal night, unseasonably cool and dry and lit by a perfect crescent moon.

That Sting has loosened up quite a bit could be seen not just from the Police material and his inclusion of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life', but in his recent original material, much of which bore a distinctly witty edge. There was his musical spaghetti western, 'Love is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)', in which the protagonist kills his six brothers over a woman. ''And though there used to be brothers seven,'' he sang dryly, ''the other six are singing in Heaven.''

His first encore, 'She's Too Good For Me', played off his intellectual sex-symbol status with lines like ''She don't like the tales I tell, she don't like the way I smell.'' But the audience, which ranged from young tattooed rockers to graying yuppies, definitely liked the tales he told, especially those Police stories.

He returned to that band's repertoire toward the end of his show, singing 'King of Pain' and a masterful 'When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Around' that featured Sancious in a lengthy piano solo that was the musical highlight of the evening.

Like that other English bassist Paul McCartney did almost a month to the day earlier, Sting managed to pay tribute to his old band while showing he still had something new to say. If Sting's cover of the 'A Day In the Life' was a bit out of character, he had nothing on his opening act, the rock trio dada. Along with the well-crafted, comically barbed songs from the group's debut album 'Puzzle', dada's 45 minutes onstage included a surreal version of 'Sweet Caroline', played in honor of the song's composer Neil Diamond, who had played The Pyramid the evening before.

It's a tribute to dada that they pulled it off, not only with crisp harmonies and a refreshing alternative-rock edge, but with exactly the right amount of humor as well.

(c) The Commercial Appeal by Larry Nager