Summoner's Tales
Kuala Lumpur, MYStadium Negara

Sting takes fans to heady heights...

It will probably go down as one of the most compelling concerts of the year. And for sheer display of smooth-handed musical dexterity and sustained flow of energy, there's not likely to be any rock show to top or equal it in a long while.

Of course, Sting's magnetic stage presence, which had the audience mesmerised and attentive to his every move throughout the almost two-hour concert at Stadium Negara on Wednesday night, was a major factor in the success of the event.

But what really drew you into the whirl of the proceedings was the quality of the performance. The songs were played with an easy exactitude, and their expanded structures, which allowed for slinky jazz-inspired improvisation, served to showcase the player's virtuosity.

It was this exceptional musicianship and risk-taking approach that made the show more than just a rehearsed stage regurgitation of songs.

Sting, at 42, proved he could sing and play almost as effervescently as he did in his younger years, and the empathy he has established with his current band - guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta - was so effective that the musicians seemed to forestall his every spontaneous surge during the stretched sections of songs.

The closeness of the collective expression was evident right from the opening number 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' from Sting's latest album 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. Despite a bad bass-guitar connection, which forced an instrument change during the intro, Sting unflappably led the band through the hopeful midtempo song.

The in swift succession came a funky 'Heavy Cloud', whose catchy chorus attracted audience participation, 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice', a song in tricky 7/4 time, and the 5/4 vehicle 'Seven Days'.

The tunes, also from 'Ten Summoner's Tales', may have sounded a bit antiseptic in their studio incarnations, but played live, they assumed a vividness and vibrancy that was absorbing.

With Miller alternating from wafting textural lines to fast and raucous feedback-inspired solos, Sancious providing subtle shading or turning out rippling breaks, Volaiuta keeping the beat watertight and accenting cross rhythms with metronomic precision, and the leader laying down supple bass lines that were complex in their simplicity, the music often rose to heady heights.

A spirited version of the Beatles's 'A Day In The Life' done as a tribute to John Lennon, evidenced Sting's interpretive capacity. Thought it was hardly a definitive reading, the song received a treatment that demonstrated its melodic beauty without trivialising its lyric content.

The alluring grace of 'Fields of Gold', one of the highlights from 'Ten Summoner's Tales, came through in a rendition that was at once ruminative and rousing.

But it was the two Police numbers that followed, 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Roxanne', which caused an eruption of euphoria. It's a common perception among critics and fans that many of the songs Sting did with the Police are more memorable than his solo pieces, and 'Magic' and 'Roxanne' decisively testified to that.

Singing in his trademark urgent high voice verging on a reedy rasp, he convincingly showed that age has hardly diminished his ability to convey the tortured anguish inherent in the songs, especially the latter.

'It's Probably Me', 'Shape Of My Heart' and 'St. Augustine In Hell' were robustly handled, but it was a striking 'An Englishman In New York' and another string of Police pieces, including a stirring version of 'King Of Pain', which sent temperatures in the hall soaring again.

At the end, the band left the stage, only to be coaxed back for a three-song encore that climaxed with 'Every Breath You Take'. In Sting's passionate, persuasive account, the song of possessive love gained much poignancy.

Even more affecting was the final number, a haunting reading of 'Fragile'. Picking out delicate lines on a nylon-string guitar, Sting made a plaintive chant of the song from '...Nothing Like The Sun', investing it with a great fund of emotional verve.

Before the last resounding note, the hall exploded with a round of thunderous applause that ostensibly reflected the audience's satisfaction with the show.

Well, you could grouse about the sound, which considering how untameable Stadium Negara is acoustically, was rather clearly defined. But you couldn't complain that the concert didn't deliver.

(c) New Straits Times by R.S. Murthi