Summoner's Tales
Fairfax, USPatriot Center

Swinging sting at Patriot Center...

Wearing a vest without a shirt underneath, the better to accent his muscled biceps, Sting certainly looked like a rock star at the Patriot Center last night.

He often sounded like one too, especially when he stood bellowing 'Roxanne' to a crowd bathed in red light, eagerly awaiting a chance to sing the chorus.

But if Sting still looks and sounds the part of a rocker, he also remains a sophisticated pop songwriter and arranger with a strong affinity for jazz. He may have lost Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland to ''The Tonight Show,'' but his current group - keyboardist David Sancious, guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta - proved similarly adept at enhancing Sting's music with jazz harmonies and meters, beginning with the quirky and countrified 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice', which shifted between 7/4 and 4/4 time.

On the other hand, some of the ballads clearly missed Marsalis's soprano sax lyricism - Sting's voice being more powerful than tuneful at times - but 'Fields of Gold' unfolded as gracefully as a Celtic air and a delicious melancholy imbued 'It's Probably Me'.

The older songs, including a rhapsodic cover of Lennon and McCartney's 'A Day in the Life', a searing version of 'King of Pain' and a casual reading of 'Englishman in New York' (briefly updated by Colaiuta with a go-go beat), added some welcome contrast to the material from Sting's current album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'.

As the show proceeded, the band delivered a drifting tide of songs which showed the darker tones and hues of the songwriter's musical palette. The breadth of the selections - from the light bossa nova of 'Sister Moon', through the rich complexity of 'Straight To My Heart', to the more robust rock of 'King Of Pain' and 'Demolition Man' - showed off the dynamism of Sting's band, which was supremely tight, yet dextrous enough to add pinches of tantalising improvisation.

It was a complete portrait of the artist from pop to poetic jazz flourishes, from the indulgence of dense instrumental workouts to the simple hedonism of reviving hit singles, including the grand finale of 'Every Breath You Take'. And somehow, by assuming less of a star role, Sting emerged as a stronger, more dynamic performer.

Deborah Conway, the Melbourne, songwriter-performer, deserves special mention, having made a big impact in only a short time on stage as support act.

(c) The Washington Post by Mike Joyce