Brand New Day

Jacksonville, FL, US
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Coliseum
An Englishman in Jacksonville...

He almost did it. He almost let his show go down the tubes.

But Sting - the veteran, the showman, the only guy who can wear a tank top on stage and not look like trailer trash - miraculously recovered from a dreary start to conjure up some thrilling moments Wednesday night at the Coliseum.

Oh how bleak it looked at the onset when he began the performance without saying a word to the audience, instead breaking into a rash of introspective noodling on such snores as 'We'll Be Together' and 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong'. Most members of the baffled, near-capacity audience remained seated, perhaps wondering if they'd attended a Phil Collins show by mistake.

And then, like a cloudburst, Sting rattled off seven glorious and eclectic numbers that spanned his career as an artist and stretched his abilities as a bandleader. Gordon was forgiven.

He started the run with an invigorating spin on 'All This Time', a song that needs no help in the invigoration department. It's a brisk little ditty about who knows what, which might be a nice way to start future sets and will always be one of his brightest songs.

The mid-tempo pop of 'Seven Days', from the 'Ten Summoner's Tales' record that stands as Sting's definitive solo statement to date, flashed less but worked just as well. During this and the rest of his mid-concert highlight reel, Sting began to sound strikingly like an early-'90s Paul Simon, effortlessly injecting world beat influences into otherwise conventional verse-chorus arrangements.

Whereas Simon chose to focus on percussion, however, Sting has tweaked the treble (probably because no one can replace Police drummer Stewart Copeland). Whatever the reason, he let trumpeter Chris Botti roam through his material to deliver the warm, rounded accompaniment that improved nearly every tune.

The country-tinged road song 'Fill Her Up' demonstrated that (shock!) the endlessly meticulous Sting can loosen up every now and then for some out-of-character fun. With the setlist finally under control, his band happily leapt continents from refined Europe to dusty old America.

Meanwhile, Sting wiggled.

They segued into 'Fields of Gold', then splashed around in the first Police song of the evening, 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic'. Like most of the Police material he played, it sounded rather hurried, as if he were happy to be playing it but equally happy to have it over. Still, it remains too great a song to ruin.

Closing the magic carpet ride were jazz-soaked sashays through 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' and 'Englishman in New York'. Sting, overcome with himself, reduced his nimble vocals to a gruff rumble that uncannily resembled Tom Waits. He may have been going for Louis Armstrong, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

After that he fluttered back to Earth, with a version of 'Brand New Day' that was as flat as Kate Moss' stomach, but not nearly as provocative.

The Police songs that ended the concert mostly provided window dressing. 'Roxanne' was most noteworthy for Sting encouraging the crowd to sing ''Roxanne-o,'' which works about as well as singing ''Stairway to Heaven-o'' or ''Ramblin' Man-o.'' He rushed 'Every Breath You Take', but the extra boost of speed helped distract you from the song's creepy lyrics.

The highlight of the Police batch was his unaccompanied turn on 'Message in a Bottle, which showcased the startling resilience of his pitch-perfect voice. His guitar playing also illustrated that his musicianship (still underrated after more than 20 years) is nothing short of virtuosic.

He walks the tightrope, Sting does. He's got a pit of pretension gaping below, forever threatening to suck him in for good. But somehow, and always in grand style, he manages to prance across the wire.

(c) The Florida Times-Union by Nick Marino