Nothing Like The Sun

Oakland, CA, US
Oakland Coliseum Arena
Sting overcomes his personality...

Sting is a talented bloke who writes some very good songs and sings them with one of the more appealing and evocative voices in pop music. And he'd be the first to agree.

Mr. Sting, who played a brilliant show with his monster band at the Oakland Coliseum Arena Thursday night, would be much easier to stomach if he weren't so taken with himself.

For those who simply dig good music, Sting's work would have a greater live impact if he'd just shut up and sing. The music is great, the man merely pompous.

He seems to enjoy offering himself up to his adoring teeny-bopper fans as an insolently hip but socially conscious visionary. The rock star sex symbol bit he indulges in is tiresome, too. Stingo shaking his little buns, doing his Mick Jagger shtick and baring his chest while girls shriek and howl is silly. The man clearly aims at Art, but that ain't it.

Thursday, he did a blustery Jimmy Swaggart imitation before playing 'Murder By Numbers', the dandy Police song that Swaggart claimed had been written by Lucifer. ''I thought about it,'' said Sting, ''a then it dawned on me: I wrote that f***ing song!'' Yeah.

Before intermission, he told the sold-out crowd that during the break, ''we're going to be reading poetry backstage. Longfellow and Whitman.'' Even when he's making fun of himself, he's pretentious.

But enough about Mr. Sting the star. It's the musician who's interesting. He put together a spectacular band of jazz and rock musicians who played with ferocious energy and flawless finesse.

He's been using several of them since his first solo venture, 'Dream of the Blue Turtles', including the superb saxophonist Branford Marsalis - his big brother Wynton, the high-minded jazz purist, would flip if he saw Branford doing those shuck and jive dance bits with Sting - the brilliant pianist Kenny Kirkland, and the powerhouse singer Janice Pendarvis.

In addition to a traps drummer, a second keyboardist, who sings and plays in unison like a cross between George Benson and Tania Maria, and Clapton-clone guitarist Jeff Campbell, Sting is using a master percussionist named Mino Cinelu, who poured surging life into Sting's mixed bag of ethnic rhythms.

The music, for the most part, was compelling and swinging. Sting weds his pointed lyrics to tuneful melodies riding on an irresistible mix of world rhythms - African polyrhythms, Caribbean reggae and calypso, jazz swing, rock, South American folk strains and even a bit of Balinese gamelan.

The Stinger owes much of this approach to drummer Stewart Copeland, with whom he worked in the new wave English band the Police.

And two of the best tunes in this roaring show were from the Police's 'Synchronicity' album, 'King of Pain' and 'Murder by Numbers'. Good tunes played with passion and precision.

From 'Dream of the Blue Turtles', Sting sang strong renditions of 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', 'Consider Me Gone' and a blowout version of 'Fortress Around Your Heart'. This is a great band, and they exploded. Marsalis and Kirkland are superb jazzmen who grew up with rock in their ears and can play it all.

The best material from Sting's 'Nothing Like the Sun' album were the moody, evocative ballads: 'Sister Moon', a shadowy blue jazz number that featured Marsalis' piercingly beautiful soprano sax accompaniment; 'Fragile', a lovely melody with pastel-washed synthesizer colors backing Sting's Spanish guitar lines (it sounded like a Lyle Mayes-Pat Metheny chart).

Then there was 'They Dance Alone', based on the traditional Chilean gueca, or courting dance. It's a potent and tender homage to the men who have vanished in repressive Chile. A Chilean wooden pipes player joined the band and gave the music authentic flavor.

It's too bad a man who writes such strong music has to peddle such an annoying persona.

(c) The San Francisco Chronicle by Jesse Hamlin