SHOW REVIEW

Sting scores while putting fans to test...

Usually, the first two songs of a concert don't tell you a lot. The act usually comes out swinging with a couple of hits, letting fans jump up, vent their pent-up anticipation and check out what their hero is wearing.

Sting, however, seemed to be testing a couple of directions in the beginning of his Hard Rock Hotel concert on Friday. He and his seven-piece outfit opened, not with a burst of adrenalin, but with a cocktail lounge version of the early Police hit 'Walking on the Moon.'

The 52-year-old star may have been telling fans he can do the standards thing anytime he wants, and do it more creatively than Rod Stewart, but that it isn't yet time to go beyond the occasional soundtrack venture.

The tone shifted dramatically as he shed his jacket and stand-up bass for the second song, the new 'Send Your Love.' Its electronic rhythms sounded like a calculated attempt at a pop hit. Too calculated, at least until it ends up in a car commercial.

But the third, fourth and nearly every tune after that were Sting finding the center between those songs and delivering what he does the best: literate, passionate songwriting, which stands outside of pop trends. It's still enough for now.

Friday's concert had some empty seats scattered throughout The Joint, which could have been a result of the show being rescheduled from Feb. 15, price resistance to tickets topping out at $505, or perhaps a bit of both.

'I was felled by a virus of such ferocity it only could have been sent by God,' he joked to the crowd, as punishment for 'my vanity.' There was none of it on display, other than Sting noting the small venue put fans so close 'you can see my fillings... We didn't have fluoride in the '50s.'

Like his Hard Rock show in 1999, Sting loaded the show with new material, doing nine of the 10 songs from his new 'Sacred Love' album. And like that show, the crowd often seemed a bit restless despite the hard-core fans ticket prices.

A midshow fast break of 'Synchronicity II' was the rare blast from the past for much of the two hours. But one year's new song can be the next year's encore: 'Desert Rose' is by now so anticipated that Las Vegan Cheryl Slader showed up in a belly dancing outfit and was rewarded by being called up to the stage.

Even the new songs didn't remain static. Most were better for being free of the album's overly dense, layered production. 'Dead Man's Rope' sounded rootsier and more direct with Sting playing a half-sized guitar. 'Never Coming Home' extended into a rollicking band workout showcasing Jason Rebello's jazz piano and Joy Rose's vocals.

And 'Sacred Love' - 'It's about two of my favorite things: religion and sex,' Sting explained - rallied the crowd as though it were an old hit already. Only 'Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing)' seemed to suffer from the loss of its brooding atmosphere, when the band reworked it with a rough, almost reggae feel.

Those waiting for hits were rewarded with a moving combination of 'Fragile' leading into 'Fields of Gold' and sing-along versions of 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Roxanne,' the latter a doctor's order to 'not sing that song with the high part,' he joked.

The final encore, however, was the moody 'A Thousand Years.' Sting may be 'very adaptable,' as he told the crowd. But for a time, at least, he can still afford to defy expectations and to do things his way.

(c) The Las Vegas Review-Journal by Mike Weatherford

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