I played chess against the world champion yesterday, and I figured the only way I could win was if I kicked him in the shins after the first move," says Sting jokingly, referring to his televised loss of king, queen, bishops, and pawns to Garry Kasparov on "Good Morning America" last week.
This announcement comes two numbers into his set before an outdoor venue at the Tweeter Center of stargazers who are alternating their attention between the celebrity singer and the nighttime constellations.
Sting is on a US tour in support of his sixth solo studio album, "Brand New Day" - released last fall. Buoyed by good word of mouth and the memorable single "Desert Rose," the record is steadily treading the waters of the Top 30 Billboard charts.
The concert opens with the majestic, affecting love song, "A Thousand Years," one of the Englishman's strongest songs in years. It's followed by his breakthrough solo single "If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free)," which sounds even better than the original with a newly arranged bridge just before the chorus.
Most of the live material is an improvement on some recorded predecessors, and this is particularly true of selections from the latest album, which at times suffers from an overly slick production.
"Perfect Love Gone Wrong," for example, benefits from the pure, organic sounds of Sting's trumpet player, Chris Botti. The renowned jazzman weaves shimmering runs and elegant, sensual caresses into the song's spaces to stunning effect.
Sting, an engaging frontman, prances about the stage, tinkering with drummer Manu Katch's cymbals and then peering down the barrel of the trumpet as Botti holds one note for such an eternity that it would have divers gasping for air long before the trumpeter surfaces for his next breath.
Botti's inclusion in Sting's all-star band proves delightful as he reinterprets the harmonica of songs like "Fields of Gold" and "Brand New Day," or the much-beloved sax playing of Branford Marsalis on numbers such as "Englishman in New York" or "Moon Over Bourbon Street."
The complex bass lines during "All This Time" and the dynamic "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You" prove Sting's own instrumental prowess to be equal to that of Katch, one of the world's best drummers, or Sting's longtime guitar player, Dominic Miller (who also plays with Peter Gabriel, Sheryl Crow, and The Pretenders).
The band is rounded out by Jason Rebello, a successful solo jazz artist in his own right, on piano. It is Rebello's coruscating solo that provides the highlight of the night - an extended jam of The Police's "When the World Is Running Down," merged with "Bring on the Night" and modeled after the version appearing on Sting's great live album "Bring on the Night."
Sting's career with his former band, The Police, is proportionately represented by "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Every Breath You Take," and "Roxanne."
If "Breath" sounds tired after years of performances, at least "Roxanne" sounds invigorated thanks to a new reggae underpinning that nods to the influence that the genre had on The Police.
Sting's flamenco guitar runs decorate "Fragile" prettily, but he has closed concerts with this number before and it no longer has the impact it deserves. That aside, this tour finds Sting in fine form.
One hopes that the rawer edges of his live sets will filter into his next album.
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