- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

If any rock star has refined himself enough to play the classy Warner Theatre, it’s Sting. The 52-year-old former Police frontman, now also a memoirist and luxury-car salesman, reeks of class.

Last Thursday at the gilded palace of the Warner, Sting came dressed in what has become his trademark boho-aristo look: flaring trousers and pec-hugging shirt, with unfastened French cuffs, that flashed just enough chest.

It was the kind of number that might get you roughed up in the Bowery neighborhood of New York’s CBGB nightclub, where the Police played some legendary early gigs.

The opening song Thursday, with Sting on upright bass, was a slow-swing, classicized version of the Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” Later came a neutered offering of “Synchronicity I” and a long and torpid “Roxanne.”

Now, I realize I’m being a little ungenerous here, possibly over-nostalgic. So I’ll stop. I’ll judge Thursday’s show based on the contemporary mold Sting has created for himself: the mature, reflective singer-songwriter and happily married man, the superb technician with a sense of world-musical adventure.

On these terms, Sting is flawless. His tenor voice hasn’t lost an iota of clarity. His supporting musicians, including guitarist Dominic Miller and keyboardist Jason Rebello, are consummate pros.

And on the R&B; number “Whenever I Say Your Name,” an energetic backup singer, Joy Rose, was actually better than Mary J. Blige, the leading brand who duets with Sting on the song as heard on last year’s “Sacred Love” album.

Speaking of “Sacred Love,” it’s impressive that Sting puts so much faith into it. According to SoundScan, it sold respectably (just under 1 million units) but was quickly forgotten.

Still, on Thursday, he played the album nearly in its entirety — even songs such as the moody “Dead Man’s Rope” that have little chance of connecting with fortysomethings who’d probably rather jam to “So Lonely.”

If it’s fair to say that Sting challenged the audience to give up the ghost of the Police, as he largely has; it’s also fair to say he wasn’t sure our attention spans were up to the task.

A trio of expensive video screens loomed behind the stage, scrolling little filmlets from left to right during each song. On “This War,” it was an animated reel of B-52 warplanes and oil refineries — pretty clear what the message was there.

On “Sacred Love,” there were whirling dervishes. For “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” we got an ecumenical hodgepodge of Stars of David and crescent moons.

It’s at times like these that I wish Sting still played in a rock band.

Who cares about presentation when the meal is so bland?

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