Sting's first encore at Constitution Hall Friday night, "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," was in keeping with both the focus of the concert--love as a many-splendored/splintered thing--and the mood of the sellout crowd, happy to see the Englishman in Washington after a three-year absence.
As Sting noted later in the wistful "Fields of Gold," absence and remembrance make the heart grow fonder, and he reached into his deep catalogue to include several Police classics along with many highlights from a solo career stretching back to 1985, as well as seven songs from his just-released album, "Brand New Day." Sting even trotted out the luminous '50s pop standard "My One and Only Love" (which he originally recorded for the "Leaving Las Vegas" soundtrack) and invested it with soft-spun conviction as pianist Jason Rebello subtly comped behind him.
The 24-song program opened with "A Thousand Years," a new ballad of romantic constancy whose sinewy grace and sonic pastels reflect Sting's penchant for smooth, sturdy pop under the influence of jazz and world music. Songs of devotion ranged from the jubilance of the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "All This Time" and "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" to the obsessive "Mad About You" and a still-spooky-after-all-these-years "Every Breath You Take." Other extremes encompassed the devastating sense of loss exemplified in "Perfect Love . . . Gone Wrong," the plea for compassion in "Fragile" and the sense of renewal at the heart of "After the Rain" and "Brand New Day."
The capacity crowd roared to life when Sting launched into "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free," his own liberation hit after leaving the Police in 1985, and it clearly appreciated his willingness to revisit that distant past with the two "Everys" ("Little Thing" and "Breath"), "Message in a Bottle," which Sting performed solo on acoustic guitar, and the keening "Roxanne." The latter capped Sting's brief foray into the hazy world of hustlers and hookers following "Tomorrow We'll See," a newly lit torch song about a transvestite working the mean streets, and 1986's burbling "Moon Over Bourbon Street," which elicited his finest faux Tom Waits vocals.
There were some weak elements: The strident soul of "We'll Be Together" is not really Sting's forte; neither is the country music styling of "Fill Her Up." "Desert Rose," a melancholy meditation on loneliness, sorely missed the sensual vocal counterpoint of Algerian rai singer Cheb Mami, while "Perfect Love . . . Gone Wrong," after starting off with a cool, jazzy elegance, fell apart when Sting's longtime drummer, Manu Katche, stepped out for an irrelevant and intrusive rap in French.
And while "Bring On the Night/When the World Is Running Down" set up the encores with its hard-driving passions and solo spotlights for guitarist Dominic Miller and keyboardists Rebello and Kipper, the band was more effective in tighter, airier arrangements, particularly those that showcased trumpeter Chris Botti, whose supple ornamentations and emotional colorations beautifully underscored so many songs.
CAPTION: Sting featured Police classics as well as those from his solo career.