The following article by Russ DeVault appeared in a January 1988 issue of The Atlanta Journal & Constitution newspaper...
A rock'n'roll chameleon tries on some new colours...
It is high noon Thursday and Sting, who has come to be regarded as a paragon of pop-music sophistication, is sitting on a couch in the genteel Don Ce Sar Registry Resort. He is sipping tea and reading reviews of the previous night's concert that opened his American tour when there's the crash and clatter of breaking china.
Sting smiles and shrugs. He's neither embarrassed by knocking over some china nor enraged by what he has read. He's just human and, being human, has not risen above occasional clumsiness.
Or maybe it was intentional. The 36-year-old Sting, whose milkman father and hairdresser mother in Newcastle, England, named him Gordon Matthew Sumner, adroitly resists being pinned down.
Let him read that he has brought jazz to rock'n'roll audiences and he erupts: "I don't play any jazz in this thing."
Try to make him classify the music he'll perform at Atlanta's Fox Theater during two sold-out shows Sunday and Monday and he refuses: "Labelling places limits - put the music in a box and it's dead. I don't want to sign my own death warrant."
What he does want to do is continue exploring himself through the music he creates and is now playing with a band consisting of saxophonist Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, guitarist Jeff Campbell, keyboardist Delmar Brown, percussionist Mino Cinelu, bassist Tracy Wormworth and drummer Jean-Paul Ceccarelli.
"I'm still trying to find myself," he says. "In my songs, I find out who I am."
The Sting who emerges from '...Nothing Like the Sun' - his third solo album since breaking free of the Police, the hugely successful reggae-flavoured pop trio, in 1984 - doesn't seem to be a terribly complex or mysterious person. He bares the personal pain of watching his mother's lingering death last year in the song 'The Lazarus Heart'. He shares the common worries about nuclear war, repression, pollution and hunger in 'History Will Teach Us Nothing' and 'They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo)'. But he admits he'll never put all of Sting into his music or his interviews.
"There's a certain kind of peekaboo being played," he says. "I have to be candid in my songs and interviews, but I have to retain my personal self. I try to give the media as many confusing images as I can to retain my freedom. What's real is for my children and the people I live with."
Sting, who has two children from his first marriage and two with his current mate, Trudie Styler, obviously dotes on them, and it is equally apparent he needs to feel the approval and support of his musicians as much as he needs to hear the applause of his fans.
Despite a voice problem stemming from a sinus infection and some of the expected first-night foul-ups, his concert for a crowd of about 8,500 Wednesday at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome in Tampa was an unqualified success. Sting was met by a standing ovation when he casually wandered out at the beginning of the show, and a couple of hours later, the crowd thundered for more after a two-song encore.
Still, he looks to keyboardist Brown for corroboration when he says: "I had fun. If I look at the band and they're having fun, and I'm having fun... that's my yardstick."
There was never any indication anyone in the band or the crowd wasn't having fun. Long-time fans may have been disappointed because Sting concentrated on the songs from '...Nothing Like the Sun', but he delivered a slow 'Roxanne', the Police's first hit in 1979, and a saloon version of 'Consider Me Gone' from 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles', his debut solo album in 1985.
The show offered far more musicianship than showmanship, although Sting and his band did some dancing, and he showed fans how they could dance to his 7/4 time version of 'Straight to My Heart'. There was very little production, but it wasn't missed as the band flowed from one song to the next despite Sting's penchant for playing without a set list. "It changes every night," he says of his song selection and the order in which they are played.
Two highlights of his Tampa show that are certain to be heard both nights at the Fox Theater, a venue Sting says he particularly enjoys playing, are Marsalis' horn playing and Campbell's guitar work. All Marsalis had to do to bring the crowd to its feet was stand up, and guitarist Campbell knocked them down with his playing on 'Little Wing', the Jimi Hendrix song Sting included on '...Nothing Like the Sun'.
Sting faulted his voice and nerves - "You make mistakes, but you try to relax and go on," he says - but his stage appearance isn't going to hurt his image as a sophisticate any more than his demurrers will the notion that he's preaching jazz to rock 'n' roll believers.
Listeners who are determined to separate the elements of Sting' s engrossing music can find traces of everything from Gregorian chants to Chuck Berry to Miles Davis on this tour, but it's more entertaining to simply enjoy and follow his dictum: 'If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free'.
As he says: "Our job is to defy labels... I'm not out to browbeat anyone, and it's not important that they fans share my political beliefs. I just want to create a forum that's better than just going out, having a few beers and getting wrecked."
© The Atlanta Journal & Constitution