June 10, 2010

Sting With Strings

In concept, the pairing of Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra would only confirm the Police frontman's move from Rock and Roll to Adult Contemporary music. In execution, however, the idea was brilliant, and the result defied single genre classification.

Whether it was the beautiful evening sky at the much heralded Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver or the musicians partaking of some preperformance relaxation, both main artist and musicians presented a stunning two and one half hours of music.

Leading off with the solo hit, "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You", Sting confidently entered the stage looking very much like a prim and proper English gent- black suit and perfectly groomed for the A&E concert special being filmed. Playing a bit of harmonica for this tune, he gently reminded fans he was as much a musician as singer. Vocally, Sting has never sounded better. All through the evening, he neither avoided the high notes or shortened the long ones.

Following the opening number, he continued with "Englishman in New York" before delighting the crowd with a very light and playful version of "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic". While Englishman took benefit of a great clarinet solo, Every Little Thing perfectly showcased the intent of the night: presenting both singer and song in fresh ways and new textures. I had a hunch even the old Police tunes would benefit from a full orchestra, and I was right. Sting's lower register vocals on "Roxanne" were surprising and extremely effective. By this point four songs into the concert, the crowd was enthusiastically following every move he made.

Moving from "Straight to My Heart", the orchestra was put to full use creating the ominous and menacing tones for "Russians", giving Sting the opportunity to make the only political comments of the evening as he introduced it. The first half continued with the expected "When We Dance", the beautifully renewed "I Hung My Head", then "Shape of My Heart" and the tender but direct"Why Should I Cry For You?"

Drawing from the wrongly overlooked "Sacred Love" disc, "Whenever I Say Your Name" shined in duet form with Jo Lawry- and Mary J. Blige not missed a bit. Another light hearted approach with flute and piano added to Sting's obligatory masterpiece "Fields of Gold". A twenty minute break followed for necessities, and then the music returned.

The second half somewhat suffered out of the chute with several songs that were tedious in style but still beautiful, really being saved by the man's terrific vocal work. However, this also included an emotionally overwrought "Moon Over Bourbon Street".

A few songs later, I was thrilled to hear an absolutely stunning version of "All Would Envy", with Sting and orchestra turning this into a brilliant smooth jazz masterpiece. The incredible trumpet work would make Herb Alpert proud! "Mad About You" came next. It was a compelling performance that set the tone of the rest of the evening.

Just when I thought it couldn't get better than the previous two selections, Sting rocked the house with an extended "King of Pain", electric guitar, orchestra, and vocalist ripping into the night with gusto. Perfect use of all three elements!By the time I realized we were nearing the end, "Every Breath You Take"began, we were still on our feet, wishing for one more hour.

Encore tunes included a beautiful, sweepingly symphonic "Desert Rose", a very compelling "She's Too Good for Me" (but unfortunately no "Seven Days" follow-up), and a gorgeous version of "Fragile" before strangely ending with an a cappella version of "I Was Brought to My Senses".

Aside from overlooking his specialty releases of late, Sting varied the song choices, evenly selecting from each disc and only partially favoring "Ten Summoner's Tales". With minimal but effective conversation, the emphasis of the night was on singer and song. The orchestra was used to great effect and with much respect for both its skill and versatility.

To all who would doubt, I say bring on the night- and then bring the artist back for a second taste of this tour. Saying Sting has aged gracefully is true but incomplete. The man continues on as a brilliant artist that deserves the accolades he now enjoys after a career that now spans the decades.

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