Most every little song he does is magic...
The woman sitting next to me at Sting's Symphonicity concert Wednesday night in Vancouver was a 43-year-old single mother of four who had missed a chance to see Sting play Calgary when she was about 13 and has regretted it ever since. So at the last minute, she dropped $270 Wednesday afternoon (yes tickets were still available) to correct a 30-year-old regret.
She got her money's worth.
Sting played a marathon 3-hour show (including a 20-minute intermission), to kick off his Symphonicity Tour, which features symphonic arrangements of many of his classic hits: from his days fronting The Police, and his more middle-of-the-road solo career. (The correct title of the tour, by the way, as per instructions from the concert promoter is: Symphonicity Tour: Sting, featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by Steven Mercurio.)
''This is a very special night for me,'' Sting told the mature, well-heeled crowd. ''This is the first night of a brand new adventure. This is the biggest band I've ever had.'' He was backed by a 45-piece orchestra, as well as his own three-piece band.
Dressed in charcoal grey, including a vest that resembled an unfinished suit jacket, Sting looked great, and was in excellent voice - still hitting high notes, still strong enough that on his third (!) encore, he belted out 'I Was Brought To My Senses' without any musical accompaniment, as the orchestra sat on stage and watched in awe.
But the real stars of the show were the arrangements: classical twists on classic hits that make Symphonicity a must-see. They were often gorgeous, sometimes playful and at moments deliciously surprising.
'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' presented a shivers-up-your-spine, elegant arrangement (not surprisingly it's the first single to be released from Sting's upcoming 'Symphonicities' studio album).
'Englishman in New York', with its prominent clarinet passages, was a natural for a symphonic arrangement, and this was another success. The surprise toward the end was beautiful: who would have predicted the brass section in the back standing up and singing a call and response with Sting? (They looked thrilled. And rightly so.) Another surprise was 'Next To You': the hard-driving first song from The Police's first album soared with a string-and-percussion-heavy arrangement.
Other highlights were 'King of Pain', the lovely violin on 'Whenever I Say Your Name'; the big, dramatic arrangement for 'Russians'; the theatrical take on 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', evocative of a horror film; and the Flight of the Bumblebee-like strings on 'She's Too Good For Me'. 'Every Breath You Take' offered a quiet and surprising arrangement that showcased Sting's still excellent voice.
The opening for 'Message in a Bottle' was wonderful (part of the fun of the evening was figuring out what song the orchestra was playing, based on the opening bars) and later in the song it was great to hear a bit of the reggae-inspired guitar chords that made The Police so exciting back in the day.
But there were disappointments too. 'Roxanne', which could have been a show-stopper, was too subdued - reduced to forgettable adult contemporary pap. Thankfully, it was short. 'Fields of Gold', another fan favourite that would seem to lend itself to an orchestral interpretation, was pretty, but unremarkable.
The show, in fact, was uneven and really lagged in the middle, with too many lesser-known songs literally lulling some people to sleep (well, at least the guy on the other side of me, doing the tell-tale head bob).
Even Mercurio's exciting performance art-like conducting (the Maestro leaps and gestures and emotes - it's something that must be seen) couldn't keep the atmosphere alive.
And weirdly, Sting - a guy not lacking in the charisma or stage presence department - seemed a little uncomfortable, particularly at the beginning of the night. Maybe it was being confined to a small area at the centre of the stage, maybe it was not having an instrument in his hand for most of the night (does a tambourine count?), maybe it was opening night jitters. Also, the staged, lame jokes need to go (pretending he couldn't tell which song the orchestra was playing was just silly).
Speaking of uncomfortable, Sting's introduction to 'Russians' had some people squirming in their seats, and I'm sure I heard hissing. Sting was reminiscing about the inspiration for the Cold War-era song: a scientist friend in New York had access to Russian TV signals and they would watch this on Saturday nights - which was Sunday morning in the Soviet Union, when the children's programming was on. It gave Sting some comfort to think that the Russians, who were producing this excellent children's television, must love their children too, so maybe they wouldn't blow up the world after all. He remarked that he wished ''our current ideological enemies'' felt the same way. Cue the hissing. Awkward.
By the end of the night, though, all was forgiven and Sting was in his element: belting out tunes, interacting with Mercurio, shimmying away, smiling and comfortable finally in his own yoga-preserved skin.
''It's been a wonderful night for us,'' he said after his umpteenth bow, holding his hand over his heart.
For the audience, too.
(c) The Globe And Mail by Marsha Lederman
Sting goes classical as kicks off world tour Symphonicity...
Sting, former frontman of The Police, kicked off a world tour of his greatest hits on Wednesday but replaced the familiar guitar, drum and base riffs with the gentle strains of oboes, violins and cellos.
Backed by the London Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the 58-year-old rocker rolled out crowd-pleasers like 'Roxanne' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' in front of a sold-out crowd in downtown Vancouver on Canada's West Coast.
''I normally don't like pop music with orchestras because you basically end up sawing long notes behind pop ballads,'' Sting said in an interview.
''It's boring for the musicians, boring for the audience and boring for the artist,'' he said before the first show of the 'Symphonicity' Tour, which criss-crosses North America this summer and then heads to Europe.
The audience at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts did not appear bored, refusing to let the British-born musician leave after three hours on stage and three encores. He eventually came out for the final time and sang a ballad without musical backing before the mostly 35-plus crowd let him go. Sting said he changed his mind about combining rock with flutes and harps once he'd worked with top-caliber classical musicians. He said the secret was to create a challenge for them and ''getting them to work harder so that they'll enjoy it more.''
''I've always liked classical music, since I was young, and stolen from it royally,'' said the teacher-turned-rocker, who has sold nearly 100 million records in his 35-year career with The Police and on his own as well as acting in various films and TV shows.
His interest in working with orchestras was piqued in 2008 when he was invited to perform with the Chicago Symphony. Then in January he worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
''So once those two had worked, I thought why don't we take it out to the rest of the country,'' he said.
What's next for this musician, who has also done stints as an actor, runs a charity with his wife Trudie Styler, is a devoted yoga buff and human rights and environmental activist?
''I have no idea what I am going to do next... I've still got my band... I could go back to my Renaissance project with the lutes. We are doing our Christmas performance again. I like to keep a lot of irons in the fire,'' he said.
The name 'Symphonicity' is a play on the name of The Police's final album released in 1983, the grammy-award winning 'Synchronicity'.
The pop trio formed in the late 1970s as punk rock was taking hold in clubs in London and New York but differences in opinion on their music led to a bitter breakup in 1984. They did, however, reunite in 2007 for a world tour that also kicked off in Vancouver.
Asked if there were any plans for another reunion with guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland, Sting said: ''I don't think so.''
'Symphonicity' heads next to Portland, Oregon, for two shows.
(c) Reuters by Nicole Mordant
Sting wraps Vancouverites around his finger with Royal Philharmonic
Prior to Sting's performance at the Centre for the Performing Arts Wednesday night, the press was informed that the event should be referred to as the 'Symphonicity' Tour: Sting, featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by Steven Mercurio. As the space available for this review would fill up right quick repeating that royal title, I shall heretofore refer to the show as Stwings.
A tad cheeky, perhaps, but the $267.25 door ticket price reinforces that this was a ''serious concert.''
From the opening number, 1993s 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', that the show would be impeccably rendered was clear. Minus a few issues with the backing vocals, the orchestra read the tune like it was always intended for such an arrangement. The man himself - looking ageless - doesn't hold the highs as in days passed, but his voice still rings clear and incredibly strong. And the new arrangements are certainly geared towards his 58 year-old range.
Few of his peers could come close.
Obviously, some songs are better suited to symphonic 'rock' - the lovely 'Englishman In New York' and sensitive 'Shape Of My Heart' were naturals. 'Roxanne' was not.
While the red lit stage was appropriate, the slowed down lush life turn was pure Mantovani. Somewhere, someone in an elevator winced.
Speaking of lighting, the set design was delish. Three mobile video screens shifted about and danced with spotlight rigs that looked like what passes for the finest in architectural art installations here. A host of noted video artists were involved in the design and visuals. True to the whole tour; high concept.
It did descend into well-dressed bombast, as in the hilarious 'Russians' which 'nicked' from Prokofiev and Mussorsky and would've been too much for Carl Stalling's Looney Tunes' scores.
The up and down, hit and miss set didn't appear to lessen the applause after each number. But for a 'greatest hits' package, it seemed there was an awful lot of material that didn't meet that designation with anyone but the songwriter.
Some fidgetying was going on as people hung on for another Police cover that worked or a solo hit without an introduction that pointed out it's deeper message ('I Hung My Head'). Sting certainly seemed aware of the differences, loosening up for sure bets such as 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' or the show stopping 'Whenever I Say Your Name'.
Man, that one really belted like some old Philly soul classic. Very fine.
Curiously, early trio rockers lent themselves better to orchestral embellishment than his later, more complex, solo material. As the sound was pristine all night, one really noticed.
It's an ambitious project to be sure and this was opening night, so Stwings will doubtless become all the more perfect along the way towards the inevitable live DVD/CD release. That said, Sting is still at his best when he chills out a bit and you had to look to Maestro Mercurio for brevity last night.
Yes, it delivered a different take on his career, frequently re-envisioning classics in wholly new ways ('Message In a Bottle').
But, sorry Mr. Sumner, an orchestra can't play rock n' roll.
(c) The Province by Stuart Derdeyn
Sting makes plenty of pop magic in Vancouver...
The official, media-approved title for Sting's latest world tour won't improve his image with those who already regard him as pompous. Try saying this fast: ''Symphonicity Tour: Sting, featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by Steven Mercurio''. With that mouthful, plus tickets costing between $106.25 and $267.25, cynical fans who attended the kickoff show might have wondered if he'd also reconstruct ancient Rome and find a cure for cancer.
However, it was an audience of believers who came to see the 58-year-old ex-Police frontman. Affluent, liberal baby boomers politely screamed and clapped, and gave him his fair due. Granted, the three-hour set (including a 25-minute break) basically rehashed his old hits with strings and horns, making it seem ironically fitting that the tour is sponsored by Xerox. Yet there was plenty of pop magic beneath the three big video screens - not to mention the fact that Sting's choice for a closing encore took some serious cojones: an a cappella rendition of the 1996 obscurity 'I Was Brought To My Senses', in which he missed nary a dusky note after singing close to 30 songs.
We got to see nearly every public face of Mr. Gordon Sumner: thespian, schoolteacher, dry humorist. Coming out in a form-fitting grey-blue vest, a long-sleeved shirt, and dark slacks, he performed many songs sans instrument. He sang full-throated, waving his hands effusively, as if trying to keep up with conductor Mercurio's tails-waving antics. Clearly, Sting was enjoying himself in a way he just couldn't have if he'd had a pregig punch-up backstage with old Police sparring partner Stewart Copeland. (Sting recently described the 2007 Police reunion tour, which also kicked off in Vancouver just over three years ago, as ''a mistake psychologically''.)
Prior to a slow, burning take on the '78 Police classic 'Roxanne', Sting claimed that despite having sung certain numbers for more than 30 years, ''with these new arrangements, sometimes I have no idea what song they're playing.'' That got a laugh, and it had to be in jest, because Sting is a notorious control freak creatively. Both the orchestra and his backing quartet, featuring long-time guitarist Dominic Miller and comely siren Jo Lawry, were far too well rehearsed for him not to know every note.
The between-song raps were educational and mighty alliterative. Sting introduced the decorous classical thunder of 'Russians' by referring to the ''belligerent and bellicose'' Cold War vibe between the Soviets and the Americans. As well, he said traditional romantic scenarios were ''boring and banal'' before crooning his way through 'When We Dance'.
This being opening night, the concert had its bumpy moments. An overly busy arrangement bogged down the classic ballad 'Fields of Gold'. Symphonically retooling the punky 'Next To You' from Outlandos D'Amour resulted in diminished excitement; ditto for 'Message in a Bottle'. (Stewart, your snare drum was sorely missed.)
Unsurprisingly, the Centre got shakin' the most when ''the biggest band I've ever had'' (only literally, Sting - sorry, but the Police still rule) struck up 'Every Breath You Take', followed by 'Desert Rose'. Sting got his yoga-sculpted hips swivelling on the latter hit, originally a duet with Algerian singer Cheb Mami. As the ladies gyrated along, it felt for a moment as if Middle East peace must be achievable - well, at least if that troubled region were populated primarily by the well-coiffed matrons of Shaughnessy and Kitsilano.
Not all dreams can come true. Creatively, Sting may have taken the easier Symphonicity route instead of writing a new Synchronicity, but at least he's still getting it done as a performer.
(c) Vancouver Free Press by Lucas Aykroyd
Sting shines as frontman for a new band - Musical catalogue that spans
nearly four decades given a new glow with support from 45-piece symphony
Former Police singer Sting was in the spotlight as he kicked off his 'Symphonicity' Tour with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at the Centre in Vancouver on Wednesday.
Do you remember that television commercial from years ago featuring Sting? He was riding in a car surrounded by publicity flaks, all of them bombarding him with products related to his sublime Stingness.
One even pitched a toaster that burnt his likeness onto toast.
It was, of course, meant to be funny. But sometimes Sting kind of comes off as a guy who, in real life, might actually own a toaster that did just that. But even if he doesn't, it's a neat analogy for Mr. Sting's lasting impression on this planet, something that, over the years, has made him loads of bread.
Cut to Wednesday night at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, the first stop on the puntastically named 'Symphonicity' Tour: Sting, Featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Conducted by Steven Mercurio.
Quite the mouthful. But with Sting's breath, with Sting's flow, we would know, Symphonicity ...
Of course, this inaugural performance was more than just a connecting principle linked to the invincible. And with top-end tickets going for $267.50, seeing it wasn't for the stingy.
But let's be fair: a 45-piece orchestra, conductor, guitarist, standup bass player, drummer and one female backup singer obviously doesn't come cheap.
It wasn't just musical fare, however: 10 international artists - including Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth and Takeshi Murata - were invited to contribute accompanying video projects, all shown on a trio of neat Asian-inspired screens suspended above the performers.
Sir Sting (he's not really a knight but it just sounds right), dressed as some kind of futuristic concierge, delved deep into the back catalogue - Police and solo work - performing material spanning roughly 35 years.
The symphonic arrangements certainly breathed new life into some of the songs, particularly on the Police material. Even angry songs like 'Roxanne' - which is really an angry song about the end of a relationship -- becomes recontextualized in a romantic light (which, as it happens, literally bathed the stage in red).
Speaking of red, ominous orchestral manoeuvrings signalled an overbearing musical march into Sting's Cold War classic, 'Russians'.
From mutually assured destruction themes, Sting and guests transitioned into 'Fields of Gold'. This seemed somewhat abrupt at first, but, really, post-nuclear annihilation, a golden happy place would be the logical next step.
By the time he picked up a guitar for the first time and performed rapped Around Your Finger fair to say Sir Sting had the well-dressed crowd wrapped around his.
And make no mistake: no matter how many people were accompanying him onstage, there was never any question as to who was at the centre of it. There was some nice solo work by the orchestra - including a memorable two-part violin bit on 'Whenever I Say Your Name' - but it's not really about the arrangements, is it?
Having said that, some of them worked better than others. 'Message in a Bottle' missed the mark, if only because the arrangement floated around rather aimlessly. It could've used a push from a strong ska current to carry it through to shore.
Then again, 'Next to You', a four-chord rock track from 1977, featured a more aggressive arrangement by Rob Mathes that worked well, carrying the crowd into the intermission on a high note.
Only halfway through the show, one thing was clear: Sting may not be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but, on this night anyway, a couple thousand freshly buttered-up concertgoers here in Vancouver could make a case that he ought to be the toast of the town.
(c) The Vancouver Sun by Graeme McRanor