Portland, OR, US
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hallwith None

Sting and orchestra leave us stinging...

Okay, that's not exactly true, let's try this: Sting, backed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, played a three-hour, 28-song retrospective of his 30-year-plus career to a packed and largely rapturous crowd Friday night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. But why?

The answer arrived in the first song.

Looking fit and all smiles, the 58-year-old showman joked he was playing with the biggest band he ever had and began the night with the romantic, super-solo-hit 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You'. With little room for the star, considering the needs of the 45-piece orchestra and a few long-time Sting players, he stood there singing and striking a tambourine.

Which sounded like a cash register ringing up...This was the second night of his 'Symphonicity' tour (a questionable reference to the Police's smash 1983 album, 'Synchronicity') presented by Xerox (they really wanted this to be, ummm, clear - attendees were handed cards inviting them to visit for free personalized Sting postcards!).

Let's pretend this was about the music - that it was meant to be an engaging opportunity to experience the substantial and sturdy musical creations of Gordon Sumner (Sting's real name) in a new, more mature fashion.

Which it was at times.

The orchestra, which Sting joked to have borrowed from the Queen, fit a few songs ideally, such as 'Desert Rose' and the jazzy 'She's Too Good For Me', a riveting song couplet saved for the first encore.

But more often than not, the arrangements were overblown, sounding inspired by decades of Disney and more than once, absolutely killing the content and character of the songs.

Yet Sting himself deserves the Lion King's share of the blame. Nearly every song was subduedly sung as a happy love song ripe for Broadway, sanitized and saccharine.

'Every Breath You Take' is not a love song. Sting himself has explained it's about an obsessive stalker. But he fed the misperception by replacing all the subtle menace in the song with soaring romanticism� and the crowd just ate it up.

Same story for another Police classic, 'King of Pain'. Even considering the sappy orchestration and Sting's looks of bliss, how exactly does a line like ''There's a black-winged gull with a broken back,'' morph into a celebratory sing-along?

It rivalled the ridiculous Sandals resort take on the classic 'Roxanne' for the most troubling song of the show.

Though Sting joked that with the orchestra's intros, such as the dramatic start to 'Russians', he never knew what the song was until about eight bars in, nothing could be further from the truth. No note is spontaneous with an orchestra and the night's set list was identical to that of the tour opener two nights before in Vancouver B.C. except 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', which likely would have suited the set-up well, was oddly cut.

Two huge, moving projection screens appeared out of scale and occasionally displayed baffling swirls of color and even an odd, distorted image of a chimp at length.

Also not used to potential was Sting's guitarist Dominic Miller and back-up singer, Jo Lawry, though she did shine during haunting version of 'My Ain True Love'.

Sadly, 15 or so inspired minutes does not a worthwhile concert make, especially not one commanding over $150 a ticket.

And while the show missed any artistic mark, it was right on target.

(c) The Oregonian by Scott D.Lewis