Symphonic Sting is loose and lively...
Introducing his song 'I Hung My Head' Wednesday night at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Sting said that as a child growing up in northern England he spent untold hours watching TV westerns like ''Bonanza'' and ''Rawhide.'' Years later, that led to a love of country music - and, he added, to his writing the occasional country song himself. Yet always there was the ''problem of authenticity,'' Sting said: What does a milkman's son from Newcastle know about the cowboy's life?
Whether exploring reggae with the Police, collaborating with the R&B star Mary J. Blige or recording an album of 16th century lute music, the man born Gordon Sumner has worked for much of his three-decade career to repudiate the shopworn idea that the key to success is sticking to what one knows. His lordly manner may rub some pop fans the wrong way, but it's also what's provided him with a license to appropriate.
Sting's latest project is an album (due July 13) and a world tour called 'Symphonicity', on which he performs retooled versions of songs from throughout his catalogue with elaborate backing by London's Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Wednesday's Irvine show was the second of two Southland dates, following a performance Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl; next month the tour will stop in New York for a pair of concerts at the Metropolitan Opera, a fact that must please the rough-and-tumble narrator of Sting's song 'She's Too Good For Me', who wonders if a woman might prefer him ''if I took her to an opera or two.''
At Verizon Wireless, Sting gave that line an exaggerated pronunciation, rolling his Rs dramatically as the orchestra dug into a swinging neo-rockabilly arrangement that could've pleased Brian Setzer or the creators of the current Broadway musical ''Memphis.'' Atypically for Sting, the moment had a touch of camp to it, which helped soften the self-seriousness implicit in 'Symphonicity'. Here was a guy locating a sense of humour where virtually none of his classical-dabbling peers have - a true testament to the singer's magpie tendencies.
Wednesday's 2½-hour show worked best when Sting gave himself over fully to the concept. Familiar hits such as 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', 'Fields of Gold' and 'Every Breath You Take' sounded fine with the lavish accompaniment, although they didn't reveal anything new about the material or its maker. (Unless you count Sting's apparent willingness to join those who hear 'Every Breath' as a tender ode to devotion rather than a creepy product of obsession.)
Yet 'Russians', with its jabbing brass blasts, and the jazzed-up 'Tomorrow We'll See' presented this former New Wave idol as a kind of art-song balladeer, unmoored from the strictures of rock's common-time beat. Floating over the orchestra's undulating arpeggios, he utilized his voice as pure sound but also inhabited the characters in his songs more deeply than usual; the result came as close to the complicated theater music of Stephen Sondheim and Kurt Weill as Sting is ever likely to.
Near the end of the concert Sting played 'All Would Envy', a big-band bossa nova he said he'd rescued from some dusty chapter of his songbook. The tune concerns a romance between an older man and a younger woman, he explained, and when that description elicited a ripple of laughter from the audience, Sting insisted, ''Oh, it's not autobiographical.''
No surprise there.
(c) The Los Angeles Times by Mikael Wood
Sting at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater...
The Hype: Rocking stadiums around the world during the Police reunion with only Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers behind you must be a lonely proposition. This time around, Sting drafted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for what's been dubbed as the 'Symphonicity' tour. It made for some inventive reworking of songs that showcase Sting's most famous attribute: his voice.
The Show: A swell of symphonic strings tipped off the opening of 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', which was greeted by a raucous ovation by the enthusiastic fans in front of the stage. Sting seemed at home in front of his microphone admiring the 40-plus musicians behind him. In order to keep his hands busy, Sting pulled out a harmonica to solo on top of the song.
'Englishman In New York' had an uplifting swing vibe that continued to engage the crowd. While the strings and arrangements were impressive, Sting's voice definitely was the centerpiece of the evening. Dipping into the Police catalogue, ''Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic'' was magical on the fairly brisk evening with the quarter moon perched in the sky. The stage lights turned red and Sting outfitted himself with a nylon stringed guitar to strum out the guitar parts for ''Roxanne.''
The harmonica would make another appearance for ''I Hung My Head'' with its smoky gunslinger appeal. Steven Mercurio brilliantly led the orchestra throughout the evening and often leaped in the air to punctuate his conducting. Sting courteously introduced the members of his main band a couple of times during the evening, but gave special attention to Dominic Miller who has played guitar with Sting for nearly twenty years.
Before playing 'Shape Of My Heart', Sting quipped that he and Miller wrote the song nearly fifteen years ago, ''when we were 10.'' Throughout the evening, Sting was in a VH1 Storytellers mode, offering tidbits and stories that appeared as well rehearsed as the orchestra. 'Fields of Gold' inspired a couple at the front of the stage to get up and slow dance but were quickly shot down by security. Miller expertly pulled off the guitar solo on his classical guitar.
Next To You' closed the first set with fire as Sting grabbed a guitar again and danced around the stage to get people off their feet. My highlight of the evening was when Sting added some theremin for some spooky vibes of 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'. The orchestra really shined for the cinematic sheen of 'One True Love' with a vocal assist from Jo Lawry.
Shifting mid-song from symphonic to fast tempo rocker, 'King of Pain' slowly brought people to their feet to dance along. Everyone down in the front got up though for 'Every Breath You Take'. For the encore, 'Desert Rose' and 'She's Too Good For Me' were adjusted as uptempo rockers with Dominic Miller getting out of his seat and using an electric guitar for the final tunes with Sting emphatically singing along. Wednesday nights usually aren't this special.
The Crowd: The audience definitely skewed from the 40 to 50's, compared to the all-encompassing age range during the Police reunion shows. Unfortunately, I was seated next to one of those couples who rarely go out - they decided to give each other running commentary on the whole show. Another reason why I bring earplugs to shows.
By The Way: It was extremely creepy to see some of the front row people walk right up to the stage in front of Sting and take cell phone pictures. I know you paid a lot for the seat, but seriously it was uncomfortable to watch and distracting at the same time.
(c) OC Weekly by Andrew Youssef