Seattle, WA, US
White River Amphitheatrewith None

Sting and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra review...

Metallica's done it. Wynonna's done it. Even gangsta rapper Ice T has resorted to that most bloated of pop cliches and gone symphonic. So color me jaded when Sting announced his tour with the Queen's Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and his intent to give his hits the classical treatment. A related album, 'Symphonicities', is also reportedly on the way.

My resistance to Sunday night's season opening show at Auburn's White River Amphitheatre was heightened by memories of the Police reunion of 2007. The trio's triumphant two-night stand at KeyArena that year allowed me to temporarily purge memories of bland, triple-A radio Sting and recall a bygone era when the guy actually rocked. I figured orchestral arrangements of 'Roxanne' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' could only serve as reminders of just how far the artist formerly known as Gordon Sumner has strayed from his punk and new wave roots.

To some degree that was true, and snippets of Sunday's show - a relatively intimate affair witnessed by some 4,500 fans on a clammy, Northwest evening - were as snoozy as expected. I could have done without 'Fields of Gold', for example, and 'You Will Be My Ain True Love', a duet Sting recorded with Alison Kraus and sang with the lovely Jo Lawry Sunday night.

But the charming headliner and the 47-member Royal Philharmonic - lead by conductor Steven Mercurio - did gradually warm my curmudgeonly heart. A lot of Sting's solo material benefited greatly from all that extra manpower, with early set highlight 'Russians' rendered all the more foreboding a few songs in. Sting provided back stories to that, among other numbers, explaining how his hit had been inspired by pirated broadcasts of Soviet children's shows in the '80s.

Presently, he also chronicled his obsession with American westerns and failed attempts at writing country music. ''I'm from the North of England, and I don't look good in those hats,'' he joked, the lead in to 'I Hung My Head'. It's a song the late, great Johnny Cash remade towards the end of his life; and it, along with an a cappella performance of 'I Was Brought to My Senses' that Sting eventually walked off with, provided the night's most poignant moments.

At other times, Sting and company channelled a more festive vibe. Before intermission, the British pop star coyly recalled having doubts about whether an orchestra could really rock before the tour started.

''I didn't know the answer. I do now,'' he said, the set up for 'Next To You', the lead track from the Police's 1977 classic 'Outlandos d'Amour'. It was a refreshing change of pace after the bland 'Fields'. But Sting and the Royal Philharmonic really bolstered their rock cred during the first of three encores with 'She's Too Good For Me', a quirky, swinging number that playfully hinted at Z.Z. Top's 'La Grange'.

But of course the biggest crowd pleasers were the early '80s hits, with sweeping strings underscoring the melodrama of the Police's 'King of Pain' and 'Every Breath You Take' before Sting took his first bow. Sure, it was more fun seeing Sting play those songs with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland back in '07. But even this jaded Police fan couldn't totally resist singing along.

(c) News Tribune by Ernest Jasmin