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It might as well be Sting...

It promised to be an epic battle at Scotiabank Place.

The ever-evolving artist vs. the well-established back-catalogue. The symphony orchestra vs. the classic-rock-loving audience. The combination of vocalist, five-piece rock band and orchestra vs. the acoustics of a hockey arena.

Yet Sting, who two years ago coasted to a relatively-easy victory at Scotiabank Place in the company of his old Police linemates, has never shied from a challenge. And bolstered by an all-new lineup and a brand new musical bag, the man born Gordon Sumner once again played to win.

In a sense, it was another easy victory, as 7,000 devoted admirers were willing to go wherever Sting offered to take them. That was demonstrated well during the second song of the first of two sets Sunday, a mellow orchestral take on the beautiful 'Englishman in New York'. Be yourself, no matter what they say, the man urged his followers to chant. And chant they did, too engaged to ponder the irony of the moment.

In a sense, the surprising thing is that Sting has not previously toured with a full orchestra. It seemed a safe bet the adventurous songwriter would attempt such a marriage before symphonic Metallica or The Symphonic Rock Music of Styx reached our ears. And surely Sting would have attempted a project like the so-called 'Symphonicity' decades ago had otherwise-intelligent 80s musicians not considered two hands and a synthesizer to be an effective substitute for a full orchestra.

Hence, solo material such as 'Russians' and 'Fields of Gold' now sounds like it probably should have sounded all along the former further embellished Sunday by stirring flourishes from the London Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, as conducted by an animated Steven Mercurio.

Clad in black during the concerts first half though in no danger of being lost among the black-clad orchestra Sting projected a joy that was infectious and made the most of a voice that has lost none of its force. Clearly, the artist who next year will turn 60 has also asked why it has taken Sting so long to reach the point of 'Symphonicity'.

True, not every song ventured justified the presence of the orchestra. A loungey 'Roxanne' might have been better served as a solo number. 'Next To You', from The Polices 1978 debut album, benefited little from the orchestras muted attempt to play the punk rock.

Indeed, at times the full orchestra seemed redundant. On songs such as 'When We Dance' a single pair of hands arguably could have served the music as well.

On a cello, that is.

(c) The Ottawa Citizen by Allan Wigney




All in a day's work...

Don't hate me, but among my duties as music columnist for Seaway News is to attend fabulous concerts, take pictures and write about them. So when I heard a few months ago that Sting would be coming to Ottawa, I knew that it was my duty to make him the subject of my August column.

It's not as easy as it sounds though; there is an application and screening process for media interested in covering any concert event, but as my muse would have it, I was eventually approved by the powers that be to photograph and review the show - I was truly honoured.

Having reworked and arranged for orchestra twenty-five songs from his illustrious career, spanning over 30 years, Sting, was now touring with the fabulous Royal Philharmonic Orchestra following the release of his latest album, Symphonicity (remember Synchronicity?).

It's always a thrill to be behind the scene at these big event, and every once in a while, the planets align just right, and I get a bit more than I even bargained for.

On the day of the concert, members of the media were asked to meet before the show for a briefing at a designated area, from where we would then to be escorted through the underground corridors, back stage at Scotiabank Place, to the sound booth from where we would be permitted to photograph the show for a couple of numbers.

We were still back stage making our way to the booth, when suddenly out from behind a curtain and into our path emerged a handsome, blond, very fit man, dressed in black jeans and a white shirt. It took me a moment - shock, perhaps - for it to finally register that Sting was standing in front of me. As we were urged on passed him by security, rubbernecking as we walked, he grinned at our group's obviously surprise at see him standing there and teasingly said, ''There's nothing to see here.''! We walked on still stunned, but delighted by the timing! Kismet.

Opening with 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', a relaxed and charismatic, Sting, whose voice was as strong and skilled as it was the first time I hear him belt out 'Roxanne', in the late seventies, is certainly the personification of the benefits of Yoga.

''This is the biggest band I've ever had,'' said Sting about the 45 world-class musicians behind him, lead by the very enthusiastic Maestro Steven Mercurio. From 'Desert Rose' and 'Englishman in New York' to 'Fragile' and 'Mad About You', these orchestrated versions worked as well, and sometimes better than the originals, adding to the dramatics of the numbers. Make no mistake though; this was still a Rock concert with plenty of dancing, crowd participation, and the occasional ''F'' bomb.

A talented story teller - as is evident in his lyrics - Sting introduced each song with an anecdote about his life, or insight on his inspiration for the composition. The music usually comes first, he explained, and then I let my muse decide what it's about.

With his dry wit and Rock star cockiness, he candidly reminisced about his love for Westerns as a child, the dark night in New Orleans that inspired 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', and his short but arduous career as a cruise ship singer. ''I f*#*%g hated it,'' he said.

Most revealing of all his tales was his introduction to 'Why Should I Cry For You?'. ''He was a tough old bird,'' said Sting about his father, a milk man, who died 25 years ago. ''My ancestors were seafarers and shipbuilders. One day he took me down to the shipyard and said, 'When you leave school, go to sea.' He wanted me to have an exciting life. Of course, I disappointed him,'' he jested.

The concert ended after four encores, with a moving acapella verse of 'I Was Brought To My Senses'.

At 58 years old and in top form, Sting once again proved his brilliance and continued relevance in music today.

(c) Seaway News by Roxanne Delage