West Palm Beach, FL, US
Cruzan Amphitheatrewith None

An Englishman in West Palm...

Isn't there an unwritten rule that rock stars aren't allowed to open their shows with their greatest hits? Something about making the audience wait and repaying their patience with an encore of classics?

Sting clearly doesn't play by this rule, and I'm angry at him for it. Well, not him so much as the battering rain and bumper-to-bumper traffic that caused a trek from Miami Lakes to West Palm Beach for his Cruzan Amphitheatre concert Friday night to take nearly two hours, causing us to miss 'Roxanne', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'An Englishman in New York', all of which were played among the five-to-six songs we missed in Traffic Hell.

I could also damn Sting for being so darn punctual (What rocker's concerts actually start at the advertised time?), but I'd rather praise him, and conductor Steven Mercurio's Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, for one of the most incredible shows I've ever seen. Sting looks his 58 years of age, but his powerful, distinctive pipes haven't changed from the twentysomething newwaver who wrote 'Message in a Bottle'.

The set list actually contained few Police tunes - he gamely closed his second of two sets with 'Every Breath You Take', and he still sounded passionate crooning a song he's probably sick to death of by now - culling both hits and obscurities from his laudable solo career. A few of the numbers took the amphitheatre audience by surprise; his introductions to 'You Will Be My Ain True Love' and 'All Would Envy' drew few, if any, cheers of recognition. But the lovely, ballad-driven set ('Shape Of My Heart', 'Fields of Gold', 'Fragile') reminded us why he's been one of the most consistently entertaining acts that we might call ''adult contemporary'' over the past 25 years.

The coolest novelty about the concert - the symphony orchestra - was almost superfluous, despite its virtuosic grasp of the material. So wrapped up in Sting's world, I forgot the orchestra was there from time to time, which might mean were doing their job as a 50-piece rhythm section perfectly. Sting, for his part, actually flubbed a line here and there, which I always like to see in larger-than-life rock stars because it proves that, you know... they're human.

During the three encores, the crowd in the lower section, where I was blessed enough to sit, received the opportunity to rush the stage and be an arm's length away from Sting, shirt unbuttoned. This made my girlfriend's day, but I was more excited about spotting left-wing firebrand Michael Moore, in his signature baseball cap, being ushered through a private exit after the concert among chants of, ''We love you, Michael Moore!'' Of course, Sting had underwear thrown at him, so objectively, he wins.

(c) by John Thomason




Sting's 'Synchronicity' was chills-inducing...

It's a logical progression, isn't it? Young English teacher Gordon Sumner (you know him as Sting, and don't stand so close to him) hits it big as singer, principal songwriter and bassist of The Police, which becomes one of the most successful rock bands of all time. After the group runs its course, Sting forges a solo career heavy on jazz, blues and theatricality, leading to an Oscar nomination for 'You Will Be My Ain True Love', which he wrote for the film 'Cold Mountain'. The next step? Combine his eclectic musical repertoire with a symphonic orchestra.

The result is 'Symphonicity', which marries Sting's career highlights with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by Steven Mercurio, who has worked with the Three Tenors, among other luminaries. The tour made a stop Friday night at the rain-soaked Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, but the inclement weather couldn't dampen the spirits of the near-sellout crowd, which spread out over the back lawn.

He didn't perform the tour's namesake song 'Synchronicity', but Sting - looking great at 58, fit, clean-shaven and decked out in black jacket and jeans - was in fine voice early on for his classic 'Englishman in New York', featuring dozens of violins plucking away.

Next came a compelling Police double-shot, with Sting effortlessly singing the high notes to 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' while sultry backup singer Jo Lawry harmonized and conductor Mercurio danced ballet-style, followed by a low-key version of 'Roxanne', featuring beautiful clarinet and cello solos. Sting riffed like a jazz singer on the melody, but still nailed the high notes.

Ever the storyteller, Sting introduced the lovely and tastefully sparse 'When We Dance' by saying, ''There are two kinds of love songs. One is ''I love you and you love me,'' and it really doesn't go anywhere. But this is one of those love songs where ''I love you and you love someone else.'' Now that's interesting - painful, but interesting.''

Before 'Russians', Sting related an entertaining story about watching Russian kids' programming in the '80s and being struck by the beauty of the shows. His first thought was ''Russians love their children, too,'' a concept that helped lead to the end of the Cold War. Sting's pure pitch helped navigate the song's complex vocal hills and valleys easily.

And before 'I Hung My Head', Sting related how flattered he was that ''the late, great'' Johnny Cash covered that song, because he had grown to love country music.

Sting wasn't perfect this night, and even called himself out: During the beautiful 'Fields of Gold' - which featured a nice classical guitar solo by Dominic Miller - he cracked up after flubbing the second verse and sang ''We'll forget the song.'' Of course, the crowd appreciated the honesty, and cheered loudly.

Other highlights included a orchestral-rock version of the punk classic 'Next To You'; a sparse, cinematic version of 'Moon Over Bourbon Street', about a vampire in New Orleans: and 'Tomorrow We'll See', a film-noir tale of a transsexual prostitute.

But the unquestioned ''big moment'' of the night was the awe-inspiring, chills-inducing 'King of Pain', which forced the previously reserved crowd to its feet for the first time. More chills followed with 'Every Breath You Take', during which conductor Mercurio egged the audience on to chant ''Wo-ohh-ohh-ohh''; and the encore's opening 'Desert Rose', during which Sting played up his sex-symbol status by approaching the crowd, unbuttoning his shirt and dancing lasciviously.

As his musical journey continues to evolve, Sting reminds us that the best teachers never stop being students as well.

(c) The Miami Herald by Michael Hamersly



Sting brings the orchestra to Cruzan, finds success, swoons...

When a rock act brings in classical musicians to work with them in a live setting, it's a risk.

Sometimes it can prove amazing - Metallica pulled it off well, and we've seen it happen with good effect for Pink Floyd or even recent indie bands like Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear.

But it can also come off pretentious. That somehow, these 3-minute-plus songs can instantly measure up to Mozart.

Fortunately, more often than not, the crossover into classical worked for Sting.

Part of the reason was the musicians he surrounded himself with - the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was flawless, while longtime cohort Dominic Miller fit smoothly into the mix on guitar, leading a group of rockers that seemed to knit themselves right into the sound.

The other part? Let's face it - Sting has a presence. He strode on stage dressed almost entirely in black - with just a white shirt under his vest and jacket - slender with his short shock of golden hair. He is remarkably fit for 58 years of age - not shocking for those who've followed his career, but seeing him live makes you wonder how he does it.

And when he began 'When We Dance', there was an audible swoon from the crowd.

But there were some remarkable musical moments in this evening. Several times, a classical arrangement added to the song - in some cases, improving the song dramatically. 'Russians', from Sting's 1984 debut 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles', gained needed bombast and heft. Already one of The Police's finest moments, 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' picked up the kind of sweep never dreamed of back in Sting's punkier days.

(There were times when it didn't quite work as well, however - I've heard this version of 'Roxanne' referred to as haunting, but I didn't see that.)

Sting also made a smart move in bringing along Australian jazz vocalist Jo Lawry as his female counterpoint - her role was far more than mere backup singer. She stepped in for Mary J. Blige without any difficulties on 'Whenever I Say Your Name', and did the same for Allison Krauss on 'You Will Be My Ain True Love' from the film Cold Mountain.

OK, the show did devolve a bit into cheesy Vegas time when Sting showed off his still fit figure to adoring ladies during a slinky take on 'Desert Rose'. But this show was not too stuffy - it's not every day when you see an orchestra go pretty much full-on punk on The Police classic 'Next To You', after all.

(c) Palm Beach Post by Jonathan Tully