Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, NY
Friday, July 30, 2010
Sting’s quest to reinvent himself reached new heights in an invigorating concert Friday evening at Bethel Woods. Backed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, he presented a 24-song set in a relaxed and balmy open-air concert that was intimate and compelling.
Sting looked and sounded great (wearing a black dress jacket, vest, and white dress shirt), and his current tour has brought him about as far away from his successful reunion with The Police (in ’07 and ’08) as one can get without switching galaxies. Although The Police catalog of hits were well-represented with five songs, the accent was on both popular and less familiar works from Sting’s 25-year solo career.
The 45-piece orchestra (“This is the biggest band I’ve ever played with,” Sting said during the introductions) was a wise choice since the violins, cellos, flutes and horns gave depth and texture to “Englishman in New York,” “Fields of Gold” and “A Thousand Years,” among many others. The orchestral arrangements (conducted by Steven Mercurio) were supported (but not underwhelmed) by Sting regulars like Dominic Miller (on acoustic and electric guitar), who pulled out all the stops on hard-rocking tunes like “Next to You” and “King of Pain”; and vocalist Jo Lawry — who offered up a stirring duet with Sting on “Whenever I Say Your Name,” from “Sacred Love,” Sting’s most recent record (2003) of new material. Ira Coleman played electric and upright bass and Cerys Green added clarinet solos on “Mad About You” and “Englishman in New York.” Rhani Krija and David Cossin played a variety of percussion instruments and were particularly effective during a rousing rendition of “Desert Rose.”
“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” opened the concert and stirred up the near-sellout crowd. The violins and cellos adding a richness and density to The Police classic “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”
Another highlight was a slow and lush “Every Breath You Take,” (a dual Grammy-winner for The Police in 1984) which seemed to obfuscate the original possessive/paranoid tone of the song, only to give it a more ominous feel.
“Moon Over Bourbon Street,” was given a theatrical Halloween night treatment, with Sting relating how a walk in New Orleans and a call from Mel Brooks (asking the singer to appear in a film called “Dracula Sucks” — “Which was never made,” Sting flippantly stated) inspired his tale of a vampire seeking love. The Stage was lit in blue light except for Sting, who wore a long-tailed Victorian jacket for effect. Over the stage three cube-shaped projector screens rotated and played video of a full moon and clips from F.W. Murnau’s classic horror film “Nosferatu.” The cubes were omnipresent during the concert, adding images by Lillian Bassman, Michel Gondry and Antoine Catala to the numbers. The stage design (by artistic director Robert Molnar) was spare and modernist in a Bauhaus-influenced style.
Sting has become a subtle raconteur on stage, delivering humorous anecdotes on his jobs prior to his music career (one in particular was “the worst f***ing job I ever had” — obviously, considering how things worked out) and a poignant tale about his sea-faring ancestry and late father (a milkman), who wanted his son to go to sea, which Sting interpreted as a wanting for him to do “something exciting” with his life.
One of his best stories concerned the country-tinged “I Hung My Head,” (which Sting proudly stated was covered by Johnny Cash) the origins of which began when Sting was a youngster watching westerns, especially “Bonanza.” Sting held up a DVD collection of the popular 1960s TV show, saying how he wanted to be a member of the Cartwright clan (“Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright … Sting Cartwright”).
“You Will Be My Ain True Love” was given an almost reverent treatment by Sting and Jo Lowry, but reminded everyone present of the simple beauty of the Oscar-nominated song (a duet Sting performed with Alison Krauss for the film “Cold Mountain”).
The show was anything but stuffy and serious. There were moments when the violin section locked arms and twirled around in dance and the bassists stood up to do “the wave,” a sporting-event tradition. Sting danced and swiveled his hips during “She’s Too Good For Me” and several other up-tempo numbers. The entire atmosphere was light-hearted but not irreverent. “Fragile” (a somber classic that is fittingly remindful of each new world tragedy) was played solo by Sting on acoustic guitar as one of the encores. He closed the show with an acapella version of the intro to “I Was Brought To My Senses.”
“I was born in 1951,” Sting recounted prior to the song “Russians.” “I’m 58 — don’t do the math,” he wryly stated, his trim, youthful presence saying otherwise. By constantly challenging himself one can only surmise that the math will always contradict Sting’s passion and drive for originality. The nearly 2-1/2 hours of entertaining and diverse music produced a fabulous and memorable evening from a consummate performer and his band.
If I Ever Lose My Faith In You
Englishman In New York
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
Straight To My Heart
Fields Of Gold
I Hung My Head
Shape Of My Heart
Why Should I Cry For You?
Whenever I Say Your Name
When We Dance
Next To You
A Thousand Years
Tomorrow We'll See
Moon Over Bourbon Street
End Of The Game
You Will Be My Ain True Love
All Would Envy
Mad About You
King Of Pain
Every Breath You Take
She's Too Good For Me
I Was Brought to My Senses (acapella)
— Donald Gavron, July 31, 2010