Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra June 23 Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Very few musicians have the means - or ability -- to tour with an entire orchestra. Fewer still would dub the tour something as cheeky as "Symphonicity" - e.g., a pun-laden reference to a blockbuster album. But that juxtaposition of the lighthearted and the refined summed up Sting's magnificent show with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra last night at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.
The sweltering night began with two jubilant solo numbers, "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" and "Englishman in New York," and then a pair of Police classics, "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" and "Roxanne." Starting the set this way was smart: By easing the audience into the orchestral experience with familiar tunes -- instead of challenging them immediately with the unknown - Sting could push boundaries later in the set.
And push them he did, for better or for worse. As expected, the pace of the night was slow and lingering - perfect for the atmosphere but at times a little too mellow. The night's most upbeat numbers were the most successful, in fact. "Whenever I Say Your Name," originally a duet with Mary J. Blige from 2003's Sacred Love, became a funky, hip-hop-influenced heater with the addition of a violin solo and Sting's female vocal counterpart, Jo Lawry. (The song also threatened to segue into "We'll Be Together" at any moment; a lost opportunity that it didn't.) A brisk, symphonic-rock version of the Police's "Next to You" was another highlight. Orchestra director Steven Mercurio violently slashed his baton through the air, as guitarist Dominic Miller strode to the front of the stage to exhibit some traditional rock-god moves. Even Sting did a little air-kick at the end; the net result was a punk-rock orchestra.
"Shape of My Heart" featured nimble, Spanish-influenced guitar work from Miller, while "Tomorrow We'll See" felt like a burlesque Broadway tune with sharp brass accents; this added color made Sting's already-ornate songs livelier. The orchestra - and its animated conductor, Mercurio - deserve kudos for powering through the oppressive heat. (Reference: Saw a bank clock read 91 degrees at 11:15 p.m. while driving home. It was easily ten degrees hotter when the show started.) Anyone who's ever played a musical instrument knows that high temperatures and humidity are devastating to pitch, but the music was en pointe throughout. Soloists were strong, and Sting more often than not reverently watched them perform.
It's important to note that the setlist was geared toward more-than-casual fans of Sting's solo career - not Sting generalists or Police fans. That doesn't mean the latter two groups couldn't (and didn't) enjoy the show. But the focus on deeper cuts certainly revealed the care and detail given to song selection: The rarity "All Would Envy" sizzled like a steamy night in a Madrid club, and the Soul Cages tune "Mad About You" (inspired by the "second book of Samuel, chapter eleven" in the Bible, Sting noted) was equally seductive.