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Concert Reviews:
(Nearly) Every Little Thing Sting Does Is Magic At DTE

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Saturday, July 17, 2010

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- On paper it looked a bit, well, dubious, the idea of Sting fronting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through retooled versions of his Police and solo songs. It's no secret the guy's ambitious, but this seemed like the one indulgence that could very well go awry.

Never, however, bet against him.

The British pop music auteur and occasional actor's "Symphonicities" outing on Friday night (July 16) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre was, in fact, a disarming delight, clever and credible without any of the usual pitfalls of rock-goes-classical pretension. The vast majority of the two dozen songs were nicely fit with new orchestral clothes by a corps of commissioned arrangers, who clearly took pains to complement the melodies rather than make wholesale changes, while the Royal Philharmonic -- led by Steven Mercurio, who danced and leapt at the podium like a maestro Mick Jagger -- played with both symphonic subtlety and big band bluster.

And then there was Sting himself, acting as band leader as much as featured vocalist as he singled out soloists -- including his longtime guitarist Domnic Miller and backing vocalist Jo Lawry -- and offered explanations and anecdotes about many of the songs with self-deprecating charm. With actor Hugh Jackman looking on from a few rows in front of the stage, Sting told the nearly full DTE pavilion (no lawn tickets were sold) about his fondness for American westerns, even showing off a "Bonanza" DVD, and about his family's history in the sea and shipbuilding industries in his native Wallsend, England, until his late father broke tradition and became a milk man. Nevertheless, Sting said, his father ultimately encouraged his son to go out to sea, too. "I think he wanted me to have an exciting life," Sting noted.

The "Symphonicities" show certainly delivered exciting sonics for his fans. The lushness of the arrangements brought renewed power to pieces such as "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You," "Fields of Gold," "A Thousand Years," "End of the Game," "Mad About You" and "All Would Envy." The Western-themed "I Hung My Head" took on the cinematic sweep worth of a John Ford film, while "My Ain True Love," which Sting -- who played guitar, harmonica and, for one song, theremin during the night -- wrote for Alison Krauss to sing in the Oscar-nominated "Cold Mountain," became even more haunting with a new violin and cello introduction.

"Roxanne" was given a lush treatment with cello and clarinet features, the latter of which also highlighted "Englishman in New York," a bouncy call-and-response singalong that found the brass section standing up to lead the crowd in the final "oh-ohs." The string section, meanwhile, showed it could play and dance -- somewhat -- during lightly choreographed sections of "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" and "She's Too Good For Me." "Russians" included musical quotes from the works of composers Sergei Prokofiev and Modest Mussorgsky, while the Police hits "Next to You," "King of Pain" and "Every Breath You Take" were delivered with muscular rock energy led by Sting's rhythm section.

The summer season usually brings an array of "symphonic rock" ensembles that orchestrate the catalogs of, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the like with limited results. But with "Symphonicities," Sting took the concept to new heights, another entry in his resume of unlikely -- but not surprising -- artistic achievements.

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