With help of orchestra, Sting delivers masterful performance

A review of Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at the Comcast Center on July 29, 2010

, Managing Editor

Throughout his career Sting has never shied away from experimentation in his sound, especially in the past decade during which he’s released an album with hip-hop elements, another of lute music, and his most recent, If On a Winter’s Night…, based on an Italian novel. This year Sting has continued to branch from his traditional sound as he tours with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra (RPCO) for his cleverly titled “Symphonicity” Tour, which stopped at the Comcast Center in Mansfield last Thursday.

The two were a perfect match as Sting is no stranger to the world of classical music and the RPCO are renowned for their arrangements of both classical and popular music. Sting’s music lent itself beautifully to the orchestra’s re-working, and in some cases total re-imagining, as the songs were transformed. The arrangement for “Roxanne” gave it a softer, more gorgeous sound that was so sweet it almost made one forget that the song is about a prostitute.

Sting and the RPCO played two sets, with the first mostly proceeding in the vein of “Roxanne”, soft and relaxed. A couple exceptions came in form of “Straight To My Heart” as conductor Steven Mercurio hopped about during the chorus, and “Russians” which drew a standing ovation for the striking musicianship on display.

With a pair as honored and established as Sting and the RPCO, the music was expected to be spectacular. Beyond the music, Sting went above expectations. He was both charming and personable, keeping the audience engrossed as he told stories behind the music. He shared his fondness for Boston before “Roxanne” as he told the story of the song becoming a hit after WBCN put it in rotation. He also shared his affection for country music and childhood love of Westerns like “Bonanza” before “I Hung My Head”, noting his excitement after Johnny Cash covered the song.

Sting’s stories created a relaxed, informal atmosphere and the second set was even looser as Sting and the orchestra returned sans jackets. It began with a theatrical feel as Sting told the story of the male transvestite prostitute character he wrote “Tomorrow We’ll See” about. The depth of the orchestra’s arrangement, a video of a masked near-naked dancer, and Sting’s storytelling built a connection between the audience and the character, as strange as it may be. The Broadway-esque “Moon Over Bourbon Street” followed as Sting adorned a long, black Dracula-like coat for the song he wrote about being followed by a vampire. A moon crossed over the three floating square screens above the stage as Sting crooned and then creeped with an eerie theremin solo.

The lively, Middle Eastern-flavored “Mad About You” shifted the mood after the sultry “Envy”, setting up a string of hits to close out the set. “King of Pain” got fans out of their seats and singing along as the string section hopped out of their chairs in uniform following the bridge. “Every Breath You Take” then drew women to the front in packs (the ladies love stalker songs) and closed out the second set. Sting would return for several encores, first for “Desert Rose”, which he shimmied his way through. The string section donned fedoras for “She’s Too Good For Me” as the orchestra created a party atmosphere. However, Sting closed the show out on a calmer note as he returned once again for a short a cappella rendition of “I Was Brought To My Senses”.

With the difficulty in traveling with an entire orchestra, and matching schedules with a continuously active rock star, it’s uncertain whether Sting and the RPCO will be able to do something like this again, or at least in the near future. The Comcast Center had an underwhelming attendance for this show but the way fans embraced this partnership you can be assured that if the two were to fortunately come together again, wherever it may be can expect a packed house.

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