ATLANTIC CITY — After selling millions of albums, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, writing an autobiography, releasing an album of lute music and even reuniting with his Police bandmates for an international tour, what else did Sting have to accomplish?
How about touring with a 45-piece orchestra? That’s exactly what Sting’s current tour — cleverly dubbed “Symphonicities,” the same name of the accompanying album that hits stores Tuesday — is offering his longtime fans. But Sting decided not just to tour with any orchestra; he enlisted the assistance of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which has backed everyone from Luciano Pavarotti to Tina Turner.
Sting, working from a rehearsed repertoire of 36 songs, offered 28 songs in a two-and-a-half-hour concert Friday at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa here that showed off the songwriter’s diverse catalog. The sheer power of the orchestra certainly did not overshadow Sting’s still-amazing vocals. The 58-year-old’s pipes are still able to hit all the high notes, and years of hard touring on the road have certainly not aged the British superstar, who looked remarkably youthful in an all-black ensemble that included a tight, buttoned jacket.
Reuniting with The Police in 2007 seemed to reinvigorate the singer, whose solo shows have seemed a tad lackluster over the years. His collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic builds on his personal stage resurgence, as he seemed eager to devour his material Friday night yet relaxed enough to enjoy himself.
Transforming Sting and Police songs to orchestral pieces isn’t all that shocking. Unlike bands like KISS and Metallica, who teamed with orchestras for albums and concerts, a good deal of Sting’s catalog already possesses intricate compositions, particularly The Police material he co-wrote with “uber” composer Stewart Copeland.
Masterfully conducted by the animated and entertaining Steven Mercurio, “Symphonicities” opened brilliantly with “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” as giant, moving light panels eventually turned into video screens above the orchestra. While the sound mix made the orchestra difficult to hear for the first four songs, most of the crowd didn’t seem to notice.
“Englishman in New York” offered a light, jazzy tone that sounded like it could be in a Woody Allen film, followed by the Police staple “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” a highlight of the night, and “Roxanne,” retooled into a quieter, softer form with gorgeous orchestration that breathed life into the overused tune.
Most of the night’s selections were wisely chosen and wonderfully executed. Ballads such as “When We Dance,” “Straight to My Heart” and “Why Should I Cry For You” were more powerful than the originals.
As expected, the crowd reacted positively to The Police re-creations than anything else, particularly “Every Breath You Take” and “King of Pain,” which really was spectacular with the orchestra’s support.
However, there were some less-than-stellar moments, particularly when the songs were over-orchestrated to the point that they felt like Broadway tunes, particularly the sleep-inducing “Moon Over Bourbon Street.” Other times, the orchestra didn’t seem to make an impact on the music. “Next To You,” “Fields of Gold,” “Desert Rose” and “A Thousand Years,” while all crowd pleasers, didn’t sound that much different to the originals.
Backup vocalist Jo Lawry wasn’t overly impressive. Her weakest moment was when she stepped in for the recorded version of Mary J. Blige on “Whenever I Say Your Name,” but she redeemed herself on “You Will Be My Ain True Love,” which Alison Krauss originally sang with Sting.
Oddly enough, despite the tour’s title, “Synchronicity II” wasn’t offered, which was surprising, since it would have worked well with the large orchestra. It would have also been nice to hear ‘Walking on the Moon” “Spirits in the Material World,” “Brand New Day,” “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “After the Rain Has Fallen” instead of the noir-ish “Tomorrow We’ll See,” “The End of the Game” and the trumpet-fueled “All Without Envy.”
Sting, as always, charmed the crowd with his English accent and sometimes-witty stories. Even more than usual, Sting talked about his songs and explained where many of them came from, including his love of Westerns — he held up a DVD collection of “Bonanza” — that led to him writing “I Hung My Head,” which was covered by the late Johnny Cash, one of Sting’s proudest moments. He even dedicated “Fragile” to the people in the Gulf who lost their jobs because of the recent oil spill.
Sting never seems to run out ways to reinvent himself while keeping himself amused. His latest experimentation couldn’t be more successful and entertaining. For music lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this.
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