Sting brings Symphonicities tour to Atlanta

Live Review: Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Chastain Park, 6/29/10

Gordon Sumner has been through many incarnations in his life. Before selling millions of records, he was labeled with the nickname “Sting” by his school buddies (for always wearing the same black and yellow striped sweater). But musically, Sting was a member of Last Exit, a large jazz ensemble he played with while still teaching school as a day job. Then, meeting up with the American, punk-influenced drummer Stewart Copeland, they formed the Police. After the demise of that group following the chart-topping perfection of Synchronicity, Sting dropped his first solo album, which ventured back into a bit of jazz.

Since then, he’s experimented with the horn-heavy “Detroit” sound (Mercury Falling), taken on the John Dowland catalog of 16th and 17th century lute music (Songs From The Labyrinth), recorded a dark and personal album of traditional middle ages music (If On A Winter’s Night…), and now put some of his most celebrated songs into a symphonic setting. All the while, keeping intact his core fan base, mainly because he is an artist who takes chances and follows his heart, not the Top 40 avenues.

So, it was on this night in Atlanta, at beautiful Chastain Park Amphitheatre, that Sting performed his Symphonicities for a large and appreciative crowd. As summertime lightening was held at bay as a backdrop, Sting and the 45-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played a terrific two-and-a-half hour concert. The show kicked off with “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” followed by some older Police tunes (“Next To You,” “Roxanne,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “King Of Pain,” and “Every Breath You Take”). But most of the set list was culled from Sting’s prolific solo career that has now spanned 25 years.

Some of the evening’s highlights included the cold war classic “Russians” from his first solo effort, 1985’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles (“There is no historical precedent to put the words in the mouth of the president / There’s no such thing as a winnable war, it’s the lie we don’t believe anymore”). Still timely. The song telling the story of an accidental shooting and its aftermath (covered by Johnny Cash shortly before his death), “I Hung My Head,” was emotionally powerful (“My brother’s rifle went off in my hand / And a shot rang out across the land / The horse it kept running, the rider was dead / I hung my head / I hung my head”). Others included “Shape Of My Heart,” “Englishman In New York,” the raucous “She’s Too Good For Me,” “Fragile,” “Moon Over Bourbon Street,” and “Fields Of Gold.”

Throughout the performance, Sting stood aside several times, giving the stage to the perfect Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The songs were rich and alive. But they’re not just Police and Sting songs with added orchestra. These, for the most part, have been rearranged and “reimagined” for this Symphonicities tour. So Gordon Sumner is enjoying his newest musical evolution. What could he possibly do next? Buy Sting’s Symphonicities out July 13.

Sting Brings Bleakness and Beauty with If On a Winter’s Night…

Sting, If On a Winter’s Night…
(Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Classical)

Whenever musical artists stray from their customary paths, there is invariably an outcry from fans around the world. People, in general, fear change. They thrive in their comfort zones. But it is only with change that one can truly grow. Sting discovered this in 2006 with Songs From The Labyrinth, a medieval, lute-laden collection of tunes from the songbook of John Dowland (1563-1626). He created an album that was close to his heart because he could. Do we really want to hear “Roxanne” being regurgitated by Sting for the rest of his life? Not me.

So, it was in a similar vein that Sting has released If On a Winter’s Night…, his very first “holiday” record. Holiday is in quotes because Sting has expanded the idea into a collection of traditional winter songs from the British Isles covering roughly five centuries. This, in fact, is where he was born and raised as Gordon Matthew Sumner. At 58, Sting has deserved this journey of introspection and beauty.

The fifteen tracks on Winter’s Night are mostly made up of old English carols, lullabies, and traditional tunes. You may, however, recognize a couple of these. The lead off song is “Gabriel’s Message,” originally found on the Special Olympics charity album A Very Special Christmas (1987); and “Hounds Of Winter,” from Sting’s Mercury Falling (1996). Both have shed their pop-song sounds for a much folksier, personal arrangement.

Track five finds Sting singing the Robert Louis Stevenson poem “Christmas At Sea” (Lyrics by Stevenson, music by Sting). “Soul Cake” could possibly be considered the first single from Winter’s Night. It’s the closest to a pop song that exists on this album. Sting’s other offering is “Lullaby for an Anxious Child.” Other selections that may relate the general mood of the album are, “The Snow It Melts the Soonest,” “Cold Song,” “Now Winter Comes Slowly,” and the Bach inspired “You Only Cross My Mind in Winter.”

This music may remind us of cold, dark, and lonely winter days when the deafening silence forced your mind to look inward. However it affects you, Sting has once again followed his heart and created a wonderful collection of songs showcasing his musical aptitude through a deep gaze into his soul.

16. STING, 8/31/85

Location: Sandstone Amphitheatre, Bonner Springs, KS
Support act(s): ?
In the company of: Gregg H.

This was Sting’s first solo tour, supporting his first solo album, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles.” The outdoor venue was the perfect setting for my then fave performer. This would be the first time I heard Sting perform Police classics on his own. As he always does, Sting steered clear of regurgitating the songs as they were recorded. He is a phenomenal musician and puts a different slant on each song each time you see him.

I don’t recall the set list or even if he had an opener, but he was the main ticket that night.