Do you remember that television commercial from years ago featuring Sting? He was riding in a car surrounded by publicity flaks, all of them bombarding him with products related to his sublime Stingness. One even pitched a toaster that burnt his likeness onto toast.
It was, of course, meant to be funny. But sometimes Sting kind of comes off as a guy who, in real life, might actually own a toaster that did just that. But even if he doesn't, it's a neat analogy for Mr. Sting's lasting impression on this planet, something that, over the years, has made him loads of bread.
Cut to Wednesday night at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, the first stop on the pun-tastically named Symphonicity Tour: Sting, Featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Conducted by Steven Mercurio.
Quite the mouthful. But with Sting's breath, with Sting's flow, we would know, Symphonicity...
Of course, this inaugural performance was more than just a connecting principle linked to the invincible. And with top-end tickets going for $267.50, seeing it wasn't for the stingy.
But let's be fair: a 45-piece orchestra, conductor, guitarist, standup bass player, drummer and one female backup singer obviously doesn't come cheap.
It wasn't just musical fare, however: ten international artists - including Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth and Takeshi Murata - were invited to contribute accompanying video projects, all shown on a trio of neat Asian-inspired screens that were suspended above the performers.
Sir Sting (he's not really a knight but it just sounds right), dressed as a some kind of futuristic concierge, delved deep into the back catalogue - Police and solo work - performing material spanning roughly 35 years.
The symphonic arrangements certainly breathed new life into some of the songs, particularly on the Police material. Even angry songs like 'Roxanne' - which is really an angry song about the end of a relationship - becomes re-contextualized into a romantic light (which, as it happens, literally bathed the stage in red).
Speaking of red, ominous orchestral maneuverings signaled an overbearing musical march into Sting's Cold-War classic, 'Russians'.
From Mutual Assured Destruction themes, Sting and guests transitioned into 'Fields of Gold'. This seemed somewhat abrupt at first, but, really, post-nuclear annihilation, a golden happy place would be the logical next step.
By the time he picked up a guitar for the first time and performed 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', fair to say Sir Sting had the well-dressed crowd wrapped around his.
And make no mistake: no matter how many people were accompanying him onstage, there was never any question as to who was at the centre of it. There was some nice solo work by the orchestra - including a memorable two-part volin bit on 'Whenever I Say Your Name' - but it's not really about the arrangements, is it?
Having said that, some of them worked better than others. 'Message in a Bottl'e missed the mark, if only because the arrangement floated around rather aimlessly. It could've used a push from a strong ska current to carry it through to shore.
Then again, 'Next to You', a four-chord rock track from 1977, featured a more aggressive arrangement by Rob Mathes that worked well, carrying the crowd into the intermission on a high note.
By press time, and only halfway through the show, one thing was clear: Sting may not be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but, on this night anyway, a couple thousand freshly buttered-up concertgoers here in Vancouver could make a case that he ought to be the toast of the town.
© The Vancouver Sun by Graeme McRanor