Sting at Sandalford...
January 22, 2011 

What popular music style hasn't Sting dabbled in, and why is it perfectly logical for him to be touring with a symphony orchestra in tow?

Well, remember '70s supergroup The Police?

It was Sting's launching pad, and he was singing, rocking, punking and playing with reggae beats in the company of Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers.

What about Sting's jazz phase in the '80s?

He teamed up with the stellar young lions of the time and shared the stage with Branford Marsalis, Omar Hakim and the late Kenny Kirkland. In that company, Sting could do no wrong.

What else?

Sting has embraced, played or toyed with everything from country ballads to Memphis-soul to world-beat. And, yeah, there's even a flamenco-tinged tune thrown in there somewhere.

Like Bowie or Madonna, Sting needed to reinvent himself once again. This time around, it was in a symphonic context. Of course, it's not a complete re-invention. It's really more like a case of old wine in new bottles.

Tonight almost 12,000 people at Sandalford Estate, Swan Valley were treated to a two-set smorgasbord of Sting's signature songs lavishly and lushly accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (under the direction of Steven Mercurio) and a quartet of longtime Sting band members, including exquisite guitarist Dominic Miller.

Fans heard all the biggest songs made famous by Sting and The Police. Selections, created especially for this tour, included fan-favorites such as The Police hits "Roxanne", "Next To You" and "Every Breath You Take," as well as those made famous by Sting as a solo artist - "Englishman In New York," "Fragile," "Russians," "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You," "Fields Of Gold," and "Desert Rose."

Sting explored the richness of his catalog with an entertaining and satisfying collection of 26 songs that had been rearranged to make great use of the orchestra, and to show off Sting's voice. At 59, he may not be able to sustain the high notes, but he hit all the right ones.

The packed crowd at Sandalford Estate ate it up when he said he was playing with "the biggest band I ever had in my life."

With rocking hits like the crowd-pleasing "Every Little She Does is Magic" early in the show, it seemed as if the band would upstage the orchestra.

But the concert deepened as it progressed with "Russians" inspired by the realities of the Cold War. With a chorus already inspired by Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije," the song allowed the orchestra to show off its dexterity with a brash, discordant and tense introduction that sounded like a conflict with a heavy-footed Soviet marching band. It was a thrilling musical moment, and the orchestra referenced it with various instruments throughout the song.

The orchestra injected a new energy into the 1999 song "Tomorrow We'll See," an already moody piece about understanding a transsexual's point of view, allowing the lush orchestration to allude to a 1960s Burt Bacharach beat.

"Moon Over Bourbon Street" -- Sting's homage to the New Orleans in Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire"- displayed the orchestra's ability to show a range of moods and emotions from ominous to playful. "End of the Game," which opens as with gentle, pastoral strings, featured the interplay of strings and horns the built toward a rocking beat that brought the audience to its feet.

The true surprise was the sad and beautiful "All Would Envy," a song written in 1999 that didn't make it onto the album "Brand New Day," but with its steady beat recalling a samba and Sting's quiet singing, it allowed a strong trumpet solo to lead the audience's attention and let the orchestra's rich, resonant sound come forward.

Sting wisely placed hits at the beginning and ends of sets.

The orchestra went punk, with violinsts' bows jumping to the staccato beat of 1977's "Next to You." And when Sting went from "King of Pain" to "Every Breath You Take" (both from 1983, and when is the last time you listened to those two former radio staples?), the audience let out a collective gasp of surprise, as if just remembering how enjoyable those songs are.

Clearly, Sting has been entertaining for a long time, and his concert showed he has plenty more tricks up his sleeve as he reinvents himself -- and his music.

While certainly not the first rock musician to collaborate with an orchestra - heck, everybody from the Moody Blues to Metallica has done it - Sting's melding of rock and classical came off better than most, as he cherry-picked selections from throughout his Police and solos career. Symphonicity, indeed.

So, how was the generous, three-hour performance? In one word - Priceless!!!!

No doubt for you and everybody else who attended, tonight's performance will long be remembered as another one of the GREAT shows to take place at Sandalford Estate, Swan Valley in the 10 years since the first concert was held.

© Sandalford.com

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