Camden, NJ, US
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Sting, majestic alongside Royal Philharmonic...

His voice is one of the most magnificent wonders to experience live in concert, which is why it is no surprise that Sting demands the purest of sound in his music. In defying cultural and political barriers in his lyricism, Sting has defined a generation of songwriting throughout his solo career in addition to his accomplishments with his former band, The Police.

This summer, Sting has refined his greatest compositions and teamed up with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, most recently taking the 'Symphonicity' tour through the Philadelphia area this past Saturday night at Camden's Susquehanna Bank Centre. Surrounded by the 45-piece London-based orchestra conducted by Maestro Steven Mercurio along with his band, Sting stood at the helm of musical masterpiece as he brought his best known solo material and mixed in several songs from his days with The Police to the two-and-a-half-hour set.

Before opening with his hit song 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' off of his Grammy-nominated album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales', Sting, dressed formally in all black, greeted the audience then introduced the orchestra and his fantastic five-piece band along with critically acclaimed conductor Mercurio. In a theatre setting, the stage was transformed into an incredible acoustic soundscape with dramatic stage lighting. His voice has retained its form throughout his entire career, which was noticeable in the transition to the opening song of the evening. With his arm resting casually on his microphone stand, Sting followed with 'Englishman in New York' off of his 1987 album 'Nothing Like the Sun'.

The 'Symphonicity' project has brought new life and meaning to some of the songs in Sting's catalogue. ''One thing about his project was to discover some new things that were never heard in the music,'' Sting said of the arrangements.

Musically and logistically it has been an amazing endeavour, but fronting an orchestra seemed to be the ultimate setting for Sting as he has had so much more to work with on the musical palette.

I was interested to see how much of a presence the orchestra would have on the rock-based songs from his days with The Police. With fans on their feet, Sting transitioned into 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and followed with 'Roxanne', two of the most well known songs from the industrial sounds of The Police. As the mood shifted to a Cold War-era vibe, a blanket of red lighting covered the stage as Sting transitioned into his politically driven song 'Russians', from his debut album 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles'. ''We share the same biology, regardless of ideology,'' Sting sang powerfully into the cool night air; I have always especially liked that lyric in 'Russians'.

Act one included one of my favorite Sting songs, 'Shape Of My Heart', that he co-wrote with his long time guitarist Dominic Miller. The song features a reoccurring intricate guitar riff from Miller throughout the song but lyrically is so complex. The meaning appears to be about a card player that continues to defeat his opponents but also touches on the African diamond trade in the chorus.

''I know that diamonds mean money for this art, but that's not the Shape Of My Heart,'' sang Sting. Also featured in the first set was the song 'Whenever I Say Your Name' from Sting's 2003 release, 'Sacred Love'. Backup vocalist Jo Lawry got a chance to showcase her incredible voice on the duet as she was featured on the parts sung by Mary J. Blige on the original recording.

With a short intermission in between the two main sets to the show, Sting returned with 'A Thousand Years', the opening song off of his 1999 album 'Brand New Day'. As Sting continued to speak a little about each song's history I found it interesting how he explained his process for writing and assembling songs. ''In the past 10 years or so I have completely finished the arrangement and structure of the music before writing song lyrics,'' Sting said. He also mentioned how it allowed for the music lead the direction of how the emotion of the song will pan out and what story will become of each song.

''What emerged from this music disturbed me greatly,'' Sting said prior to singing 'Tomorrow We'll See', off of 'Brand New Day'. As the emotion transitioned into a darker and spookier feeling, Sting threw on a vampire's cape as he sang 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' with a resemblance of a full moon lingering overhead on the large screens.

With fans rising to their feet midway through the song 'King of Pain', where the music builds up especially in the chorus, Sting jammed on his nylon stringed guitar as Dominic Miller soloed to a roaring crowd. The entire orchestra was really getting into the music as you could see the string sections swaying back and forth in synchronicity. Closing out the main part of his second set, Sting offered up 'Every Breath You Take', one of The Police's greatest songs. The lyrics to the song are so beautiful and this has remained one of my favourite songs of all-time. The extended version included Sting's signature calls to the audience in the ending and finished off with a great standing ovation.

Swiftly bowing to the audience and sliding off stage, Sting quickly returned for an encore as he dove into 'Desert Rose', the compelling song with a middle-eastern aura to it that featured Algerian-born singer Cheb Mami on the album version. The bridge parts in 'Desert Rose' were so electrifying and much stronger with the full orchestra at the foundation. ''I dream of rain/I dream of gardens in the desert sand/I wake in vain/I dream of love as time runs through my hand,'' sang Sting with fans on their feet. He continued the encore with the upbeat 'She's Too Good For Me' and followed with the delicate song 'Fragile' that has become an integral part to his shows. Sting's guitar playing was the most distinct on 'Fragile' as he played the opening riffs in front of a smooth string arrangement. As Sting brought the night to a close, he finished the show with an acapella version of his song 'I Was Brought To My Senses' from his album 'Mercury Falling'.

I think the one word that would best describe Sting's voice and the overall performance on Saturday evening is, majestic. I was glad to see much more of his solo material featured throughout the concert as the night provided unforgettable arrangements to his greatest compositions. Fronting the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra was a spectacle to see and Sting seemed so consumed and overtaken in the music at times. His voice and songwriting are so immaculate and will continue to resonate for generations to come.

(c) The News of Delaware County by Nick Gunther