Monday, July 05, 2010


On June 21st, I was lucky enough to go see Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Xcel Energy Center.

I had never seen Gordon Sumner (Sting's real name) before, but I was told the concerts he puts on are quite fun.

This one was...and wasn't. It's not that the show was bad, but it just

Upon entering the XEC, the entire arena was filled with smoke. Not, "Help, help! There's a fire smoke," but, "Obviously set up to create ambiance through lighting later," smoke. While not overly problematic, it did make looking around and just sitting a little difficult.

The first thing that really struck me, however, was that I was twenty years younger than almost all the audience members. It was all silver hair (or no hair for that matter). Stuck in-between pentagenerians was the occasional teenager. None looked excited. It would turn out a teenager was sitting three seats from me as I sat on the aisle of row 6 in the left section. When I asked him why he was there to watch the show, he replied, "My mom made me. I have to..." and he paused and looked at this woman standing near us in a sundress that could almost barely stand. Then he said, "I have to watch her." It would turn out that he most definitely had to, as she would later try to get close to Sting.

I read in the Star Tribune that maybe 6,000 people showed up, and I believe that number to be fairly low. While there were empty seats (and the show did start late as they really wanted people sitting), there was closer to 10,000 people there. I used to be a season ticket holder for the Minnesota Wild and have seen the XEC sold out. It was not that packed, but the floor was full, the lower bowl was mostly full, and the club level was almost completely full. Of course it's true, from what I was told, The Police concert was almost as full as a Wild game. Still, this wasn't a bad audience...for the most part.

After starting late, the audience was treated to Philharmonic orchestra coming out on stage and beginning the show with Steven Mercurio firing up the "band" before Sting himself walked out on stage. And it was his beginning with "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," that made me realize: This man is old. He's 58, and though he looks good, he doesn't have the same sound as 15-20 years ago. I listened to Ten Summoner's Tails when I was in high school, and Mr. Sumner could WAIL on the chorus of that song. He sounded strained that night at the X. He also didn't move. Understand, this is a man who came out half naked in David Lynch's version of Dune and slithered like a snake. Beyond that, he just oozed appeal from his movements. During this show, Sting spent his time at the microphone with a tambourine on a stand for him to hit to follow the beat. It made him look (no pun intended) fragile.

The lack of backup dancers and Sting's movement, however, was made up for by Mercurio who conducted with such passion, that he was like a backup dancer moving around the orchestra (so to speak) to get the best performance.

Where I was really bothered, however, was not in the fact that Sting has grown older (that's a given for anyone), nor was I bothered by the set list (more on that later), nor did security bother me (as they chose certain people to take away their recording devices, but not all). No, my issue, as a theatre geek of sorts, was the set, sound, and lighting most of the time. When I was in college, my lighting instructor told me that I tended to light shows like concerts. This meant I had a knack for moving lights and knowing when to light the speaker (or singer). Thus, I was incredibly frustrated that Sting began almost every the dark. He'd sing and get into the verse only to have the light pop on about three or four seconds too late. It was frustrating to me. I can only imagine what the Stage Manager thought.

Beyond the lighting, the mix wasn't the best (maybe it was because I was close), so that Sting's voice was occasionally drowned out by the orchestra. During one of my favorite songs, "A Thousand Years", there were times when the musicians completely overpowered Sting's voice so that he was below the strings.

And the set.

I don't quiet understand the panels. There were three giant panels that were raised and lowered throughout the show. It felt kind of pointless at first, though toward the end of the first set they did show Sting being soulful (see above), and some art pieces (some of which were during "Tomorrow We'll See"...a Freaking out Lucha Libre is not what I see during that song).

And yet there some beautiful numbers on the set list.

During the first set, we were given:

Here is what Sting played with strings:
"If I Ever Lose My Faith in You"
"Englishman in New York"
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
"Straight to My Heart"
"When We Dance"
"I Hung My Head"
"Shape of My Heart"
"Why Should I Cry"
"Whenever I Say Your Name"
"Fields of Gold"
"Next to You"

I've never really been a fan of "Fields of Gold", and here it was played as saccharine sentimentality to the point of being hard to hear. We had to have a history lesson for the youngins' in the audience to understand the song "Russians" (and still had a teenager near me say, "Who is Reagan?"). I've also personally never been a fan of "I Hung My Head", but many people near me really liked this take on it. "Englishman in New York" found Sting obviously annoyed with the audience as he kept trying to get them to sing with him and the lack of participation was obviously annoying him.

During his explanations between songs, Sting was unfortunately heckled by a fan who yelled (not kidding), "Freebird!" Like a good showman, the former Police singer stopped, looked at the man, and said, "No, sir, I didn't write that one...and I remember my first joint too." Unfortunately, that man would yell, "Freebird," again later.

It was at this point I was surprised that the band and Sting took a twenty minute intermission. Maybe they knew their audience. However, they returned early. It was as if Mr. Sumner wanted to get the heck out of dodge.

Returning five minutes early, they played:
"A Thousand Years"
"Tomorrow We’ll See"
"Moon over Bourbon Street"
"The End of the Game"
"My Ain True Love"
"All Would Envy"
"Mad About You"
"King of Pain"
"Every Little Breath You Take"

"King of Pain" is always an enjoyable song, and he made it even more fun with the orchestra behind him. While Jo Lewis is a beautiful woman (who has nailed the back up singer sway) and quite talented, she's no Alison Krauss. This was seen when she sang "My Ain True Love" with Sting and most of the audience members around me said, "Better with Alison Krauss," out loud.
Where Sting almost lost me was when he turned "Moon over Bourbon Street" from an incredibly lovely jazz tune into a strange horror piece, complete with pointless costume change and a theremin solo. While I applaud Sting for trying something new, the theremin proved to be annoying, and to play it while clips from Max Shreck's version of
Nosferatu played on the panels made it feel as though Sting was playing to the Twilight crowd. In my book, it didn't work. It's a jazz number...period.

There were four encores:
"Desert Rose"
"She’s Too Good for Me"
"I Was Brought to My Senses"

I know the Star Tribune marked it as being only two encores, but the fact that the band and Sting kept leaving the stage and then returning (to me) means four encores, not two. "Desert Rose" was done well, but Sting should not do the opening. "She's too Good for Me" was also well done. However, the highlight of the encore was the actual opening where Sting returned to stage with an iPod on and began singing "Freebird." I managed to shoot this part of the show....

Of course he also sang "Fragile", which was pretty but again had strange visuals. Finally, after long coaxing from an audience that didn't want 1984 to end, Sting returned one more time to sing the opening lines to "I Was Brought to my Senses." While pretty, it almost felt like he was doing it as a quick means to keep traffic clear while he and the orchestra shot out of town in their buses.

It was a nice concert. Probably not as rocking as Tom Petty, who rolled in the next night, but enjoyable. However, it demonstrated that rockers and musicians do in fact change as they get older. Even James Taylor can't sing "Steamroller" like he used to, and Sting is no exception. His voice has changed. I was also sad that he didn't have his Lute with him as "Until" is one of my favorite songs, but I digress.

Yes, it was enjoyable, but different from what I expected. As the tour continues on, I would merely ask those lighting cues be fixed. Do that, and the show will be much better.


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