Sting has toured Australia three times in the past three years and if one was for the money (the mega successful, stadium-filling Police reunion), the other two (a study of 16th-century songwriter John Dowland, and the present one, an orchestral reinterpretation of his songbook) were definitely for the show. The latest, titled 'Symphonicity', finds the personable 59-year-old fronting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, tackling frequently daring rearrangements of some of his best-loved works.
Across 2? hours and 27 songs, they more than tinkered with his catalogue, often with thrilling results. The orchestra was not simply a lush addition to complement some of his most mellow moments, although this approach on his beautiful ballad Fields Of Gold provided a highlight.
Much more interesting were the Latin rhythms of 'All Would Envy', the radical refiguring of 'Roxanne' as an intense crooner's ballad, his study of the Cold War tensions, 'Russians', that built to a powerful crescendo before being reduced to a solitary trumpet figure, and the boyish playfulness of 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'. Best of all was the western ballad 'I Hung My Head'. Now dressed in Morricone-scale orchestration, the arresting Italian vision of the Wild West was so grand you could practically see Sting inhabit the doomed protagonist.
The set was well-paced, with more hits to be found in the first half. If the material slipped a little at the beginning of the second bracket, Sting the veteran entertainer came to the fore.
'This Cowboy Song' may be essentially a tentative nod to country music, and the song struggled to match Rob Mathes' glorious Oklahoma-inspired introduction, but a brief bout of tongue-in-cheek line dancing from the singer, his co-vocalist Jo Lawry, guitarist Dominic Miller and bass player Ira Coleman saved the day.
Soon after, he donned a long black coat for a tour of New Orleans at night on 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'. He finished the song with a werewolf's howl.
After decades where a sense of fun appeared to be in short supply, this humour was echoed through the set. He appeared to be enjoying himself immensely, and never more than when offering 'Englishman in New York' and 'Russians', where he could emphasise the wordplay of his Great American Songbook-style lyrics. Next step Broadway?
© The Australian by Polly Coufos