Sting feels a bit self-indulgent with orchestra

Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Pa., January 9, 2023

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

It is impossible not to not be mesmerized by Sting; the golden locks, the butterscotch voice and a youthful exuberance that belies his 71 years, most of which were spent as a rock star fronting inarguably one of the greatest bands of all time.

As a solo artist, he has stretched musical boundaries with forays into jazz, classical and even country. His show with the Pittsburgh symphony orchestra was billed as "his greatest hits reimagined with symphonic arrangement."

Sting opened fittingly with the bouncy "Englishman in New York" as he strutted across the stage a with a dancer's precision and chatted up the audience. Throughout the evening, he shared the inspiration and context for many of the songs from his deep catalog.

The show was as much about letting the magnificent "world class" (in Sting's words) symphony shine as it was for the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and 12-time Grammy winner.

He was at his best vocally on his solo material. "Shape of my Heart" featured his gorgeous timbre for four minutes while he played a very capable acoustic guitar. He confessed he listened to a lot of country music in his youth (or "country and western as they say across the pond") and was over the moon when the late, great Johnny Cash cut "I Hung My Head"

There are downsides to working with an orchestra. Classical music is very technical. Sometimes it lacks linear melodies. With only four Police songs in the set and an abundance of solo material, some of which was obscure, made the show feel disjointed and inaccessible at times. Who knows any of the songs from his musical "The Last Ship? Who has the soundtrack to his musical "The Last Ship?" Oddly, he did not perform "Message In a Bottle" which is tantamount to the Stones omitting "Jumping Jack Flash "from their setlist.

With ticket prices ranging from $450 to $1,000, fans deserve to hear his career makers in whatever style he chooses. In an interview with industry great Rick Beato, Sting confessed that he has been around long enough and proved his worth, so he does not have to constrain his endeavors or tussle with label execs. "Basically, I do whatever the F I want."

Sting is the master of the side project. He has assembled a top-notch jazz band for his first solo album, acted in movies and scored soundtracks and even released an album of lute music that went number one. But as for being a peer in a symphony, this project feels a bit feels a bit self-indulgent.

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