As many of you know, I grew up in NJ, just across Raritan Bay south of NYC. When you live in the shadow of a city the size of New York, it’s difficult to get tickets to see anyone without spending the night sleeping on the sidewalk outside the Ticketmaster Office. So I was excited last Friday, when I learned that a friend had two extra tickets for Sting with the Royal Philharmonic at Jiffy Lube Live. Mary, my better half, is a long time fan, and I’ve always appreciated Sting’s talent and innovative style, both during his time with the Police and as a solo artist.
Our seats were right of center about 30 rows back, close enough to see and far enough out for a good mix. I approached the show with some trepidation, as I’ve been to concerts where the artists take the audience for a stroll down memory lane, playing all their hits “just like the record,” or introducing tunes from the “new album” that sound just like the old album. For Sting, a consummate innovator, this was not the case. There was new material; people I spoke to afterward said that there were many songs that they’d never heard. The hits were there, tastefully arranged to accommodate the rich sonority of the orchestra but still instantly recognizable. This was not 1001 strings play the hits of the Police. The transparent instrumentation of the original versions provided a familiar foundation, with the orchestra adding layers of sound to the texture. String and brass flourishes, along with fine solos from the principal violin, cello, clarinet and trumpet, made the music sound fresh, although adding mics to the orchestral instruments sometimes resulted in an unwelcome harshness of tone.
The overall mix was good, although the bass was often muddy from where I sat and lacked the clarity of Sting’s own bass sound. Sting concentrated on vocals for the most part, occasionally playing acoustic or electric guitar, with one solo on a theremin, an early electronic instrument (1928) used for eerie sounds on movie soundtracks like “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” His distinctive voice sounds as good as ever, and his ability to hold a pitch without vibrato for long periods is spectacular.
Lighting and multi-media effects were mostly understated and provided a fine visual accompaniment to the music without being a distraction. In addition to providing a nice view of the featured artist and soloists for the folks in the cheap(er) seats, the big video screens flanking the stage provided some exciting views of the orchestra up close, including the violin section dancing the twist while seated with violins and bows waving and various orchestral musicians singing backup vocals for fun. The conductor engaged in diverse jumps, leaps, stomps, slashes, punches and other aerobic and martial arts conducting gestures, often looking like a heavy metal guitarist sans guitar, which provided a fine visual complement to Sting’s quiet energy on stage. There were two sets of music and four encores. We definitely got our money’s worth and I’d certainly recommend it as a show worth seeing.
- Multi-gig mp3 players and headphones are great. Now go out and see a live show.
- Orchestral musicians have just as much fun as the rest of us. I haven’t seen that many smiles on stage in a long time.
- You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a violist rock out on stage.
- Jiffy Lube Live is a silly name for a concert venue, unless they’re going to change everyone’s oil during the concert.