Sting and the Korean Symphony Orchestra
I’m currently on a kick of seeing as many historically important musical figures that I reasonably can. I was compiling my list about two months ago (before being derailed by the holidays, moving, and a new job) and Sting, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, and Santana were all on the list. Weirdly, all three will be in South Korea during the first quarter of this year. This is the first of that group I’ve seen this year.
Sting’s show was part of the Symphonicity Tour that started last year. He performs a two set (plus encore) show of pre-arranged songs. If you take a peek at the Setlist.fm tour statistics, there isn’t much variation with the shows. That’s not a bad thing, and most likely required to allow different symphonies to learn the musical arrangements ahead of the show.
Seoul did get some less common songs from the tour. We picked up ‘Straight To My Heart’ and ‘This Cowboy Song’. Please note, all video links are other shows and better video/audio than my poor little Android can manage.
Set review and impressions after the break.
The first set’s songs felt just right even with so many musicians. There have been some horrible mash-ups of mainstream music and classical arrangements, and this was solid composition with an orchestra from a foreign country. Jo Lawry was Sting’s backup vocalist and seemed to get lost in the shuffle of so many instruments. To me she didn’t stand out in any of the arrangements.
Sting did come out and have some problems with ‘If I Ever Lose My Faith In You’ on the high sections. It was snowing very heavily in the days leading up and the day of the concert was one of the colder days I remember. He did lower parts a bit until he’d sufficiently warmed up, and was back to full voice by ‘Russians’. I will say that ‘Next To You’ felt forced. Nothing about that song with a symphony felt natural or easy, which is too bad.
I wasn’t very interested in the big radio hits for this show. I wanted to hear what the less commercially popular songs were like. My top songs were ‘Russians’, ‘I Hung My Head’, ‘Roxanne’, and ‘Fields of Gold’. ‘Russians’ and ‘Fields of Gold’ just felt more complete with the larger arrangement. ‘Roxanne’ was a slow, nearly solo performance. It felt subdued and directed at a single person and wasn’t garish. Very different from the studio track.
‘I Hung My Head’ is just a personal favorite. Going into this show, I’d actually thought Johnny Cash had covered it from an artist in the 1950s. It just doesn’t feel like a song written in this decade by a popular artist. I didn’t connect the name on the setlist with the song until I’d heard the first few chords.
Leaving the first set, Sting promised an increase in tempo, and that’s what we got. Slower songs like ‘This Cowboy Song’ picked up tempo and built to a crescendo. ‘Moon Over Bourbon Street’ got a large reaction from the audience and fit the environment well. For me, the best song of the show was a tie between ‘King of Pain’ and ‘Mad About You’. ‘Mad About You’ had flow and character. ‘King of Pain’ felt complete. ‘Every Breath You Take’ was solid, but not spectacular.
The encores were good like the rest of the set. The last song in the set was ‘I Was Brought To My Senses’ and was completed acapella by Sting. Very enjoyable and I thought was a good way to end the set.
This was immensely enjoyable for me. Here was a giant of music who wasn’t mailing it in. His voice was clear, the arrangements were spot on, and everything fit. I might not have agreed with how some sounded, but this was a top shelf performance even with what sounded like a cold. If I hadn’t been there to see ‘King Of Pain’ I’d have hated myself. The guy can still bring it. He’s got more of my money if he ever tours with a conventional band again.
And yes, Sting set the bar VERY HIGH for the rest of the shows this quarter.