Sting - Live in Berlin
I do not think I would be wrong in stating that Sting's book of life as far as his career is concerned is condensed in this 2 hour concert. Yes, his entire career is encompassed in this concert as he performs along with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra all the classics from way back when he was part of The Police. This concert is part of the 78 concert world tour dubbed as Symphonicities, how appropriate! It was recorded at the O2 World Arena, Berlin, Germany on September 21, 2010 and the album was released on November 22, 2010.
I became a fan of Police (Sting) when I first heard “Walking on the moon” in the late 70's, perhaps it had something to do with that unmistakable reggae beat which I always associated with Bob Marley who I happened to be familiar with at that time and was a fan of. With every album that Sting released I was a bigger fan than ever. If I look back over the years I had bought all his albums and used them all the time to evaluate the equipment that I was buying and upgrading as an audiophile. His music and compositions gave me an insight into the equipment under evaluation. I realized that his albums were almost done to perfection and sounded better and better whether it was a humble 25 watt Nad amplifier or the mighty Mark Levinson at 300 watts per channel, be it budget Paradigms or Reference Kef floor-standers, the sound always improved as the equipment in question was upgraded to a higher level. What it actually means is that his recordings were so refined and high resolution that the quality was revealed more and more with each successive upgrade of the audio system. I can hardly think of any other artist who had this kind of treatment given to each and every album they produced. Sting no doubt is a pillar of perfection as any artist can possibly be.
“Live in Berlin” is actually packaged as two disc set one being the concert DVD and the other a CD. The people behind marketing this album were very smart they did not include all the tracks on the DVD which are on the CD and vice versa, although there are many tracks that one will find on both the DVD as well as the CD. Anyway the CD contains 14 tracks and the DVD 22. Here is the exact listing on each one:
1. A Thousand Years 2. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic 3. Englishman in New York 4. Roxanne 5. When We Dance 6. Russians 7. I Hung My Head 8. Why Should I Cry For You? 9. Whenever I Say Your Name 10. This Cowboy Song 11. Tomorrow We'll See 12. Moon Over Bourbon Street 13. The End of the Game 14. You Will Be My Ain True Love 15. All Would Envy 16. Mad About You 17. King of Pain 18. Every Breath You Take 19. Desert Rose 20. She's Too Good For Me 21. Fragile 22. I Was Brought to my Senses (Intro)
1. If I Ever Lose My Faith In You 2. Englishman In New York 3. Fields Of Gold 4. Why Should I Cry For You? 5. All Would Envy 6. Tomorrow We'll See 7. The End Of The Game 8. Whenever I Say Your Name 9. Shape Of My Heart 10. Moon Over Bourbon Street 11. Mad About You 12. King Of Pain 13. Desert Rose 14. Fragile
The concert on the DVD starts with “A thousand years”. Those who remember this song as the first track on the album “Brand new day” had a baseline which was capable of pulling your knickers down even if heard on a half decent system. This version is more laid back. What I found interesting about this concert was that there was negligible use of bass guitar and all the base was handled by acoustic and natural sounding instruments including upright bass either plucked or caressed by the bow. Although Ira Coleman gets the credit of bass but he was more often on the upright bass than on electric bass.
Who can forget the catchy tune “Englishman in New York” with that unmistakable intro by Branford Marsalis, it is covered here and it is as fresh as the original with Branford Marsalis on stage. Branford on and off appeared on several other tunes as well during the entire concert. In Branford's own words he was not facing the crowd instead he was all the time watching Sting's lips and made sure he played his notes in between his words, by doing this he was able to avoid being distracted by the crowds attention towards him. He of course did a fantastic job of not stepping on Sting's toes. A true professional.
The way Roxanne was rendered in this concert was to give an impression the she has aged very gracefully, after all she should be 32 years older. The arrangement and the choice of instruments used in this version make it sound like a brand new song. Come to think of it all the songs give you a brand new feel to them and entire credit goes to Sting to have conceived this project.
Dominic Miller's guitar is prominent in it's pure acoustic form at the start of the song and later he switches to the electric version as the song progresses on “When we dance” . According to Sting there are only two kinds of love songs, “I love you and you love me”, which to him is a boring relationship, the other kind is “I love you and you love somebody else” and he finds that very interesting as well as painful. The song is all about the later type and sure enough one could feel the emotions playing havoc during the performance. Not sure if he really had that kind of feeling himself when he penned this song.
Russians in my opinion was a very soul stirring but gloomy song in its original form when released but here it was given a lush classical feel and it now is a buttery smooth, melodious song which made me forget the original feeling I had about the song.
As the concert progressed it dawned on me that the conductor Steven Mercurio was as animated as any rock star could be in a concert, he was after all not conducting serious classical music but was part of the rock band and he fit in like a glove. In Stings own words “He started out as a rock guitarist”, so what do you expect? He also gets the credit of doing orchestral arrangements for two of the songs rendered and one of them is my favorite amongst all those that were performed “Why should I cry for you” taken off the album from 1991 entitled “Soul Cages” which in my opinion was a very complex album in terms of arrangements, instrumentation and compositions. The most unusual piece of instrument used in this song was the piece of what looked like a pipe used by the percussionist and it sounded great, I recall similar sounding instrument in the original song as well. Here the sweeping violins and the rumble of the timpani was very effectively arranged which rendered me to have goosebumps all over.
Jo Lowery performed admirably throughout the concert backing up Sting with her vocals and was very much in the limelight performing the part of Mary J Blige on the song “ Whenever I say your name”. Sting also acknowledged her contribution of teaching him and his fellow members the dance steps that they did not have a clue about while performing “The Cowboy Song” which happens to be one of the most upbeat songs performed in the concert and went on to show how much the performers were themselves enjoying while at it.
One of the most eerie songs on the list is “Moon over bourbon streets” the sense of eeriness was very successfully created by the musicianship of the capable Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra giving you the feeling that you are in the company of vampires. A very interesting orchestral arrangement indeed. Towards the end of the song he even sounded like a vampire.
The most dramatic arrangement was featured in the song “Mad about You”. The percussion section used everything they could to make their presence felt.
The crowd that was there to witness this concert were extremely involved and whenever Sting had to introduce a song before starting to sing they would listen to him intently and respond in the appropriate manner.
This concert had not one but three encores and the crowd was on it's feet with the first one and never got a chance to sit down due to the energy that was generated on the stage with such songs as “Desert Rose” “She's too good for me” where I could swear that the entire band was on steroids and finally the beautifully rendered “Fragile” on a squeaky clean sounding acoustic guitar with the entire orchestra accompanying without making their presence felt. However, that was not the end of the concert as Sting came back and this time only his voice filled the arena when he rendered “I was brought to my senses” where he proved beyond any doubt that his 58 year old vocal chords were in perfect shape and did not need anything to accompany it. I was also brought to my senses when I realized I was watching a DVD and not the real live performance in the front row.
Make no mistake this is not an anthology of Sting's repertoire, nor it is a greatest hits collection. All the songs were restructured, orchestrated and arranged with utmost care leaving the integrity of the original in most cases. The quote that comes to my mind is “It's true some wines improve with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first place.” All the songs here were gems back then and with the treatment given, what I would term as classical twist, have improved to a level where they demand to be heard (and watched). Extremely enjoyable experience, one of the best offerings from one of the best songwriters today. Classical twist to classic rock in an extremely creative way
Thank you for dropping by and reading what I write.
Happy Listening (watching)!