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SPANNING HIS VAST CATALOG

Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra/Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, N.Y./July 30, 2010

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Sting’s quest to reinvent himself reached new heights in an invigorating concert July 30 at Bethel Woods. Backed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, he presented a 24-song set in a relaxed and balmy open-air concert that was both intimate and compelling.

Sting looked and sounded great (wearing a black dress jacket, vest and white dress shirt), and his current tour has brought him about as far away from his successful reunion with The Police (in 2007 and ’08) as one can get without switching galaxies. Although The Police catalog of hits was represented with five songs, the accent was on both popular and less-familiar works from Sting’s 25-year solo career.

The 45-piece orchestra (“This is the biggest band I’ve ever played with,” Sting said during the introductions) was a wise choice: The violins, cellos, flutes and horns gave depth and texture to “Englishman in New York,” “Fields of Gold” and “A Thousand Years,” among many others. The orchestral arrangements (conducted by Steven Mercurio) were supported (but not underwhelmed) by such Sting regulars as Dominic Miller (on acoustic and electric guitar), who pulled out all the stops on the hard-rocking tunes “Next to You” and “King of Pain.” Singer Jo Lawry offered up a stirring duet with Sting on “Whenever I Say Your Name” from 2003’s Sacred Love.

Ira Coleman played electric and upright bass and Cerys Green added clarinet solos on “Mad About You” and “Englishman in New York.” Rhani Krija and David Cossin played a variety of percussion instruments and were particularly effective during a rousing rendition of “Desert Rose.”

The Police classic “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” was enriched by violins and cellos, and another highlight was a slow and lush “Every Breath You Take,” which seemed to obfuscate the original possessive/paranoid tone of the song, only to give it a more ominous feel. “Moon Over Bourbon Street” was given a theatrical Halloween night treatment, with Sting relating how a walk in New Orleans and a call from Mel Brooks (asking the singer to appear in a film called Dracula Sucks — “Which was never made,” Sting flippantly stated) inspired his tale of a vampire seeking love.

Sting has become a subtle raconteur onstage, delivering humorous anecdotes on his jobs prior to his music career (one in particular was “the worst f***ing job I ever had” — obviously, considering how things worked out) and a poignant tale about his sea-faring ancestry and late father (a milkman), who wanted his son to go to sea, which Sting interpreted as a wanting for him to do “something exciting” with his life.

One of his best stories concerned the country-tinged “I Hung My Head,” the origins of which began when Sting was a youngster watching Westerns, especially Bonanza. Sting held up a DVD collection of the popular 1960s TV show, saying how he wanted to be a member of the Cartwright clan (“Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright … Sting Cartwright”).

There were other moments when the show was anything but stuffy and serious. At times the violin section locked arms and twirled around in dance and the bassists stood up to do the wave, a sporting-event tradition. Sting danced and swiveled his hips during “She’s Too Good for Me” and several other uptempo numbers. The entire atmosphere was light-hearted but not irreverent. “Fragile” (a somber classic that is fittingly remindful of each new world tragedy) was played solo by Sting on acoustic guitar as one of the encores.

“I was born in 1951,” Sting recounted prior to the song “Russians.” “I’m 58 — don’t do the math,” he wryly stated, his trim, youthful presence saying otherwise. By constantly challenging himself, one can only surmise that the math will always contradict Sting’s passion and drive for originality. The two-plus hours of entertaining and diverse music produced a memorable evening from a consummate performer and his band.

— By Donald Gavron