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Music DVD Review: Sting – Live In Berlin

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Sting seems to feel the need to reinvent his entire catalogue about as often as Larry King’s wives feel the need to take the money and run – which is about every 4.26 years. I was a little leery about taking on this new Sting concert video, because I usually try not to be a glutton for punishment. I mean, how many times do I need to let this guy disappoint me, thrill me, disappoint me, thrill me, before I finally end this abusive relationship. Damn Sting knows he can always win me back with that superlative charm, consummate intellect, movie star good looks, and velvety smooth voice of his though. (I believe that satisfies my requirement for receiving this free Blu-ray right?)

So after having to put up with Sting’s various jazz-pop re-workings of all his solo and Police classics over the last two decades, I now have to decipher them through the lens of a goddamn symphony orchestra!? I’ll cut Sting some slack, though, since he did at least reform the Police for one last (?) tour and accompanying concert CD/DVD. What more could we ask for really? I have actually enjoyed Sting’s solo career as much as I have his work with the Police. I just find it frustrating to rarely, if ever, be able to see faithful-to-the-original live performances of any of the great Sting songs that I have come to know and love from his best studio albums. Is that too much to ask for?

Live In Berlin was recorded on September 21st, 2010 at Berlin’s O2 Arena and it features Sting performing with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by Steven Mercurio. This performance has taken some time to grow on me – but I have come to really enjoy it for what it is. My main gripe is that it is more like the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performing the music of Sting, featuring Sting, instead of Sting and his band backed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra – which I think could have been much better. If you are good with that, and realize just what you are getting going in, then you are probably going to love this performance.

If you thought the worldly, jazzed-out, arrangements you get on his Bring On The Night and All This Time releases were really something special, wait until you get a load of the arrangements he comes up with for this orchestra-led fandango. As with the previously mentioned releases, the arrangements were very hit and miss, but, overall, Sting succeeds in making them sound fresh and convincing. For one thing, his vocals have never sounded better, and the combination of the introductory stories he tells, and the laid back atmosphere of the show, really made me pay attention to the fascinating lyrics he has conjured up for most of these songs.

The Sting songs that went over the best were the flat-out ballads like “A Thousand Years,” “When We Dance,” and “Why Should I Cry For You?.” The Police songs scored a 50/50 in my book. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” and “King Of Pain,” are both wonderful upbeat charmers, while “Roxanne,” and “Every Breath You Take,” basically get stripped of all their charm. Sting performing “Roxanne” on classical guitar, removed of all its Reggae bite, was the equivalent of Elton John playing “Bitch Is Back” on solo piano.

Jo Lowry’s performance on backup and occasional lead vocals was exceptional, especially when she assumed the Mary J. Blige role during “Whenever I Say Your Name,” and then filled in for Alison Krauss on the Cold Mountain soundtrack hymn, “You Will Be My Ain True Love.” The latter performance is so hauntingly beautiful, it still sends chills up my spine every time I watch it. I don’t know if Sting has been taking vocal steroids, or if he has found the fountain of youth at that beautiful Tuscan villa of his, but his voice sounds about as powerful and pitch-perfect as it gets. For the last encore, he comes out and sings “I Was Brought To My Senses” completely unaccompanied, which had me alternately mumbling “what the hell is he doing?,” and “holy shit!” in the same breath. Well, maybe not those exact words.

Since I am still in my “dang, these new Blu-ray thingies look and sound incredible” phase, it is a bit difficult for me to be completely objective about the production quality of these things, when the first thing that always stands out is how much better they look and sound than all of the DVD concerts I have in my collection. Live in Berlin boasts DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and PCM stereo audio mixes and they are both booming. The only issue I had was with how loud the rear surrounds were mixed, especially Stings vocals, making things sound a bit unnatural. The picture is extremely sharp and detailed, and the camera work was as good as it gets. The only special feature is a 14 minute interview with Sting and Branford Marsalis.

Although I’d still love to get a concert from Sting where he rocks out a bit more to some of his more upbeat earlier stuff, like “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “The Lazarus Heart,” “The Soul Cages,” “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” and “Hounds of Winter,” Live In Berlin is certainly another unique and marvelously performed concert video to hold you over until he does.

Track List:
01. A Thousand Years
02. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
03. Englishman In New York
04. Roxanne
05. When We Dance
06. Russians
07. I Hung My Head
08. Why Should I Cry For You?
09. 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

Performance – 7/10
Production – 9/10

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About Paul Roy

  • The Other Barnett

    Paul, you are right about how one must approach this DVD. I got it in December, after having already seen the concert when it was in St. Louis (a lovely unforgettable evening). If I was searching for a Sting insight, there was none of that beyond the “Storytellers-esque” explanations of certain songs….which I did enjoy. But, if I was searching for another perspective on his hits (and lovely b-side options), I was richly rewarded. “I Hung My Head” and “Why Should I Cry For You” really transported me because of the way the orchestration was new and yet faithful to the song origin. There are times one must put aside the connoisseur to enjoy the show……and I am so happy I got this DVD! Curious what you thought of the inclusion of Marsalis.

  • Paulene Bryant

    Absolutely brilliant. I loved the orchestra backing, it produced a superb arrangement. Well done Sting and Orchestra and thank you.

  • Padre Swiggy

    Magical night with Sting and the beautiful arrangements of his wonderful music. I am knocked out! Riveted from the beginning to the perfect, unaccompanied and unadulterated Sting at the end. Brilliant!