TAMPA — There's Sturm und Drang, the 18th century German arts movement involving the unleashing of extreme emotion. Then there's Sting und Drang, the unleashing of a hot, brainy British dude who doesn't do anything without intensity, self-importance and swagger.
But if you stayed away from the 58-year-old's show at 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre on Saturday for fear of snoberosity — Sting is traveling with the 45-piece Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, a grandiose move and then some — you don't know the man born Gordon Sumner.
Yes, Sting's been known to whip out his lute at parties. But he's a savvy showman, too. He knows what you crave. He just gives it to you a bit differently.
Reworking 26 solo songs and Police hits, Sting and his mighty orchestra (plus a five-piece rock band on the side) spent more than two hours doling out the bombast for an intimate, pavilion-only crowd of 7,500.
Conducting the oft-thrilling extravaganza was Steven Mercurio, the mad scientist who helped concoct the new, and sometimes drastic, arrangements — and who isn't afraid to shake his classically trained tuchus. You have to dig a maestro who can get down.
Wiggling his own infamous fanny (to the delight of the ladies … okay, and me), Sting opened with If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, the pop hit given the slight sheen of a Bond theme. Englishman in New York also retained its original shades, although the strings added a hint of wide-eyed wanderlust. Police smash Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic still cooked, frantic violins playing the part of the love-giddy percussion.
What's the fun in touring with one of the world's greatest orchestras, however, if you don't unleash it in inventive ways. For Roxanne, the cut's original prickly heat had calmed into lush, romantic contentment. Once a quiet rumination, Russians was menacing, over-the-top, REALLY LOUD, the stage bathed in red.
(By the way, kudos to the tour's design team. As the orchestra sat on glowing risers, overhead cubes acted as both lights and video screens. Very cool.)
Shifting between playful (punky Next to You was still that, the staid musicians working up a hilarious sweat) and somber (Why Should I Cry for You? about the musician's late father, induced tears with its bittersweet sweep), Sting kept the crowd engaged. He told autobiographical tales ("I was a musician on a cruise ship. [Bleeping] hated it!") and talked of the curious art of songwriting (he was a huge Bonanza fan growing up — who knew?! — hence the country lilt of I Hung My Head).
Sting did robustly faithful versions of King of Pain and Every Breath You Take, but the night's highlight was the lesser-known Moon Over Bourbon Street, about a bloodthirsty ghoul roaming New Orleans. Seemingly inspired by Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann, Mercurio guided the orchestra to an eerie froth as Sting, in vampirical cloak, unleashed the creepy, even to the point of working a theremin. It was silly but stirring, the star taking our current goofy love of blood-suckers to clever highs. Sting can be pompous. But he can be pretty darn good, too.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.