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Review by Lisa Torem. Photo gallery by Philamonjaro.
“What is this drummer guy doing with an orchestra?” Stewart Copeland, surveying the crowd like Socrates, inquires. Here’s my take—rock musicians that have successfully crossed over into the classical realm, while remaining true to their earlier works, are few and far-between; the process generally entails winning over tried-and-true fans and initiating new ones, something which is easier said than done.
Yet Stewart Copeland has thrived in both worlds (or maybe most worlds, given that he grew up in the Middle East, inhaling nontraditional rhythms), and perhaps that’s why “every little thing he does is magic.”
Perhaps he’s best-known as founder, co-songwriter and drummer with The Police, along with guitarist Andy Summer and front man Sting, but his post-rock musical contributions and scrupulous film scoring and editing work have yielded, too, an incarnation of original works, including the surreal Chicago Opera Production, The Invention of Morel; a pair of operas influenced by the chilling narratives of Edgar Allan Poe and imaginative ballet and chamber music productions. Moreover, this recipient of five Grammy awards is being Grammy nominated in the best new age album category for his studio project, ‘Divine Tides.’ Prolific. Eclectic. You think?
Copeland is the music industry’s Rubik Cube. We never know exactly what he has in store for us, or where he’ll land, until he tells us. Yet, while many previous projects focused on surreal or literary influences, Police Deranged for Orchestra comes full-circle. This piece, which has only been performed five other times, celebrates Copeland’s own rise to success through elaborate, orchestral renderings of The Police repertoire, including “Roxanne,” “Don’t Stand Too Close To Me” and “Message in a Bottle.”
A shoe-in for audiences of all ages, Copeland kept contemporary music close-at-hand, even as violins and brass soloists seared alongside. This one-off tour featured a roster of talented accomplices: guitarist Rusty Anderson, with Copeland, enjoyed camaraderie with Animal Logic. A long-term member, too, of Paul McCartney’s touring band, Anderson brought out the bombastic riffs that made The Police hits so embracing. Anderson interacted feverishly, too, with Armand Sabal Lecco, whose funky bass treatments and spellbinding solo recalled Motown’s finest moments.
The three vocalists, Carmel Helene, Amy Keys and Ashley Tamar, brought out the nuance of Copeland’s score. A country-rock singer, Helene’s influences include Dolly Parton; Tamar has been widely associated with Prince, and Amy Keys, a soundtrack expert, has worked closely with Ringo Starr and Phil Collins. Their voices blended beautifully, and when soloing, their contrasting styles reflected their individual tastes.
With the energetic orchestra seated behind them, reaching crescendo after crescendo, the stage picture, in and of itself, was well-worth the price of admission. Accordingly, Copeland, the star attraction, took full advantage of the spotlight. After his colleagues took their places, the composer pounced onstage and struck an animated pose (one of many more to come).
“What about this hall? It has these incredible chandeliers,” the rock star turned maestro, marveled, skimming the detailed interior of the recently constructed Bradley Hall.
After the standing ovation, Copeland continued the friendly banter: “Tonight, they’re going to let their hair down a little and rock it,” he jibbed, gesturing toward the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, to which he’d pay numerous compliments over the course of the evening.
Copeland’s designated throne, for most of the night, stood majestically on a riser, where the drummer juxtaposed surprisingly quiet beats with increasingly ferocious fills.
The opener was a ‘Ghosts in The Machine’ gem, “Demolition Man.” After taking a hot minute to adjust to the reimagined structure, it was easy to chillax to the extended version.
The crowning glory occurred when Copeland grabbed a drumstick and officiated as orchestra leader. Waving the ad-hoc baton expertly, he cued up the orchestra for ‘The Equalizer,’ a TV theme song, leaving conductor Edwin Atwater with a well-deserved moment of rest. Copeland upped the ante, too, by heading off an instrumental call-and-response.
The second half opened with the edgy “Every Breath You Take.” The orchestra dramatized Anderson’s cantankerous chord progression with swelling strings,
Another exodus from the riser came several songs out. Combing the house, with the confidence of a barnyard rooster, Copeland quipped: “I figured you wanted to see what it’s like to see some power chords with a mighty orchestra.”
Keeping his word; a glossy axe slung across his slim frame, he shredded animatedly on “The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” leaving Ryan Kahlbaugh to warm the seat.
“Don’t Stand Too Close To Me,” featured stunning harmonies and shimmering glissandos. At “Message in a Bottle” time, fans clapped, like reunited mates sharing pints at a pub. The soulful vocalists embellished the infectious hook, as orchestra members heightened the dissonance.
Reggae rhythms came into the fold on “Can’t Stand Losing You/Regatta De Blanc.” Then, the ovation we came for; I can only surmise that “every little thing” the whole kit and caboodle did “WAS magic.”
The North American Tour reconvenes with two 2022 performances: Mar. 16, Portland, Oregon with the Oregon Symphony and Mar. 24-24-26 in Nashville, Tennessee with The Nashville Symphony.
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