September 22, 2008
Boston’s historic Symphony Hall was filled with rock stars and assorted dignitaries on Friday night, including Sting, Chris Botti, Katharine McPhee, Yo-Yo Ma, John Mayer and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who performed a raucous version of [“Cryin' ”] wearing a pair of tight, black, lace-and-rhinestone studded pants he’d gotten from Cher.
John Mayer also attempted to croon Frank Sinatra’s standard, “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”
The occasion for all this was the second night of taping a PBS special hosted by horn man Botti featuring all these artists. (On the first night, Josh Groban appeared; violinist Yo-Yo Ma was the second-night guest.)
It was certainly one of the wilder nights for Keith Lockhart’s Boston Pops, not to mention Symphony Hall, where this reporter once worked. In those days, very few pop stars were ever allowed to perform in the austere hall where Seiji Ozawa and Arthur Fielder raised their hallowed batons.
But Botti and his management team convinced the BSO to let them in, and the results were stunning. The second-night show allowed Botti to play the trumpet while Sting led him and Yo-Yo Ma through one of his solo classics, “Fragile.”
Botti, who once was the band leader for Caroline Rhea’s lamented talk show, turned out to be an unflappable, smooth host. He was able to juggle a man having a heart attack in the audience, the various acts who played many different kinds of music and his own jazz numbers with great ease.
He joined each of the acts for duets, and also managed to re-recreate a piece of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” as well as an instrumental version of Pavarotti’s “Caruso” from the movie of the same name, and the stirring theme from “Cinema Paradiso.”
Meantime, the stars came and went. Sting, now free of The Police, has returned to the more complex musicianship of his solo career. Besides “Fragile,” one of his best songs, he and Botti performed “Seven Days” and “If Ever I Lose My Faith in You.”
The latter closed the two-and-a-half hour show, and had better be included in the final edit. It was one of those brilliant, sudden pairings, with Botti’s more-unleashed-than-usual trumpet wildly punctuating Sting’s soaring vocals.
Sting was probably goosed for the second night anyway because of the surprise arrival of wife Trudie Styler from England. Styler had been stuck at home with domestic matters, but flew in and got everyone to keep it a secret until the last minute. This is one celeb couple that likes to be together … a lot. How refreshing!
Tyler, of course, is the Tasmanian Devil compared to the trained, restrained and studied Sting. Following Botti’s improvised New Orleans style, Tyler swung onto the BSO stage and belted out [“Cryin' ”] in a long colorful coat and flowing scarves, not to mention those pants. He dedicated his second song, a bluesy version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” to his elderly dad, Victor Tallerico, sitting in the front row.
Later, a friend of Sting’s, Boston philanthropist Bobby Sager, told Tyler he had to have the pants for his collection of party clothes. “I can’t!” cried Tyler. “Cher gave them to me. And I always wanted to get into Cher’s pants.”
Rim shot, please.
Sager was just the right Bostonian with enough nerve to ask Tyler, anyway. Earlier that day, he and his wife Elaine had hosted a private lunch at their Tremont Street aerie for the president of Rwanda, a country where the Sagers have dedicated their fundraising powers very successfully.
The stars themselves didn’t have a lot of contact off-stage, although Sting’s afternoon sound check did overlap with Tyler’s in an amusing way.
First they traded little vocal intros from each other’s songs. When Sting saw Tyler approaching, he belted out a little “Walk This Way,” to which Tyler screeched back “Rox—anne!” Sting brought out his 12-string lute, which prompted Tyler to announce, “That’s what we need! A balalaika!”
As for Mayer, he’s not Sinatra or Tony Bennett. Shorn of his trademark wavy hair, he more resembled a tall Marc Anthony. (The two should consider doing a video together.)
John Mayer without a guitar is an idea whose time hasn’t quite arrived, but give him credit for trying. Still, losing his other trademark — weird grimaces and other mouth tics — might help his delivery.
McPhee turned out to be one of the great finds of the Botti spectacular, commanding Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with a feline sexiness. Her little black dress and hot pumps didn’t hurt…..