When drummer Stewart Copeland recently unleashed an online tirade about how “unbelievably lame” the Police were in the opening concert of their long-awaited reunion tour, it was, as usual, tough to decipher.
Was legendary lead singer and bassist Sting really a “petulant pansy” or was he the “god of rock” Copeland and long-suffering fans expected him to be? Was mad-genius guitarist Andy Summers “in Idaho” during the show — which actually took place in Vancouver — or right where he needed to be with the ethereal, adventurous fretwork that made the band’s hits so distinctive? Was Copeland kidding or was he serious?
And can’t they all just get along?
A packed house of over 20,000 disciples, more than happy to shrink bank accounts for tickets to a classic ’80s show — which had very 2007 prices — decided to find out for themselves Wednesday night.
It was the return of the “mighty Police,” as Copeland sarcastically called them in his now-infamous blog post, the band’s first official United States performance on the 30th anniversary tour, and as the people poured into KeyArena in Seattle, they had to be wondering if the group remains as innovative, smart and relevant as it used to be while catapulting to the top of the rock world during the Reagan years.
They ruled over the Reagan years
After all, 1983 was the year when the fifth and final album of their frenetic, fantastic seven-year history, “Synchronicity,” spent 17 weeks at No. 1 and spawned one of the defining rock radio staples of the last three decades, the stalker anthem “Every Breath You Take.”
They sold out football stadiums, they bickered, they bickered some more, they flat-out fought, and then, poof! Sting took off for a high-profile solo career rooted in jazz and pop, Copeland wrote music for movies, and Summers flew under the radar with experimental solo and collaboration projects. The Police were dead.
And now, in 2007, they’re back, three notorious neurotics who have once and for all decided to just shut up, play rock and roll, and add to their already-sizable estate values courtesy of this corporate boondoggle of a world tour sponsored by Best Buy.
Finding the groove
But that’s just business, and on Wednesday, from Copeland’s opening gong blast and the signature Summers riff kicking off set the unmistakable opener “Message in a Bottle,” all was right in the musical universe once again.
Sting looked robust and invigorated at age 55, with the original Police hair color of bleached blond, a ripped yoga master’s physique and, finally, the on-stage appearance of a somewhat angry punk-rocker — cutoff white T-shirt, black leather pants and combat boots. Police-heads who cringed at his early-2000s “Desert Rose”-type schlock-rock and recent album of 16th century lute songs (whaaaa?) had to be pleased about that development, at least.
A true-to-the-recorded version of “Synchronicity 2” with an impressive Summers solo ended, and Sting, whose voice was in vintage form, couldn’t help but mention how long it had been since the band’s last set of steady gigs. Some introductions were in order, and, with that, the first set of barbs were thrown around the stage.
“Andy, this is Stewart,” Sting announced. “Stewart, Andy.”
With the formalities taken care of, the Police concentrated on mining their deep war chest of hits. After a slowed-down, groove-oriented “Spirits in the Material World” and a steady “When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around,” they continued to settle into their old comfort zone, playing a mid-tempo rendition of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and then speeding up “Driven to Tears” to a crowd-pleasing crescendo.
It was at this moment that the first signs of the staying power of Sting’s songwriting came into focus. “Driven to Tears” was released on the 1980 album “Zenyatta Mondatta” at the height of the Cold War, which explains the lyrics, “Seems that when some innocent die / All we can offer them is a page in some magazine / Too many cameras and not enough food / 'Cause this is what we've seen.” Sung in this day and age, it’s just as powerful a message, if not more so.
After the requisite early standard “Walking on the Moon,” which highlighted Sting’s underrated bass playing and Copeland’s unparalleled hi-hat chops, those two musicians engaged in what might very well have been their second dysfunctional moment. Or not.
Right as Sting was about to commence his “One, two, three, four” opening of “Truth Hits Everybody,” Copeland stood up and addressed the seating sections directly behind the stage, claiming he hadn’t noticed them until that moment. Sting sat down on his monitor, staring at his drummer until Copeland’s whimsical moment, then barked, “Are we ready now?”
Fortunately, if those were bad vibes, they didn’t last long.
“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” was played and sung perfectly, an exquisite “Wrapped Around Your Finger” featured Copeland on a percussion set complete with timpani and a xylophone, and “Bed’s Too Big Without You” brought back the band’s reggae roots. “Murder By Numbers,” the song Sting said televangelist Jimmy Swaggart claimed was written by Satan, reminded the crowd of the group’s devilish wit and political bite.
In fact, when Sting forcefully sang the last verse (“But you can reach the top of your profession / If you become the leader of the land / For murder is the sport of the elected / And you don’t need to lift a finger of your hand”), his sense of disdain for today’s world leaders was proven with a carefully enunciated expletive to enhance the last word.
The rest of the set clicked as if the Police had never taken a day — let alone almost 25 years — off.
“De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” got the crowd moving, “Invisible Sun” drove home the anti-war message with video images of Iraqi children, and Copeland powered “Walking in Your Footsteps” with his percussive panache. “Can’t Stand Losing You” rocked the house, especially when the band tore into their instrumental Grammy winner from 1981, “Regatta De Blanc,” in the middle.
A funky, slightly experimental “Roxanne” was fittingly bathed in red light, and the encore numbers of “King of Pain,” “So Lonely,” “Every Breath You Take” and “Next to You” plus the Police’s group bow and seemingly giddy exit from the stage indicated that there might just have been a feeling of, well, friendship up there on stage.
In other words, the Police are back and it’s a good thing, even if you really do have to wonder how long it’s going to last.