The Police / July 31, Aug. 1, 2007 / Hartford, Conn. (Rentschler Field), New York (Madison Square Garden)
You shuffle into the venue, grab a couple of $7 Bud Lights and maybe peruse the $30 T-shirts. If you're there early, you watch the opening band, a rock trio whose singer bears an uncanny resemblance tYou shuffle into the venue, grab a couple of $7 Bud Lights and maybe peruse the $30 T-shirts. If you're there early, you watch the opening band, a rock trio whose singer bears an uncanny resemblance to somebody. When they're done, Bob Marley plays over the house PA, and then the lights dim again. The thousands of people who have paid upwards of $250 for their tickets roar. Seconds after a giant gong is bashed, the familiar riff of "Message in a Bottle" fills the air and is... instantly flubbed by guitarist Andy Summers.
Welcome, folks, to the Police reunion tour, which has already grossed more than $107 million since late May. Indeed, the two shows this writer saw last week epitomized all that is right, and wrong, with this slavishly anticipated undertaking (confession: I've been waiting for this tour since 1983, when I was too young to see the Police play in nearby Cleveland and had to resort to drumming on an ottoman while listening to "Synchronicity" on repeat).
First, the right. There's lots of it. For one, there's a visceral thrill to actually see Summers, Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland on stage together. The show wisely begins with a host of songs that demonstrate how locked-in their instrumental interplay remains: Sting nails the high yelps of "Synchronicity II," while Summers shines during the jam at the end of a "Voices Inside My Head"/"When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" medley.
"Walking on the Moon" is sublime, with Summers' guitar notes decaying in a shimmer atop Copeland's dexterous fills, and "The Bed's Too Big Without You" is a token obscurity for the diehards. The throngs probably didn't pay to watch the Police jam, but during these songs, jam they did. There's no question they are much tighter than they were in mid-June at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee.
Sting, ageless at 55 and buff beyond belief, climbs atop the amplifier stacks for "Driven To Tears," and playfully gnaws on the 64-year-old Summers' shoulder while he solos, momentarily recapturing the punk-tinged rush of the group's early days. Largely eschewing any pre-recorded accompaniment (there were a handful of songs with canned backing vocals and sequenced drums) has required significant rearrangements of some tunes, the best of which is surprisingly the now keyboard-free "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic."
But then there's "Truth Hits Everybody" and "Walking in Your Footsteps," the two unabashed train wrecks in the set list. Sting's jazzy solo career impulses have won out on the former, which is slowed to a crawl and performed in a different key than its original version. "Footsteps," on the other hand, finds the frontman playing pan-flute while animated dinosaur skeletons invade the video screens. It makes you imagine the conversation in the studio when they tracked the song in the first place: "Hey, Andy! Remember that brontosaurus lick you keep playing in soundcheck? I've got a perfect use for it!"
The rest of the show falls somewhere between the extremes. Summers, forced to shoulder so much of the melodic load, is at his best on the distinctive solos of "Wrapped Around Your Finger" (with Copeland on a fancy percussion kit) and "King of Pain," wisely saved for the first song of the encore. In New York, Sting, who didn't miss a note all night, fondly recalls the first time the Police played the city at CBGB in October 1978.
But as the evening winds down, a classic like "Every Breath You Take" seems oddly perfunctory, considering its status as one of the most popular songs of the 1980s. Yet "Roxanne" sounds fresher than usual, energizing the audience to scream along with Sting's tale of forbidden love with a lady of the night.
And then it concludes with "Next To You," a final blast of Summers' bright power chords, Copeland's air drum-worthy snare runs and Sting's pleading vocals. So maybe the Police live circa 2007 wasn't exactly how you envisioned it would be, but it was entertaining enough to make you hope they'll come back around again.
Oh, and that opening band? It's Fiction Plane, fronted by Sting's son, Joe Sumner. The group mostly played material from its new album, "Left Side of the Brain," highlighted by the bouncy rocker "Two Sisters" and the melodically memorable "It's a Lie," but also offered up a newly written tune and the cautionary romantic tale "Cigarette" from its 2003 debut.
Here is the Police's set list:
"Message in a Bottle"
"Walking on the Moon"
"Voices Inside My Head"/"When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around"
"Don't Stand So Close To Me"
"Driven To Tears"
"Truth Hits Everybody"
"The Bed's Too Big Without You"
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
"Wrapped Around Your Finger"
"De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"
"Walking in Your Footsteps"
"Can't Stand Losing You"
"King of Pain"
"Every Breath You Take"
"Next to You"