Live Shots: The Police

Daniel Kramer

At a little after 8:40, Andy Summers walks onto a darkened stage with Stewart Copeland climbing into his drum kit. Copeland bangs a gong hanging behind him and Summers starts on the guitar. Then from the darkness of stage right, Sting appears and The Police are suddenly rocking Toyota Center with a revamped edition of “Message In A Bottle.” Two hours later, with the crowd exhausted after a speeding run through of “Next to You,” The Police exit the stage.

Thus ends the Houston edition of the reunion tour.

When this tour was first announced, I had some trepidations, especially with the amount of money that was needed to get a ticket. While the band's Grammy-night rendition of “Roxanne” (which came just before the reunion tour was announced) was good, in a nostalgic way, it was easy to see from that performance that they hadn't performed together in a long time -- they were trying to play it like it sounded on the record, like it sounded in tour all those years ago, but the beats were a bit off and the guys didn't quite seem to be in sync with each other -- so I wasn't sure that I was quite up to paying several hundred bucks to watch old men try and recreate their youth but not pull it off (if I wanted that I’d just go see the remainder of The Who making another one of their "final" tours). Then as the tour was starting came the word that this wasn't going to be a greatest hits reprise -- no problem -- but that they would be "revisiting" many of their songs -- revisiting meaning one of those Spinal Tap-jazz fusion things. I took this to mean that Sting was going to revisit “Synchroncity II” as a slow ballad with Summers on the flute, Copeland on wind chimes, and Sting on the lute. Then Stewart Copeland got on the internets and started bitching about how bad the band was playing. (Copeland is in kind of a joking mode here – he’s says that the group was bad but that they had a blast and the audience still loved the show).

Then came Friday night.

The concert was impressive. Whatever problems existed whenever Copeland blogged earlier were gone. The band rocked through “Message In A Bottle,” and it didn’t appear that anyone missed their cues. They then moved into “Synchronicity II,” and this song was slightly revamped, becoming even more of a anguished, harder rocking song than the original.

The penultimate song of the set was “Can’t Stand Losing You,” which became a long jam leading into the final song of the set, “Roxanne.”

The guys played on a simple set with no props. There was a small light show – primarily of white strobes intermixed with Synchronicity-era red, blue and gold colors. The video screens alternated between different shots of the guys on stage intermixed with old group photos, and, on “Invisible Sun,” a shot of Sting with the other screens displaying photos of poor and hungry children.

The show’s musical highlights – along with “Synchronicity II” and “Can’t Stand Losing You” – were “When the World is Running Down” which started as part of “Voices in my Head” before ramping up at the start of the chorus, and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.

The first encore featured a revamped “King of Pain” before a hard-charging version of “So Lonely.” Then the band did that one song the entire audience had been awaiting the entire night, walking off of the stage after performing a soaring “Every Breath You Take.” The guys then returned for the second encore of “Next To You.”

There was only one misstep in the show, and it’s a misstep that started in 1986. That’s right, for some reason, The Police continue to prefer the 1986 version of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” as opposed to the original. And still, this version just doesn’t work. It’s a slower version of the song, a version where the band slowly brings the song to a boil during the verse, but just as it reaches the chorus, reaches the boiling point, they take it off of the burner and vamp it down.

But one bad song out of 20 does not a bad concert make. This was a good concert. And one of which Stewart Copeland should be proud. The guys have revamped most of the songs, but the revamps are unexpected. There’s very little of Sting’s recent new age influences. And the guys seem to have removed lots of the “pop” element, choosing to rock through these songs. They also seem to have downplayed many of the reggae and ska elements which predominated the group’s earlier work. You’ll recognize all of the songs as soon as you hear the opening chords, but a beat will be different, or Sting will hit the chorus just a tad later because of the song’s new rhythm.

Let’s just hope The Police don’t wait another 24 years before deciding to tour again.

Oh, and a side note. The opening act was a band called Fiction Plane. If you look at the lead singer, you’ll see that he looks kind of familiar. If you listen to him speak, you’ll notice that he sounds kind of familiar. As he bounces around the stage, you’ll also notice that he looks just like someone that you’ve seen before. But it’s when he sings that it really hits you. That’s because the lead singer is named Joe Sumner and he just happens to be the son of Gordon Sumner, who many of you might know by the name of Sting. Fiction Plane delivered a good set that set the tempo for what was to follow later. -- John Royal

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