Arrested by The Police
Midway through The Police’s much-anticipated reunion show at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the band launched into a reworked version of “Wrapped Around Your Finger” where the tempo slowed to molasses, images of glowing candelabras filled the Jumbotrons and Sting settled into his trademark “I’m-a-sensitive-yet-surprisingly-virile-lover” stare. Suburban moms swayed to and fro, enraptured.This is exactly what I was afraid of.
As an irrepressible fan, I couldn’t help my excitement at the announcement of a reunited Police tour, despite my nagging reservations. This, after all, was arguably the jewel in the crown of rock n’ roll reunions, the last mainstream holdout among hyper-influential, gone-before-their-time bands with all members still walking this earth. So what if Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers and Sting were likely motivated only by a desire to add to their private jet collection? I wondered aloud whether it wouldn’t be better to leave their tattered legacy intact, but the lure of a reunited Police was too much for me to resist.Hadn’t too much changed? Copeland has gone on to success as a composer and collaborator with the likes of Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio of Phish, while Andy Summers has apparently been holed up practicing his phrygian modes and regularly releasing avant-garde jazz guitar albums. And we all know the whereabouts of a one Mr. Gordon Sumner: Saving the rainforests, hours of tantric sex and complete and utter domination of the world’s Adult Contemporary airwaves kept him busy.I hoped that despite the 21-plus years since the demise of The Police, they would return with the punky fire and roguish hooks not seen since their late ’70s/early ’80s shows. The notoriously odious personality clashes (at least between Copeland and Sting) of the past could only fuel a return to onstage ferocity: They would rock my brains out, get pissed at each other and implode spectacularly yet again, as perfectly as they did in 1986.Instead, The Police played with a sort of measured happiness, a bemused amount of self-satisfaction at their adoring masses. They didn’t really seem to be working for it – and of course, they didn’t have to. They started sloppy on “Message In A Bottle” and phoned in “Synchronicity II” – one of my favorites – and the audience tucked in regardless.
But of course they would: They were here for the hits, and who could blame them? In addition to the desperately swooning housewives, bankers showed up in their Sunday best, trophy wives dangling from their arms. It was hilarious watching them dance stiffly and shoot glances at their wives while mumbling words that didn’t match the booming soundsystem. Most of their spouses, after all, were young enough to actually know the lyrics.It would be naive of me to expect deep cuts like “Omega Man” and “Secret Journey,” to get play, but luckily I love plenty of the hits. “Invisible Sun” and set closer “Roxanne” were filled with verve and energy, and “So Lonely” and “Next To You” came frighteningly close to the explosive performances I had hoped for – my bopping during these encore closers was genuine.But several songs suffered from the malady I most dreaded: Stingification. “Spirits in the Material World” lacked the original voodoo dread, and “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” was slowed down, dropped in key and drenched in loganberry and sandalwood. Copeland was solid, but I came to see one of the best drummers ever freak out and break a snare head, which only happened once. Other than refusing to sing as high as he used to, Sting’s voice rang out perfectly, but his essential bass lines had no presence at all.
Summers is a different story. Wailing and thrashing at his guitar like a beast much younger than his 64 years, he improved solos left and right while staying true to the material. Often, he served as the glue when Sting and Copeland threatened to drive the train off the rails. Sometimes he went too far into outre-jazz wankery (especially when he changed my favorite chord from “Truth Hits Everybody”), but I appreciated his virtuosity and attention to craft. All hail Lord Summers.When the house lights went up and I had gazed my last at the teeny-tiny Policemen across the arena floor, I left happy but exhausted, with an odd sense of wistful dissatisfaction. The Police brought decent kicks, but not the life-changing experience I’d hoped against hope for. I usually only experience those mind-altering experiences near small stages in dirtbag bars with bands no one has ever heard of, but I thought this might be different. As we shuffled out with the throng, two Expedition-driving moms shepherded a gaggle of their pre-teen daughters past us. The moms and daughters all wore matching $45 “Police Reunion Tour 2008” shirts.Standing behind them on the escalator, I kind of wished The Police had exercised their right to remain silent.
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