The Police play Honolulu for first time in 24 years...
February 16, 2008 

What's a crowd to do when Sting throws down a challenge?

Sting: "The question is, Honolulu: Are you ready to sing?"

Crowd: "Yeah!"

Sting, louder, with his hand behind his ear to signify that the almost 10,000 screaming voices in the Blaisdell Arena aren't loud enough to satisfy him: "Are you ready to sing?"

Crowd, louder: "Yeah!"

Sting, still not satisfied: "Are. You. Ready. To. Siiiiiiiiiing?"

Crowd, louder still, shrill with frenetic energy: "Yeah!"

Not that Sting really had to do much coaxing during last night's Police concert - the first in Honolulu since the band's 1984 'Synchronicity' tour and the band's last stop on their current reunion tour, which kicked off last May in Vancouver, Canada, marking the band's first concert since breaking up in 1985.

The challenge, which came two songs into the concert, was completely unnecessary.

All the crowd needed to lose its composure was to hear these words: "Woke up this morning. Can't believe what I saw." The rest of the lyrics to 'Message in a Bottle' came easily to the thousands and thousands of people who were on their feet the instant the band ascended onto the stage in a metal cage.

Was Honolulu ready to sing? Silly question.

But first, a good-natured jab at themselves was in order. Guitarist Andy Summers emerged from the cage mid-brawl with drummer Stewart Copeland, a microphone stand the weapon of choice. The staged fight was, of course, a joke on themselves. The band's way of addressing the highly publicized internal strife that ultimately led to the group's disbandment only eight years after it formed in 1977. It's been 25 years since all that and now audiences are being introduced to a more tranquil trio. But if the new-found calm has any effect on the music, it's only served to make it better.

It was the band's musicianship that made it work in the beginning, and it's that same expertise that was evident last night in the band's slick - and confident - reworking of its catalog to update its sound, and to reflect what the Police has become.

Punk-tinged classics like 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' took on softer, smoother lines, allowing for the songs to be extended and filled in by lengthy, showy solos by Copeland and Summers, whose deftness with their instruments was exquisite and precise. Sting might have had the show stolen from him by his bandmates if it wasn't for his own skill in delivering incredibly solid vocals, frequently hitting those haunting high notes that he's honed as a solo artist (think 'Desert Rose' and 'Fields of Gold').

Though all of the material was exclusively classic Police stuff - there were no Sting-the-solo-artist songs - it was easy to hear the singer that Sting's become worked into the songs of the singer that he once was.

The reggae-inspired 'Roxanne' was less rocksteady and more jazz - a likely result of the musicians growing older and more refined and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' was transformed into a slow and winding ballad, accented by clean vocals slides and moaning guitar riffs.

The crowd sometimes had difficulty identifying the reworked songs, saving the screams that usually errupt with the first few notes of a favorite song until the lyrics could be heard. But a few words into the song and the roars came as fervently and unfettered as if nothing had changed. And wisely, the band left all the original melodies in tact, giving their fans something to sing about.

Sting, looking young, thin and fit in black skinny jeans, combat boots and a black skin-tight tanktop that showed off his sinewy, muscular arms, spent much of his time interracting with the audience, keeping them on their feet and launching sing-and-respond sing alongs that had the audience screaming back non-sensical phrases like "eeyo-oh-oh-oh" in response to his "eeyo-oh," and "de da da da" in response to his "de do do do."

Some might say the Police saved the best for last, ending their 13-song set with 'Roxanne' (during which the arena was bathed in - what else? - red light) and capping everything off with a three-megahit encore that included 'King of Pain', 'So Lonely' and 'Every Breath You Take'. But it was during the band's less popular songs (that is, the ones that don't get radio play today), like 'Walking on the Moon', 'Invisible Sun' and 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' that the band's status as a legitimate supergroup was most astonishing. Because there aren't many bands that could get 10,000 people - young, old and in between - to sing songs that are 25 years old as if the songs were fresh in their minds.

Here's the thing, though: The songs are fresh in our minds because we never stopped listening.

© The Honolulu Advertiser by Kawehi Haug (Ticket from Sue Bett)

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