Age shall not weary them...
January 24, 2008 

Reunion tours are strange beasts to get your head around if you have any scepticism about that point where art and commerce - or art and the late-arriving, but very lucrative, superannuation fund - meet.

The older the band the more likely you are to find yourself, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, thinking that it is not done well but you are surprised to find it done at all. Wasn't he dead? Didn't they hate each other? Wasn't I drunk?

Even at their height, the Police and their main man, Sting, always inspired more cynicism than was warranted and a little more praise than they deserved (they never really nailed a great album).

A reunion tour more than 20 years after an acrimonious break-up, in a big stadium where the spectacle rather than musicianship tends to dominate, with the extraordinarily ordinary but the popular Fergie on the bill as bait for a new generation, only heightens that cynicism.

But within a few songs it was obvious the Police were not playing by the rules of near-geriatric reunions. First, it was genuinely fun, on stage as much as off. Second, they were playing as a three-piece, without the safety net of backing singers (for those now-out-of-reach high notes), keyboard fills (for that stadium sound) and multiple samples (to compensate for less than adept playing).

They could do that because Stewart Copeland is as energetic and busy a drummer as ever; Andy Summers is all class, capable of dangling chord minimalism and fusion-fussiness; and Sting, while not attempting all the difficult notes, still has his vocal and bass playing chops.

And finally, they played a set which while touching pretty much all the key bases, saw them attacking the songs with a musician's rather than an accountant's eye. While it wasn't always successful, almost every song was changed in some way. Sometimes Sting simply played loose with the melody or a slight tempo change ('Don't Stand So Close To Me', for example). Others included long, funk-based excursions ('Voices Inside My Head'), jazz breakdowns ('Walking On The Moon') or were just harder, faster and more energised ('Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely').

Believe me, by the second song I was already well over the "e-yo-yo-yos". Sting can be insufferably smug sometimes and no matter how they play it 'A Hole In My Life' just isn't a very good song and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' is pap. But when done this well, the Police deserve more than cynicism. Maybe even respect.

© Sydney Morning Herald by by Bernard Zuel

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