This ain't no picnic...
They called it 'The Police Picnic' - a festival. But where were the grey clouds, the steady drizzle of rain, the mud, the can fight?
Instead The Grove, Oakville, just outside Toronto, was rewarded with the sun in its Sunday best hitting the high '80's, cloudless skies of azure blue and 30,000 fresh and healthy inhabitants of ''the young country''.
Vancouver band the Payolas, signed to Police manage Miles Copeland's label IRS, confirmed the lack of identity that characterises Canadian bands. They were directionless and had a varied catalogue of pop pastiches like a Clash song, a Mott song, an Any Trouble song, a Police song and the obligatory ''people who like to rock'' song. The set's brevity was its saving grace.
England's finest rock eccentric John Otway and his cohort Wild Willy Barratt were next. Barratt was dressed in an outrageous purple wig, a stage pass on top of his natural blond tresses.
They kicked off with a dreadful version of 'The House Of The Rising Sun', complete with an Otway nod to rock stardom as he hurled his Gibson to an offstage roadie, narrowly avoiding decapitating the wretch. The Oxfordshire due were as appalling as usual. But it's difficult to dislike somebody who wears a constant schoolboy smirk in a manner that seems to say ''one day they'll find out I'm talentless but until then I'll have a laugh.''
He ran trough his ''hits'', probably with a sword, while the crowd polarised into those who loved it and those who threw fruit. When Otway grew sick of trying to get hit he walked off after a hysterical version of 'Cor Baby, That's Really Free' with the stage resembling Covent Garden market.
The real surprise of the day was the vociferous support that greeted Killing Joke's first north American appearance. Singer Jaz ran onto the stage, his face blacked up like a commando and gave the first of his crazed stares and manic laughs.
''The sun may be shining now but playtime doesn't last forever'', he threatened as the band launched into the first of many relentless razor blade-edged guitar riffs laced with what sounded like primal screaming at its best.
The grinding row was as musical as Battersea Power Station and all the loopy psycho grins and malevolent looks made me want to reach for the Anadin rather than force feed myself whatever political message they contained.
It was only on the excellent 'Requiem' that the latent violence and anger hit a perfect balance and became more than just empty posturing.
But the band are playing with fire. One fan dressed in Killing Joke motifs pulled a knife on a female at the front of the stage and was surrounded by security faster than President Reagan. Then they flexed their considerable muscles on his body to the accompaniment of Killing Joke's brand of musical malevolence.
After that, the gently synth doodlings of Canadian mystery man Nash The Slash seemed a welcome relief, the bandaged head this time covered with a white helmet. In his matching shirt and trousers he resembled a refugee from 'Chips' who had had a near fatal accident.
His synth and heavy fuzz toned versions of 'Deadman's Curve', '19th Nervous Breakdown' and the bruised forehead classic 'Smoke On The Water' (here renamed 'Dopes On The Water' gave back the crowd its sense of humour. There was no other reaction possible to this reincarnation of the 'Invisible Man' and his vacuous sound but to have a laugh.
At this point my bodily functions beat my sense of duty and I went in search of food and very cold drink and missed the performances of Oingo Boingo (who were described as ''alright'' and ''not bad'' by solicited testimony) and veteran Iggy Pop (described as ''dull'' but ''popular'').
I got back in time for the Go Go's, the all female quintet who have changed from a nervous and flakey outfit into almost the perfect pop aggregation. They are now an irresistible cocktail of power and pop perception. They have hooks, that grab tight and don't let go. They sounded fresh and spirited with the slinky stylishness of lead singer Belinda Carlisle, the bubbling enthusiasm of rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin and the punchy but bouncy drumwork of Gina Schock on the all important beat.
Songs like the new single 'Our Lips Are Sealed', co-written by Special Terry Hall, 'We Got The Beat' and 'Tonite' sounded like classics and they will be well worth checking out when they come to Britain in October.
As soon as the rousing reception for the Go Go's had died, it was replaced with the chant of ''Specials, Specials'', building up to a crescendo by the time Coventry's finest hit the stage. Bathed in blue light they exploded into 'Concrete Jungle'.
Neville, as always the dervish, Horace, the gentleman, stylishly flinging himself across stage, Jerry, in possession of his cheesiest of grins under his Parisian painter look, complete with goatee and beret, Terry and Roddy always in control, happy just to observe as Linval starts yet another shuffle across the stage to Brad's solid beat.
The band played a Greatest Hits' set interrupted only by Rhoda's 'The Boiler', a tale of rape and sexual degradation, 'Why', Linval's plaintive questioning of fascist ideology and 'Friday Night/Saturday Morning', Terry's painful look at adolescence.
'Rat Race', 'Nite Clubbing', 'Man At C&A', 'International Jet Set' and 'Enjoy Yourself' elicited scenes of joy that paralleled the Royal Wedding and then they struck the winning punch on the encore 'Ghost Town', a triumph of songwriting which topped the best set of the day.
The little girls understand The Police; they had been crushed at the front for some 11 hours and began to pass out as the moment for the three most popular blondes since Harry, Harlowe and Monroe to appear approached.
The lights came up and my eardrum nearly burst as thousands of pubescent voices shrieked as the blond bombers went into the Lolita anthem of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me'. Sting wound up his first ''Woo wee ooooh!'' of the night and his throat seemed to have lost that youthful sparkle but the crowd were more than willing to join in.
But credit where credit is due. This was Stewart Copeland's show. The man was a percussive marvel. He was light of touch, full of surprises and never staid. He was an octopus, always finding the extra to kick the songs up another notch when already at full strength.
Guitarist Andy Summers looked serious for the most part while Sting frequently went to the front of the stage to gyrate and give a few more girls their first orgasm.
They played all the hits like 'Walking On The Moon', the insidious 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', 'Truth Hits Everybody', the brilliant 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Roxanne'.
Of the new songs from the forthcoming 'Ghost In The Machine' album, very little stuck out as being particularly memorable. The single 'Invisible Sun', ''A song about Belfast, but applies to every city in England and Scotland, so what's the difference'', contained a wiry Summers solo but its theme of escape didn't stray beyond the ordinary.
'Shadows In The Rain' had a heavier Jamaican beat with an ethereal synth backing and Sting hollered out a bluesy vocal line in the best Bob Marley tradition. Summers' guitar was superb, producing glistening shards of chords on an atmospheric piece with little substance.
They brought on a horn section for 'When The World Is Running Down' and they sounded great. 'Demolition Man', the song Sting wrote for Grace Jones, was funk riff of no real consequence but it had a nice old fashioned rock soul feel. The other two new numbers 'One World Is Enough For All Of Us', a limp white reggae number, and 'Spirits In The Material World', with a classy trumpet solo, both sounded ordinary.
But as with most things Police, the little girls understood.
(c) Record Mirror by Mike Gardner
Caught in the act!
The old adage, too many cooks spoil the broth, took on new meaning at The Police Picnic. Billed as Canada's only appearance by The Police - with the addition of a couple of bands - the event would have been a major success had the organisers stuck to that original idea.
However, those few friends turned into eight acts, and with the show starting 90 minutes late, the 25,000 spectators had to wait almost 11 hours before the peroxide trio hit the stage. For most the wait was wothwhile as The Police turned in a passable set (not as good as Massey Hall), rattling off their standard hits and previewing some of the tracks from their forthcoming 'Ghost In The Machine' album. The wait had taken its toll on a number of people though and the energy level had wained dramatically by the time The Police rolled into action.
Of the remaining groups, The Specials, Iggy Pop and The Payolas were enjoyable. Nash The Slash and Oingo Boingo were a waste of time, Go Go's were passable, John Otway was hysterical and David Bendeth was wasted in his opening spot, he deserved a better fate.
The ninety-minute delay meant each set had to be shortened which also meant that bands were finished just as the crowd started to respond. An effort was made to slip The Police on stage mid-way through the bill but group manager Miles Copeland wouldn't go for it. He felt that everyone would go home right afterwards thus spoiling things for The Specials and The Go Go's.
One postive aspect of The Police Picnic was that barring the opening delay, the show ran like clockwork. There was a minimum amount of problems both on and off the site and the promoters made a little money. All of which shows promise for future concerts at The Grove, the next one possibly set for next May with heavy metal bands providing the entertainment.
(c) Music Express by Keith Sharp
Police concert is no picnic for fans...
It seems most of Sunday's Police Picnic in Oakville was constructed to make the headlining act, the Police, look very good once it hit the stage. When the trio arrived, at 10:55 p.m., many of the nearly 30,000 people in Kiev Park had been there for 11 hours. They had been forced to sit through a number of dreary performances to prepare for the climax, which was two hours late and not in time for those who came to the performance on the GO Train to catch the last train home to Toronto or Hamilton.
The Specials, the reigning English ska band, stole a little of the Police thunder with a tight set of pre-reggae Jamaican rhythms and less exotic rock pieces; but they have not sold 14 million records recently, so the crowd didn't seem to come alive live like it does at star-time. At that point, with many hours of sun followed by slowly descending chill, it takes the headliner to move mountains. By the time they hit Message in a Bottle, an hour into the show, the Police had gathered the scattered loose ends of the crowd together again.
Early in the afternoon John Otway, better suited to small clubs, saw his set end earlier than he expected in a small shower of paper cups from the audience. Killing Joke then played tough but simple-minded music. Nash The Slash, a local solo act next on the bill, was then treated with utmost contempt by the stage manager. He had been promised 35 minutes and was cut off after 20 - in front of a crowd that size, many of whom know the performer and like him, they actually shut the power off just as he was moving into his new material. It was unbelievable rudeness and the crowd recognised it. Nash himself said some fairly rude things into a dead mike, but later in the backstage area had cooled to a philosophical slow burn.
Iggy Pop put the first consistent punch into the show. One does not screw around with Mr. Pop; his show ran its rollicking course, a re-statement of his excellent performance here earlier this year. It was a sorely needed spark of life; Mr. Pop put most or all of his abundant energy into his anthem, 'Lust For Life' and a rehash of the venerable Gloria - that's G-L-O-R-I-A, at full volume from the front third of the crowd.
The Police set seemed packed with hits, but it's only because the hits come quickly these days for the most popular - three or four of them lifted one after another from each of the albums adds up to almost a dozen or more solid AM and FM radio hits in a three-year period. 'Message In A Bottle', 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Da Do Do Do', 'Walking on the Moon', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' - all of them riding on bassist Sting's plaintive voice - were the pop highlights.
Elsewhere there was more reggae, or at least their poppy version of it, than they've exhibited in a long time: the new 'One World is Enough' was as Jamaican an item as they've ever produced, an up-tempo reggae song with a palpable, if trivialised, message. Sting has the voice, but guitarist Andy Summers remains the musical star of the show. There was a borrowed brass section for certain numbers, but it was generally up to Summers to keep the background filled with his superb rhythm guitar work. He rarely soloed; instead he fiddled with his knobs and dials, and changed his strumming techniques to fit the piece. He did the work of three competent stage guitarists, and without him Sting would be crying in the wind.
Life was hell for the working press, and by that I mean the people who were actually on assignment Sunday, no more than 25 in number. They were given the same status - the laughable ''V.I.P.'' sticker - as the friends of the people who work in the record stores in Toronto, and when the time came, justifiably, for these people to be denied access to the front of the stage, the photographers and writers wearing the same passes were forced to face a mountain of hired beef on the hoof whose job was to impede legitimate efforts as much as possible, all of them convinced that civilisation's future rests on keeping the musicians safe from working journalists during this absolutely cosmic event.
Let's get it straight, fellas. The Police aren't worth it. No band is worth the subtle bullying and intimidation that goes along with things like this, with aimless youth given power for a day only because they resemble our evolutionary ancestors or because they are willing to work for free. It's all becoming quite vicious, and the promoters are planning to do a couple more just like it next summer.
(c) The Star by Paul McGrath