Oct
23
1978

Poughkeepsie, NY, US (Last Chance Saloon)

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SHOW REVIEW

Once-in-a-lifetime concert - Police show at Last Chance remains stuff of legends...

On a Monday night in October 1978, Patrick Libretti of Poughkeepsie and a friend went to The Last Chance Saloon to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Houston Oilers in ''Monday Night Football.''

While waiting for the kickoff, the pair played a little pinball. But they were forced to compete for time on the pinball machines with three guys Libretti described as strangely dressed. The two groups ended up playing against each other, though the strange-looking trio's thick British accents made attempts at conversation futile.

Back at the bar, Libretti and his friend ordered a pitcher of beer and started watching the game. But the television was quickly turned off and an announcement made that the night's entertainment was about to begin - to a nearly empty house.

''The announcer also gave a loud and clear that you had to have tickets if you intended on staying,'' Libretti, 48, recalled.

Irritated, Libretti and his friend refused to buy tickets but were told they could stay for a few songs. The curtain came up. The band came out. And the three guys on stage were the same three who had just played pinball.

The band's short, spiked, blonde hair and their punk-rock sound left Libretti and his friend in stitches. ''All I remember doing is laughing,'' he said.

But the three musicians would ultimately have the last laugh. You might have heard of them. They were called The Police. And not long after that concert at The Chance, which earned the band at the door, their song ''Roxanne'' took the world by storm.

The Police on Oct. 23, 1978, had traveled to Poughkeepsie in a rented van and played at the Last Chance, now called The Chance, with rented music gear. Their concert on that rainy, snowy, icy night has evolved into Hudson Valley lore - an urban myth that actually occurred.

In his autobiography ''One Train Later,'' released in October, former Police guitarist Andy Summers recounts in detail the band's big night in Poughkeepsie, five years before playing to 70,000 at Shea Stadium.

The Police had arrived in Poughkeepsie after playing CBGB's in Manhattan - where the howling audience declared them a smash hit. But upon arrival, Poughkeepsie promised to be different.

Some excerpts from the book:

''One night we turn up in a town called Poughkeepsie to play at a venue aptly called the Last Chance Saloon ...''

''It looks like a decent place, but obviously tonight we are not going to get an audience. There are four people. These are hardy or insane souls who have braved the mind-numbing cold to see an unknown English punk band called the Police. Four? ...''

''Suddenly the success of CBGB's seems a long way behind us.''

The Police unloaded their gear in the snow and experienced a sense of doom, but after a meal were feeling ''recovered enough to say... let's play, we need the practice and at least we'll keep warm.'' The band members hit the stage, Summers writes, ''in front of our almost invisible ticket holders and give a full-on show'' and ''the four recipients of this mayhem respond in-kind with vociferous applause, and in a perverse way, we have enjoyed ourselves. ...We return to the motel feeling rather pleased with ourselves.''

In the crowd that night was Lee Mazzola of Marlboro, who prior to that night had heard the song, ''Can't Stand Losing You,'' somewhere, though he can't recall where. He learned of the show from fliers plastered around Poughkeepsie.

''Unbelievable,'' Mazzola, 50, said of the Police performance in Poughkeepsie. ''Totally unbelievable. I was blown away, just blown away.''

Some months earlier, Last Chance co-owner Larry Plover was in England, visiting a friend who sold high-end luxury cars. One of his friend's customers was former Beatle George Harrison, who lived locally and on that day, popped into the pub where Plover and his friend had met up.

While getting to know Harrison, someone from the quiet Beatle's entourage told Plover about a band that was making waves in Britain. They were called The Police.

So when Plover months later got a phone call from Ian Copeland, the brother of Police drummer Stewart Copeland who was involved with managing the band, he was vaguely familiar with the group. Plover worked with Ian Copeland regularly.

'Roxanne' had been released by A&M Records in England in April 1978. But The Police had not released a record in the United States. Shortly after the phone call, Plover received a package in the mail.

''What I got was a cassette, with one song, 'Roxanne,' '' Plover recalled. ''I listened to it and I heard this voice. I said to myself, 'I have never heard anyone who sounds like this guy.' I called Ian back and said, 'Yeah, we'll give it a shot.' That was how we booked them. ...Nobody knew who they were.''

That voice belonged to Sting.

Plover sent the tape over to Stan Beinstein, who at the time was a sales manager at WPDH (101.5 FM) in Poughkeepsie. Beinstein had worked at The Chance, got married at The Chance and his late wife Rosalie created posters for shows at The Chance. And Beinstein could often be found at The Chance.

''I could be there any night of the week, - lunch and dinner,'' said Beinstein, who lives in LaGrange and now works for WDST (100.1 FM) in Woodstock. ''It was a very different place in some regards.''

Indeed it was. The Last Chance Saloon in October 1978 served food and the stage was about two feet lower than it is now. The balcony was unsafe and closed, and the walls hadn't been painted in 40 years.

Beinstein made a commercial for the gig using 'Roxanne' and a voiceover that boasted of ''the arresting sound of The Police.''

'A train wreck'

Before the show, Beinstein said, ''Sting and Stewart were having beers at the bar and fooling around like a couple of ninth-grade kids. ...I'm hanging at the bar, the marketing guy responsible for putting a crowd into a room. I'm looking at a train wreck, apologizing to the manager.''

Then came showtime.

''The curtain went up and it was embarrassing,'' Beinstein said.

To the audience, Sting said, ''We'll introduce ourselves if you introduce yourselves first,'' and everyone started hollering their names, Beinstein said. Plover said the atmosphere was ''awkward'' when the curtain rose. But then - the music started.

''One of the things that impressed me the most was that these guys played both sets like they were playing to 1,000 people,'' Plover said. ''I think they really believed in the dream.''

Beinstein, 56, never attended another Police concert.

''The reason being is I knew that whether Shea Stadium or the Garden, I would never experience what I saw in that room,'' he said.

Last Chance co-owner Mike Chiaratti helped Sting, Summers and Copeland - the band had no roadies - unload their equipment before the show and reload it into their van after the show. As they were leaving, Chiaratti supplemented the they took from the door.

''I gave them cash out of my pocket,'' he said. ''I just felt sorry for them. It was at least a bill.''

Libretti, who just wanted to watch ''Monday Night Football,'' said he left after a couple songs. He and his friend were told they could hang around for a little while, but then would have to buy a ticket or leave.

''We were drinking our beer, finishing our beer and we saw the guy coming around,'' he said. ''We gulped down our beer and took off.''

Oh yeah, the Oilers that night beat the Steelers, 24-17, in Pittsburgh.

(c) Poughkeepsie Journal By John W. Barry (written November 2006)

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