Sting: Call a Doctor, Not a Groupie...
Things have changed in the world of rock 'n' roll circa 2007.
After The Police played possibly the most sold-out show ever in the history of Los Angeles' Staples Center on Wednesday night, Sting disappeared from the backstage after-party into an ante room.
''He's probably with a groupie,'' joked Trudie Styler, his hotter-than-ever wife and companion of 25 years. Styler boogied through the show from her 11th-row floor seats in a sexy black clingy Azzedine Alaia dress and very un-domestic red pumps.
''I don't know how to break this to you,'' said Stewart Copeland, the band's drummer, fresh from two hours of the hardest skin-hitting a post-50-year-old has ever accomplished. ''Your husband is in the back room with two men who are pushing and pulling him in different directions. And he's really enjoying it.''
The two men, of course, were not groupies but doctors who were busy making sure that Sting - a physical wonder of the world at 55 years and 8 months old, eclipsed only by a nearly decade-older Mick Jagger - had survived a remarkable performance and was on track for the next one tonight in Anaheim and Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
Yes, indeed, things have changed. Sting, you see - not a regular vegetarian - is on a strict macrobiotic diet. His personal chef makes him mock tuna wraps and ''crunchy'' soup.
Since The Police's wildly successful reunion tour began on May 28 in Vancouver, he's eschewed liquor and just about everything else that rockers of a certain era might have embraced or delighted in as a reward for having 20,000 fans stand through an entire concert cheering, screaming, applauding and singing along to nearly all his lyrics by heart.
At almost 56, Sting's most decadent pleasures are being turned into a pretzel by his yoga instructor an hour before show time and taking post-show pictures with four of his six kids (the youngest two are in school).
His eldest, Joe, opens the show to ever-increasing acclaim with his own rock group, Fiction Plane, and Sting is thrilled. That's the prize now.
I checked in with The Police Wednesday night at the Staples Center just to see what the hell was going on since Copeland, perhaps a little naively, posted an acerbic review of the Vancouver opening show on his Web site that got worldwide attention.
It was the first negative notice ever delivered in public by the member of a rock super-group on himself and his colleagues.
But that was OK. In their heyday, Sting, Copeland and sizzling guitarist Andy Summers were famous for not getting along. They turned out to be the generational bridge between the Kinks and Oasis; witty verbiage only replaced fisticuffs because they weren't related to each other.
And still: After weeks of rehearsing in Italy and then Vancouver, The Police's fourth-week show is still not completely together. This, I think, is a good thing.
Rather than churn out bland replicas of established hits, the trio is very much live and unadorned, and still feeling their way through presentations of songs. The result is that they've retained a punk sensibility sort of by accident, just the way they came across back in 1979 when ''Roxanne'' hit college radio and established stations refused to play them. The friction has reignited them.
Sometimes, they are completely on the same page and really enjoying it. Certainly by the end of the show and a succession of encores with 'King of Pain', 'Every Breath You Take' and their early rocker 'Next To You', the trio was in synch and pounding its way to jubilant finish.
But it takes a lot to get there. On 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', the three musicians were playing what seems like four simultaneously different versions.
''I have a whole of book of variations,'' their musical director told me last night. And yet it didn't matter. Instead of sounding canned, the song came off as urgent, and the audience sang along ebulliently word for word.
The fact is, The Police's hits, like those of the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones before them, are such sturdy structures that they can withstand redecorating and remain standing without damage. This may be because they were so elegantly and precisely conceived with jazz, reggae and R&B inflections that allow them to be bent, twisted or inverted only to snap right back into place.
It wouldn't work, for example, in the case of U2's more surface renderings. With a couple of exceptions, there isn't much room to fool around on their numbers. But The Police songs' dynamics can survive almost anything.
So in the crowd I saw Dustin Hoffman, Courteney Cox Arquette and David Arquette, Billy Crudup and shock-haired movie producer Brian Grazer, among others, simply fall into oblivious elation as Sting jumped around the stage, Copeland expertly manned numerous percussive devices and Summers riffed away on guitar lines he constantly reinvents.
Sting's voice, far more supple than when The Police last played together in 1983, takes songs like 'Invisible Sun' and 'Message In A Bottle' to new heights. They soared Wednesday night. (The former was helped illustratively by photographs of African children shot by Bobby Sager, Sting's pal who's quietly working on helping Rwanda.)
And there were surprises. 'Truth Hits Everybody', an album track that was more or less forgotten, could easily be re-recorded as a new hit now with a very topical video to accompany it.
The lyric ''Take a look at my new toy/It'll blow your head in two, oh boy'' seems more relevant than ever, and the music that drives it couldn't be more contemporary.
'Wrapped Around Your Finger', also an album cut (you remember those ''filler'' tracks before iPods reduced us to singles), was elevated to majestic status thanks to Copeland's embroideries. They were revelations that audiences should be embracing more and more with each new show.
The worst thing The Police could do now, I think, is try to polish up their act.
As they head off to Dodger Stadium, more shows across the country, MTV Unplugged in Miami (more to come on that next month) and eventually ''the big time'' in New York (with Aug. 1 and 3 shows at Madison Square Garden, followed by Giants Stadium), the more frisson, the better.
(c) FOX411 By Roger Friedman
The Police: (Staples Center; 20,000 seats; $260 top)...
The program the Police are offering on their reunion tour could have just as easily been a show from 1986 or '87, a time when the band would have been at or near the height of its powers and a string of greatest hits dates would have filled stadiums. In going back to the drawing board, Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland have chosen to ignore the last 20 years and where their music has taken them; this is a bona-fide return to the old days - the Police are playing the music the way they played the songs when they were newborns. And like all newborns, some are plump, some are adorable and some are whiny.
It's quite a fascinating tack to take. Most bands find a way to re-create their records - Steely Dan's reunion, for example, required an army of musicians to get the songs just so - but the Police seem more keen on re-creating their concerts, specifically the ones performed when they were a three-piece with no added horns, keyboards or voices.
In some cases, that treatment provides an extra amount of air to seep into a song like 'Synchronicity II', which was given some intriguing tempo shifts, and elsewhere they pad, just as they did in the 1970s when they had an album of material and needed to deliver shows that were nearly double the length of their single LP.
Nearly every song is given an interlude that won't be found on their five albums and the results are a mixed bag. 'Walking On The Moon', one of their finest songs, has built-in rhythmic virility to stand up to an extended jam and both song and band performed fine at Staples. 'When the World is Running Down', 'Driven To Tears', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' and 'King of Pain' were among the highlights, and in nearly every instance, the musicians picked interesting spots to dart around the melodies and provide an extra little jolt to the material.
Other songs proved unwieldy: 'Truth Hits Everybody' was played at an odd - and ultimately boring - meter; Sting needs to admit he can't hit the notes on 'Every Breath You Take' and should change the tune's key; and when Sting took a slow, practiced approach to a lyric, 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' being a prime example, he drained tunes of their visceral power. ('Don't Stand' is probably the biggest let-down of the two-hour show.)
In their prime, the members of the Police were held up as superb musicians, the first group to emerge from the punk movement in which the band had a thorough grasp of their instruments. In this go-round, it's much more about getting the song performed than flashing any technical brilliance; Sting's bass playing is solid but not consistently authoritative and guitarist Summers has rounded out some of the angularity that shaped the songs on record.
Copeland, though, remains one of rock's greatest drummers and when the band was sharp and crisp Wednesday, it was due to Sting and Summers following Copeland's lead. He has the unenviable task of creating several layers of sound that allow Sting to stick to melodic bass lines and Summers to accents; during 'So Lonely', Sting altered a lyric to note ''welcome to the Stewart Copeland show'' and if he's willing to cough up some credit, Copeland's value may be deeper than any of us realize.
Tour is to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their first single 'Roxanne' - don't worry about your mind playing tricks on you, it wasn't until early 1979 that anybody cared about the band '-- and the rather thin demographic that filled Staples Center was a reminder of the shortness of the Police's career. Nearly everyone in the house hit a key birthdate (16, 18, 21) between 1979 and 1984, the year the Police called it quits.
The Police's popularity rests in the aud's reclamation of youth. And with a catalog of just five albums - loved 'em when they came out and still fond of them today - the Police don't need to be anything more than what they once were; nothing they did back then has gone out of favor. And the band and their merchandisers realize this: There are no new pictures of the Police on the merch and every item for sale at the souvenir stands had images from the albums. The stands looked more like warehouse liquidation sales - get your 'Zenyatta Mondatta' T-shirt, only 35 bucks - than a celebration of anything living and vibrant.
The Police perform at Dodger Stadium on Saturday; Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1 and 3 and Oct. 31; and Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 5.
(c) Variety by Phil Gallo
The Police: Under arrest...
Charge the Police's reunion tour, steaming through SoCal for three shows, with failing to live up to expectations.
Boy, the air really flew out of the Police bubble fast, didn't it?
Granted, it was a big bubble. Once the bombshell dropped that the formerly fractious trio - Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland - were back together, its fallout almost instantly expanded to epic proportions. Dates at arenas and stadiums nationwide sold out faster than you can say sold out. Before the tour even began it was well on its way to becoming the highest grossing outing of 2007.
For months anticipation has risen to a fever pitch, with particular emphasis placed on the band's SoCal run - Wednesday's Staples Center opener, Thursday's Honda Center engagement (the first Police sighting in O.C.) and Saturday's date with Foo Fighters at Dodger Stadium.
Important questions took shape: 1) How would they sound? 2) What would they play? 3) These guys are all past 50 now - Summers is 64. Would they be able to recapture yesteryear's energy? 4) Would Sting, the linchpin upon which this and any further Police business hinges, attempt to remodel the sound, bring it nearer to his solo approach?
My answers after the Staples set: 1) Pretty strong, but sometimes patchy. 2) Most everything you'd want to hear, though not enough for this fan. 3) Not very much, no. 4) Yes, with decidedly mixed results.
I'll get back to that, after the bubble bursts in this story, for it seemed to virtually overnight. Word out of Vancouver after opening night? Resoundingly favorable. But then came the second show - and Copeland's blog post about a botched start to 'Message In A Bottle' and how disastrous the gig grew. Suddenly the headline was no longer ''Back and Better Than Ever,'' it was ''We Stink!''
(Funny how so many media outlets seemed to stop reading at that point in Copeland's play-by-play of that rocky second show. If you got to the end, you'd have discovered the three old mates came off stage that night collapsing into each other's arms laughing. Ah, but such fraternizing doesn't sell the sensationalized idea of these guys at each other's throats again.)
Less-than-impressed reviews started rolling in from other cities, and disappointment soon spread. I found myself the night before the Staples show, stepping out of L.A.'s Silent Movie Theatre, listening to a guy tell his date about the Police in Phoenix or Vegas (I couldn't tell which): ''They were tight and all, but it so wasn't worth $275.''
I must say I agree, though I doubt most people who paid that much or more would say the same. Most were thrilled to sing along, awed to see before them what once was unthinkable until Sting led this curious about-face. I'd like to say I share their enthusiasm; like many, I waited almost a quarter-century to see this, too.
Yet I've come away underwhelmed.
I somewhat set myself up: I conveniently overlooked the fact, based on available live materials, that though their five albums evolved into studio marvels, the Police were never the sharpest live band. When they caught fire, they could be unstoppable, ragged friction triggering explosiveness most peers couldn't match. But that apparently wasn't the Police on most nights.
Nor is it this older, smoother Police now.
Age puts the group at a disadvantage: Whereas the Stones could turn 100 and still strut across a basic blues-rock figure, the Police remain much more about stylistic morphing and chops-smart precision - and any loss of edge or power can become glaringly evident. The less there is, the more likely any wow factor will be greatly diminished.
Not that the Police '07 entirely lack power. Half of this Staples set was strong, particularly during stretched-out takes on 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' and 'Driven To Tears', two of Sting's most trenchant social statements engulfed by steam-gathering grooves. (Two other cautionary tunes, 'Invisible Sun' and 'Walking in Your Footsteps' were equally stirring, the starkness of the first deftly bleeding into the percussion flurry and Hendrix funk applied to the latter.)
Almost as captivating were the evening's moodier pieces: 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', its jazzy skank undercut by bittersweetness; 'King of Pain', Sting luxuriating in its lines; 'Walking On The Moon', bolstered by bass-pedal bottom. Several hits were wisely delivered as-is, but that also shed light on shortcomings: 'Synchronicity II', like most songs from the Police's final two albums, just doesn't work in a three-piece arrangement. Like 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', its gusto muted by a corny calypso feel here, it requires expanded instrumentation to sound right.
Unless you scale back deliberately - which is why 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' succeeded. Toying with 'Truth Hits Everybody', however - slowing it down to grandpa speed - was a blatant misstep. As with 'Next To You' and 'So Lonely' and 'Can't Stand Losing You', three other early power cuts that didn't retain as much zest as they used to, the strength of 'Truth' comes from its sprinting pace. But these guys are too musicianly now to be so reckless.
And Sting is too much a master craftsman to leave well enough alone. He can't resist restructuring chord changes or dressing up arrangements. That's fine at his solo shows, where we expect him to re-imagine his past. But this return begs for a larger dose of familiarity than it provides.
Worse, the show itself lacks pizzazz. Sting did promise it would just be three guys playing their hearts out. Yet, though such simplicity can be riveting from Clapton or Dylan or Springsteen, here it strangely wasn't enough to sustain interest, the band's backdrop, mimicking U2's recent setups minus the glittering lights, offering little distraction. I fear for how dull this might be at Dodger Stadium, where audiences have grown accustomed to the pyrotechnic sprawls of the Stones.
At least at Dodger Stadium we might get a fuller set: 'Spirits in the Material World' and 'Murder by Numbers', played almost everywhere else so far, were left off this night. And the list of gems sacrificed to make room for hits is longer than you'd think. Where, for instance, are 'Bring on the Night' or 'Demolition Man', or a murky bit like 'Shadows in the Rain', or more resonant-than-ever commentaries like 'Too Much Information' and 'One World (Not Three)'?
What's the purpose of this tour, anyway? It's not money; they've got enough. Nor is it merely nostalgia. Sting told Rolling Stone this month that it's to ''retrace those steps and make the band better. I have played these songs for years. I know things about the music I didn't know then or couldn't express. I'm a better bandleader now than I was then.''
Maybe so, and as with Summers and Copeland he's certainly a better musician now. But that doesn't necessarily mean this is a better band. At times it's a rather leaden one, an ''ego-cracy'' (as Summers calls it) that pulls in three different directions: Sting aims toward adult-pop, Summers veers toward experimentalism, and Copeland thunders away trying to bridge the gap.
If it carries on past this tour, perhaps then the return of the Police will have some deeper value, beyond giving fans who missed out the first time a rare second chance. For now, I'm having a hard time believing this is anything other than a calculated means to resuscitate both Sting's career and Sting himself, his contentious but trusty pals only too eager to bask in past glory.
(c) The Orange County Register by Ben Wener
The Police bring familiar feeling...
There is potentially nothing more hilarious than listening to 20,000 mostly nostalgia soaked Angelinos trying to keep pace with 'Roxanne'. As if the song's broken wandering verses aren't enough, a certain one named lead singer's penchant for scatting through his own well known catalog could make singing along especially challenging.
But Sting and his fellow Police men haven't reunited to make things musically or thematically tricky for themselves or their audiences.
'Roxanne', its syncopations manageable even for the sing-along inclined, arrives nearly half way through the band's two hour set, punctuated by a bath of - what else? - red lights and driven home by a powerhouse chorus. ''Put on the red light! Put on the right light!''
The song is, of course, an enormous crowd pleaser. The whole evening is.
Taking in the band's hugely ballyhooed reunion tour Wednesday night (The Police plays the Honda Center Thursday and Dodger Stadium Saturday), I thought about a lyric from the band's 'So Lonely': ''No surprise, no mystery.'' (At a ticket face value of up to $260, the preceding 'So Lonely' line ''Just take a seat, they're always free'' doesn't exactly apply).
This isn't entirely a criticism. Given that this is their first time together after nearly two and a half decades, Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland seem hell bent on giving the crowds exactly what they want. Who exactly can blame them?
The boys move their way through a collection of numbers - mostly hits - from their first five albums ('Ghost in the Machine' gets especially short shrift), not exactly hurrying to evening's end, but not lingering either. There is, from time to time, an occasion for the audience to parrot back one of Sting's ubiquitous ''Ee yo, ee yo yo yo'' chants.
Between song patter? Personal or biographical insight? Not a trace. ''We haven't been together in 24 years. I should introduce the band: Stewart, this is Andy. Andy, this is Stewart,'' Sting says some two songs in. Which about does it for the evening's non sung quotient.
The rest is music: familiar tunes (Man, they cut some great ones back in the day!) familiarly arranged. The band does not cover a single non Police track, much less any Sting, Copeland or Summers solos.
The set kicks off with a gong blast from Copeland, immediately followed by 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Synchronicity II' (Staples acoustics don't make for great attention to complex lyrics such as those that come with 'Synchronicity II'. The audience tends to greet especially popular numbers ('Don't Stand So Close to Me', 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic') with immediate great excitement, but the band isn't drawing out any of the lead ins. Like I said, they're here to play and play some more.
There are precious few opportunities for any of the three band mates- who perform with no back up musicians - to cut loose solo style within a song. Summers gets some strong individual riffs in during 'Can't Stand Losing You'. Copeland shuttles between his drums - for the heavier, harder beats - and an assortment of percussion and hanging instruments, including a xylophone, on 'Walking in your Footsteps' and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' giving the latter a sultry exotic feel. Finally,some arrangement experimentation!
'Footsteps' finds dinosaur skeletons walking across the video screens, one of the rare instances during which those screens are used for anything other than band close-ups. The other is the overtly political 'Invisible Sun' - one of the few socially conscious songs The Police has included in this concert lineup. As Sting breaks off lyrics like ''And they're only going to change this place/By killing everybody in the human race,'' the screens are replete with images of war torn Iraq and saucer eyed children.
Twenty four years has seen the band members age gracefully. Sting, his blond hair still with a trace of punkishness, is as sinewy and wails as mightily as ever. Summers, now in his 60s, looks and plays decades younger while Copeland's shock of bushy hair behind his headband has gone white. The trio are clearly marshalling their energies; there's not a lot of movement or leaping among any of the trio. Indeed, Joe Sumner, Sting's son and the speaker climbing lead singer of Wednesday's opening band, Fiction Plane, out-jumps his father by probably a 5:1 ratio.
Mutual on-stage acknowledgment is largely in short supply until the bows and encores, but this is clearly a reunion with rapport among its members. Talent, too. Sting pours a bit of reverse seductiveness into 'Don't Stand So Close'. 'King of Pain' and 'So Lonely' - performed during an encore set - are dynamically upbeat despite their rather gloomy subject matter.
There were three encores. The Police actually wished the audience good night before returning to sing 'Every Breath You Take'. Yeah, right. As if the satisfied 20,000 was going to leave the building before that one came around.
Not a lot of risk taking, to be sure, but while the Police are back together -even for a short time - they figure to have quite a few people watching every step they take, every move they make.
(c) The Los Angeles Daily News by Evan Henerson
Police Cruise Through Los Angeles Opener...
Three weeks into 2007's largest reunion tour, The Police hit a mix of high notes and partial duds during the first of three nights in Southern California on Wednesday (6/20).
The band's return to the stage after a 23-year hiatus has been one of the few bright spots in a sluggish concert season, and is expected to be the top-grossing tour of the year by a wide margin, due to a combination of stadium stops in several cities and ticket prices surpassing the $250 mark in larger markets.
That set of factors bring a pretty high level of expectations, and the band didn't quite deliver superstar pacing, performance or production at the Staples Center.
The nearly two-hour set was plagued early on by sound problems that gave Sting's bass a quacky tone and buried Andy Sommer's intricate chord work too deep in the mix. The sound sorted itself out a few songs in, and Stewart Copeland in particular shone, nailing many of the crisp fills and syncopated rhythms that formed much of the Police's trademark sound.
Sting at 55 is a wonder to behold, with a chiseled physique and in fine voice, though like many of his contemporaries (Bono and Bruce Springsteen come to mind), he's taken to artistically stepping away from some of the high notes of the early catalogue.
As a group, the band's biggest problem proved less to be the mechanics of their performance than their projection of it. During several of the too-long-and-interchangeable ska jams that punctuated the night and at some critical points in their bigger songs, the band felt less like they owned the material and more like a talented cover band that hadn't quite nailed some of the nuances.
The fact that the setlist has changed since the first couple of shows indicates the show may still be finding its rhythm. There was a palpable sag about mid-set during 'Invisible Sun' and 'Walking In Your Footsteps' that may find its footing later in the tour.
Highlights included terrific takes on 'Driven To Tears', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely'. Sting's voice lit up compelling performances of 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' and 'Every Breath You Take'.
In all, the show was a fun - if uneven - journey through one of the premiere staples of the early music video generation.
(c) Soundspike.com by Richard Tafoya