SHOW REVIEW

The Police with Fiction Plane...

The reviewers sit huddled together to the left of the stage, notebooks of multiple sizes drawn, pens clicking or uncapping with snips, same press packets for The Police's 2007 tour splayed across laps or tucked into bags beneath our seats. In the dark of the audience, the lights carried by blue-vested ushers guide groups of three or four down stairs from all sides while Fiction Plane frontman Joe Sumner (the son of Gordon ''Sting'' Sumner, who hiccups off of careening high notes into nonsense syllables and leaps from speaker stacks just like his old man) and his bandmates fill the high end of the John Paul Jones Arena's acoustic sphere with effects-heavy guitar and cymbal ripples.

A brief set ends, the lights come on, and chatter begins. Reviewer No. 1 has my left ear and mentions recently spending $170 (including service fees) to see Van Halen; Reviewer No. 2 has my right ear and $180 tickets to see Neil Young in Washington, D.C., a trip he'll make from Richmond. A quick lap around the arena yields few familiar faces: Local drummer Darrell Rose says hello, and a friend will tell me that he attended a few days after the concert. But the crowd - mostly in their 30s, still trickling towards their $90 to $225 seats, later said to number roughly 10,000 - seems composed of many folks that made the trip from out of town.

Break over, lights out: In a soft blue light, the stage appears to break apart into jagged multilevels and Stewart Copeland rises from behind his drum kit in a bicycle jersey and headband, standing within a three-walled cage of percussion instruments, tracing circles around a gong while cymbals and chimes hang like a bronzed dining set around him. Guitarist Andy Summers walks stiffly onto the stage in a black suit, moving as if his leg bones were fused and kneeless, and renders the audience gloss-eyed and enchanted with the opening notes of 'Message In A Bottle'. The spell is broken only at the arrival of Sting, vacuum-packed into black pants and a sleeveless t-shirt, as he strides to his microphone, his voice a broad-throated yelp as he sings, ''Just a caaastaway,'' every fan trying to match his careening vocals, creating a dissonant and overwhelming echo.

Between Copeland's ear for the melodic range of drums and Sting's ability to hold notes over complex bass lines, the Police know how to plan a setlist, but this one hasn't changed so much as a breath all tour. The uptempo punk of 'Truth Hits Everybody' and 'King of Pain' rescue lags in the band's performance, the latter opening a prearranged encore that still stirs listeners with a few rumbling ballads. However, age shows through a carefully planned set of hits: A lower key for 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' helps Sting yelp the high notes but hinders the tempo, the band's deceleration noticeable at each chorus.

Few people made a clean guitar tone sound nastier than Andy Summers on record, but onstage the guitarist himself walks like a mummy in a rainstorm, fearing disintegration at any second. During a telling moment in 'Driven To Tears', Sting jaw-juts and high-steps towards his bandmate, stooping to dig his shoulder into Summers' back, urging Summers further upstage. With cameras capturing and transfering this pairing to the large screens encircling the stage from above, Sting's words to Summers are readable, an encouragement and possible reprimand: ''Come on.''

By the end of the set (capped with a red light-soaked stage and 'Roxanne'), Summers seems finished. Although 'King of Pain' opens the encore in high spirits, Copeland thrilled to turn his back to his bandmates and play in his percussion jungle, the drummer's eyes seem strained and flat. The only man going strong is Sting, powering through 'Every Breath You Take' flawlessly, but he knows how the night will end, just as tomorrow night's set will, the same songs exchanged for the same dollars, note for note.

(c) The Weekly by Brendan Fitzgerald



Police rock JPJ with all the hits...

The Police concert at JPJ Tuesday night lived up to its billing: a reunion concert that featured all the hits.

As Andy Summers strode onstage picking the familiar opening riff from 'Message In A Bottle', flanked by Sting and with Stewart Copeland sitting tall behind his drumset, the audience shot to its feet, where most remained for the rest of the concert.

Although two decades have passed since the trio's last tour, no rust was evident- Sting and Summers often riffed off each other, Sting frequently leaning against Summers' back. The real spectacle, however, was the guy stuck in the back. At one point, Copeland stood up to play the xylophone, cymbals, and drums - seemingly all at once - and earned a big reaction for several complex drum fills over the course of the evening.

The band transitioned through the set seamlessly, faithfully delivering audience favorites (with the exception of a few slowed-down numbers that lacked the power of the originals). 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' lost some steam as did the combination of 'Invisible Sun' and 'Walking in Your Footsteps', and some in the audience sat down until the band cranked up the tempo again with the familiar reggae-infused groove of 'Can't Stand Losing You'.

If the show onstage caused the audience to forget this is a band of men in their 50s, images on the giant projection screens provided occasional reminders. The lyrics of 'Walking in Your Footsteps' refer to prehistory, but were the accompanying images of skeletal dinosaur footprints actually a sly reference to the players' age?

The point was emphasized during the encore when the screen showed videos from '80s studio sessions with Sting's feathered hair flowing in a stream of black and white, almost mocking his tight grey crop of today.

''Roxanne'' was a rousing, up-tempo finish to the set, but the encore left the most lasting impression: 'King of Pain', 'So Lonely', 'Every Breath You Take', and 'Next To You' flowed in one unbroken stream that blasted any doubts of the authority behind the Police. The songs rolled out so seamlessly that it almost seemed the boys were ready to begin a whole new set.

Alas, they had exhausted all the hits, and though the crowd wanted more, Sting, Summers, and Copeland took their final bow.

Copeland was the last to say good night, adding that Sting had forgotten to mention the most important fact in his introduction: Copeland grew up in Virginia. Lucky for him - and us- he moved to England and joined a band before coming back.

(c) The Hook by Megan Miller



Wrapped Around Your Billfold: The Police in Charlottesville...

Legendary pop rock trio The Police played Charlottesville for the first time ever Tuesday, Nov. 7 - bringing the second leg of its blockbuster reunion tour to Virginia.

And no, Dave Matthews didn't show up to challenge Sting for melodramatic supremacy.

On this cold and breezy evening, University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena was nearly full with around 12,000 predominantly white (and over age 30) fans showering nostalgic adulation on the group while reveling in its bevy of hits from the 1980s, when the band was one of MTV's first major success stories. You couldn't walk ten feet inside the arena without stumbling onto another t-shirt or poster stand - the most merchandise for any concert I've ever seen.

The Police broke up in 1984 after its multi-platinum 'Synchronicity' tour, but got back together for a worldwide tour this year in celebration of its 30th anniversary and the ubiquitous hit, 'Roxanne'. They've been cashing in ever since.

Allow me to preface this review by saying I like The Police, I really do - especially their hungry, early material that deftly mixed reggae and jazz with punk rock attitude. Since then, the band has more than proved they're masters of the catchy pop song, having cranked out more lasting hits than most groups in a short period of time, and selling more than 50 million records worldwide.

That said, I was put off by the fact that decent tickets to see them on this tour were outrageously expensive (more than $200 a pop), and by the fact that they are basically recycling the same, greatest hits set every night with no variation. How much fun can that be for the band by the 40th show? But that's probably what people want from these long-absent hit makers; just like I have always wanted to check out native Virginian Stewart Copeland on drums. It's been noted a million times, but the man is a pimp on the hi-hat.

About a song into The Police's hour-and-a-half long set, I could see that my expectations were on the money. Having worked out the early kinks in their tour, the band came off as a well-oiled, professional '80s hit machine, barely pausing to breathe between songs. Early fears that Sting would ruin the songs with cheesy jazz interludes proved unfounded, and guitarist Andy Summers and Copeland, dressed like a bike marathon geek, did enough to make sure the proceedings didn't turn into the ''The Sting Show''.

Summers, his middle-aged jowls flapping on the giant video screen, showed off fusiony jazz/rock chops during several brief but incendiary solos - even indulging Sting in a segue jam of Jimi Hendrix's 'Hey Joe' during 'When the World is Running Down'. And Copeland wasn't shabby either, looking like a kid in a play pen with his sprawling set, especially during 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', where he tickled a host of cymbals, gongs, and bells. As for Sting, he was his snarky self - handling the bass chores admirably while belting out melodically soulful vocals. Wearing an olive muscle-T shirt, dark jeans, and combat boots, he appeared the youngest of the three with a healthy facial glow, like he had just received a private aura cleansing (or if you read the tabloids, a group massage from high-class German hookers).

Although crowd dancing was tame, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, engaging in call-and-response (''Eee-YEH-yo'') with Sting numerous times throughout the show. One of the best songs of the night was 'Hole in My Life', a start-stop early tune that aptly shows off the musicians' abilities to effortlessly shift through different musical gears: reggae, rock, jazz, with catchy hooks in each.

Indeed, it was a solid performance that promised the hits and delivered them. As far as the venue goes, the sound was loud and clear, better than other shows I've seen there.

But can someone please tell me why, if the venue is not allowed to sell alcohol (being a state school), everyone has to watch employees peddling kegs of beer into the private hospitality suites all night long? What's the message here? Responsible VIPs, or corporate sponsors, get to enjoy a little beer with their rock and roll, while commoners can suck on flat Pepsi and warmed over Domino's pizza? I'm sorry, but that sucks, and not just for alcoholics.

At this point, I'd like to let the curmudgeonly critic out of his cage. The way I figure it: If you're going to charge this much money for a ticket, preventing a number of your diehard fans from going, I'm going to be nitpicky about your show. Cool and impersonal, this show was good, not great; and it could use a number of improvements.

First off, the lighting and special effects were average at best: a couple of video screens and some blasts of color, nothing I haven't seen at a concert for a fraction of the price. How about at least some interesting video imagery and more bells and whistles? And no, handpicked children from impoverished countries who look like Benetton models doesn't count (the band briefly displayed some images of its official charity, Water Aid, which is working to reduce poverty by providing safe water around the globe). High dollar concerts should be extravaganzas that leave the crowd with their jaws hanging - like the way the Rolling Stones still do it. Granted, fireworks weren't an option here.

Also, the pacing of the show would have benefited from a mid-set acoustic interlude, like Sting performing 'Message In A Bottle' solo, instead of as the opening song. 'Every Breath You Take' or 'King of Pain' would have also fit well.

And why not have a few guest musicians on various songs? It's not like you can't afford them. Maybe have a couple guys on steel drums during 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', a song which lost its funky island vibe when played in such a stripped-down format. Or a small chorus could back up the group on songs like 'Invisible Sun' - many of the numbers suffered from a lack of backing vocals that were clearer on the records. Summers mostly provided half-hearted back-up, understandable when forming the kind of demandingly physical chords he plays.

And Sting, why don't you loosen up a little, buddy? Try saying a few words to the crowd besides: ''Hello, Charlottesville'' and ''ummm ... home of Thomas Jefferson.'' His call-and-response exhortations to the crowd got so stale by the end I was about to ''ee-YEH-oh'' all over the senior citizens sitting in front of me.

I won't say much about the opening act, Fiction Plane, besides stating that they weren't awful. The band features Sting's son, Joe Sumner, on bass and vocals, and he does nothing to hide this fact. Tall with a full head of dark curly hair, he sounded exactly like his dad but with more lung power and less nuance, going as far as copying his moves as he bounded around stage. The groups' songs, however, did not stand out either melodically or lyrically. They were adult contemporary rock with harder guitar, or an ''alternative rock'' edge - a strange mix for a young band today and one more suited to a schmaltzy teen show on the WB network, or perhaps a straight-to-video movie starring Freddy Prinze Jr. as the sensitive young jock who saves the geek girl.

I couldn't help thinking there should be a charity for the children of mega-rock stars like Sting and Bono, to help save them from an eventual messianic complex. Or worse yet, a nostalgia tour sponsored by Best Buy.

(c) Style Weekly by Brent Baldwin



The Police still on the rock beat - Sting and company follow familiar script in Charlottesville...

When The Police last toured in 1984, the Internet was a foreign concept, gas cost $1.21 a gallon, yet Sting looked the same as he does today.

Maybe it's the yoga. Or maybe he's music's Dorian Gray.

Making their first Virginia appearance since a concert 23 years ago at William & Mary Hall, The Police knocked out a list of ubiquitous radio hits and beloved album tracks at John Paul Jones Arena last night.

Though the band doesn't appear physically depleted from an arduous reunion tour that began in May, there was little spontaneity in the two-hour set, which began with 'Message In A Bottle'.

The Police have always emitted a chilly vibe, and that hasn't changed. The trio of bassist and lead singer Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers don't seem to dislike one another, but theirs is a show of cool professionalism - expertly delivered, filled with phenomenal musicianship but not much warmth.

Even when Sting mused, ''What do I know about Charlottesville? It's the home of Thomas Jefferson!'', it sounded more like an obligatory insert-city-name-here greeting than anything conversational.

But focusing strictly on the music isn't at all a negative. Sting's throaty rasp was almost as muscular as the rest of his frame, as his neck veins frequently bulged while he ''ye-ooh-ooh'ed'' through 'Walking On The Moon', his robust playing on his battered bass anchoring the song.

Though slightly lower key changes and rearranged lyrical cadences framed 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' and 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', the songs still resonated with a welcome familiarity.

Copeland, a native Virginian, appeared to enjoy himself the most. Looking like a long-distance bicyclist in his sweatband and white gloves, Copeland showed off an athleticism behind his drum kit that is rarely seen - even holding his drumsticks the proper way (left wrist upward).

The drummer's spotlight moment came during a luxurious 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', given a suave remodeling thanks to his cymbals, chimes and xylophone.

Summers, meanwhile, engaged in a nifty clash of instruments with Sting during 'When the World is Running Down' and peeled off a squealing solo for 'Driven To Tears', a song that benefited from his light touch.

The threesome punched up the energy in the room with 'Can't Stand Losing You' and the requisite singalong of one of the most overrated songs in rock history - the tuneless 'Roxanne', which the audience devoured, as they always do.

s with many dates on this tour, pockets of empty seats were visible in the upper level, but the almost 12,000 in attendance were an appreciative group, standing and singing along most of the show.

The Police wrapped the 20-song set with the still-intoxicating stalker anthem 'Every Breath You Take' and its first small hit, the punk-rockish 'Next To You'. How fitting - to end where they began.

(c) The Richmond Times-Dispatch by Melissa Ruggieri

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