This has been the year of reunions in the classic-rock orbit, with Van Halen, Led Zeppelin and even My Bloody Valentine among the long-sundered bands reconvening. But no reunion has been more anticipated than that of the Police, back together after more than two decades apart.
In many ways, the Police reunion was the least likely of any of these to happen. Given Sting's solo success, he would seem to have little to gain from splitting the attention (not to mention the money) three ways.
But there's something to be said for rekindling chemistry. All three Policemen appeared to be having the time of their lives at Thursday night's sold-out show at Bobcats Arena, even though Sting was battling a case of the flu that scotched the previous night's show in Philadelphia. Sting put on a fine display of show-must-go-on sucking it up, and to his credit, the show did not suffer from his illness (though it was a bit shorter than other sets on the tour).
The Police played 19 songs in a shade under two hours, and the set was a throwback in more ways than one. The group didn't dip into anybody's solo catalog, concentrating on the five Police albums released between 1978 and 1983. And the stage setup was downright modest for a tour this high profile - no pyrotechnics or backup singers to speak of, just three guys playing, and playing well.
There was no question that the Police, pros that they are, could pull off a reunion. Where the start of Van Halen's reunion tour was full of will-they-or-won't-they tension and drama, the Police's set was pretty much as professional and polished as you'd expect.
After a 40-minute set by opening act Fiction Plane (a slot that has to be the third circle of thankless gigs, as the arena was less than one-quarter full early on), the lights went down to the strains of the late Bob Marley's 'Get Up, Stand Up' - possible acknowledgment that the Police inherited the mega-audience that was rightly Marley's when he died of cancer in 1981.
Then the Police entered on a dramatic note, as drummer Stewart Copeland rose from beneath the stage banging on a gong. Andy Summers fired up the guitar riff to 'Message in a Bottle', and they were off. 'Synchronicity II', 'Walking on the Moon', 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and most of the trio's other monster hits followed, all precisely rendered.
Vocally, Sting does a lot more gliding through songs than bearing down on them, and he let the audience handle some of the "yo-yo" choruses. That's could be as much a function of age as flu. But Sting is still in fantastic shape - he looked as if he could've comfortably run a marathon - and he still plays a monster bass.
Summers was a bit rougher. On the good side, his wailing solo on 'Driven to Tears' was a high point. But he made an absolute mess of the solo to 'King of Pain'. Still, his distinctive guitar atmospherics remain a crucial part of the Police sound.
But not as crucial as Copeland's stick work. During the encore version of 'So Lonely', Sting rambled into a bit of improvised scat that included the line, "Welcome to the Stewart Copeland show." It sort of was.
Sting might be the focus of attention, but it's Copeland who truly makes the Police go. He played like a mad-scientist rhythmatist, tossing sticks to and fro while driving the beat precisely hither and yon on a variety of percussive devices.
If there was a flaw to the show, it was in the energy level, which often hovered in the "subdued" level. But it's tough to complain about a show with 19 songs, including some of the biggest hits of the '80s, and not a single clunker among them.
Neither age nor flu will stay these Police from their appointed rounds.
© Raleigh News & Observer by David Meconi