Early on in the Police concert Tuesday night at the Palace, singer-bassist Sting recalled playing to three people - "and one was the (booking) agent" - at the Detroit club Bookie's in November of 1978, on the trio's inaugural tour of North America.
The memory carried some charm given that the group's first tour in 23 years is playing multiple stadium dates in some cities and enthralled a crowd of roughly 20,000 at the Palace with warm musical memories dating back to a time when vinyl records still dominated the marketplace and a fledgling MTV played primarily music videos.
And while it would be an exaggeration to say the Police men - Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland - haven't lost a step since the band discontinued in 1984, they're still playing at the top of their game, both recreating and refreshing one of the most potent and creatively challenging catalogs in pop music.
If Tuesday's Police performance wasn't quite as fierce as the group was back in The Day of the late '70s and early '80s, the trio was perhaps even tighter -- and just as ambitious and clever. 'Voices Inside My Head', for instance, was treated with more restraint but felt funkier as it morphed into 'When the World is Running Down...' An artful rendering of 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' featured Copeland dancing around a percussion ensemble, while 'Walking in Your Footsteps' built into a bluesy vamp with a John Lee Hooker-style boogie groove.
Even the show-closing 'Next to You', previously a real fire-breather, sounded convincing in an airier, more relaxed tempo.
The handsomely staged 20-song, hour-and-50-minute show certainly did not disappoint those coming to hear the hits. The Police opened with 'Message in a Bottle' and offered tastefully extended versions of favorites such as 'Walking on the Moon', 'Can't Stand Losing You', 'Roxanne', 'So Lonely' and 'Every Breath You Take'" And if the group never quite found the right pulse for 'Synchronicity II' and 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', it more than compensated with dynamic discourses on 'Driven to Tears', 'Truth Hits Everybody' and 'Invisible Sun' - the latter's humanitarian message accented by images of children refugees on the video screens above the stage.
There are perhaps some reasons to be skeptical about the Police reunion this year - especially with ticket prices that topped out at $227.50. But seeing the band play on Tuesday made it clear that the music is hardly an afterthought, regardless of how long it stays together this time.
© The Oakland Press by Gary Graff