There was reason to be concerned before the Police showed up Wednesday at KeyArena: That stiff, joyless delivery of 'Roxanne' on the Grammys; drummer Stewart Copeland's heavily quoted blog rant about how sloppy he felt at the recent tour launch in Vancouver, BC had been.
Would the British band's first U.S. concert in more than two decades live up to the hype and satisfy all the Gen-Xers who bought the bulk of the tickets for two sold out Seattle shows? (The second is tonight.) Or would the tour be exposed as crass, disappointing money grab by a band that sold 50 million records in its heyday (tying the Tacoma Dome attendance record of 30,000 along the way, in case you're interested?)
Well, maybe the tour is a bit of a cash cow, with corporate sponsorship from Best Buy and tickets topping out in Rolling Stone territory at $225. But Wednesday's show was also a hell of a lot of fun as the Police - with singer-bassist Sting and guitarist Andy Summers reuniting with Copeland - reminded everyone of why they were the biggest band on the planet, circa 1983.
Visually, it was easy to recall the glory years with Sting still looking lean and sinewy in a white muscle shirt, black jeans and combat boots - a receding hairline the biggest clue to his actual age. (It's 55, for the record. Guess all that yoga he talks about is working.)
A shaggy, gray mane made the lanky Copeland look closer to his age. But he exuded a childlike joy as he pounded his kit - plus an assortment of gongs, chimes and drums that appeared on a platform behind it for some songs - with the ferocity of a man half his age. And what can you say about Summers who ripped off an assortment of fiery, crowd pleasing solos that belied his otherwise reserved demeanor?
The trio kicked things off with 'Message in a Bottle'. And while there were no real surprises during the set - the group hasn't unveiled any new material and played most of the songs on its new hits collection - it was more than a rote hits recital.
The trio tinkered with arrangements in ways that added flavor to the songs without distracting too much from the infectious hooks that power the material. Wednesday's delivery of 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', for example, was atmospheric and downbeat, falling somewhere between the perky 1980 original and the dreary dirge that appeared a few years later on the singles collection, 'Every Breath You Take'.
Sting harkened back to the 1983 release of the band's biggest album, 'Synchronicity' during a cheeky intro to another song. "I must have been 16 at the time," he joked. "The Rev. Jimmy Swaggert - and I use the term reverend loosely - he cited the next song as being written by the devil himself."
It was 'Murder by Numbers', a cynical indictment of politicians who slaughter thousands from a safe distance. Fans cheered as Sting punctuated the line about murder being "the sport of the elected" with a salute; and the jazzy number culminated in a rowdy back and forth between him and Summers.
A late set performance of 'Footsteps' was also given a slightly harder rock treatment. And images of skeletal brontosauruses marching across a curtain backdrop during that song and footage from the war torn streets of Iraq that played on video screens overhead during 'Invisible Sun' were the most memorable multimedia elements from a relatively low frills show.
But most effective of the revamped numbers was follow-up 'Can't Stand Losing You', which began with Summers playfully strumming the riff from 'Bonanza' before gradually morphing into 'Reggatta De Blanc'. In one of the show's most invigorating moments, Sting asked the crowd "Can you sing?" prompting fans to belt out the refrain with gusto: "Pee-yooooooo! Pee-yoo! Pe-yo-yo!"
The band took a bow with - what else? - 'Roxanne'. The song turned into a jazzy jam that was a lot more enjoyable and inspired than the Grammy version. Guess it wouldn't have fit neatly between commercial breaks anyway.
A pair of two-song encores consisted of a mellow smash followed by a punchier selection. For the first one it was 'King of Pain' and 'So Lonely'. The second consisted of the immaculate 'Every Breath You Take' (a song that sounded romantic before the term "stalker" was added to our lexicon) and 'Next to You'.
It was a tight, satisfying performance that left this critic wondering. With so many hipster bands ripping off post-punk and new wave bands from the 70s and 80s, why aren't more turning to the new wave kings? Sure, the Shins used 'Message in the Bottle' as the template to their song 'Spilt Needles' (and we shall not speak of that horrible Puff Daddy rip-off of 'Every Breath'.) But there aren't a lot. And a lot of young bands might be well served by studying Sting's early play book. (Not so much the latter, latte rock years.)
Fiction Plane, a band fronted by Sting's kid, Joe Sumner, opened. The band showed promise if none of its material was especially memorable. One minute the trio seemed to have more in common with newer alt-rock bands like Snow Patrol than the Police. Then in spots Sumner would appear to have studied his old man's concert footage, whether it was how he sang certain lines or the way he carried himself, punctuating songs with an exuberant jump. Eh, maybe it's just in his blood.
© The News Tribune (Tacoma) by Ernest A. Jasmin