Police Reunion

San Diego, CA, US
Cricket Wireless Amphitheatrewith Elvis Costello & The Imposters
The Police rock the 'Crick'...

The Police did not include 'Murder by Numbers' during its triumphant - and cadaver-free - concert last night at Cricket Wireless (formerly Coors) Amphitheatre in Chula Vista. But numbers played a significant role in the performance, part of the Anglo-American band's enormously successful reunion tour, and the buzz surrounding the entire tour.

The show was the first area appearance in 25 years by The Police, whose 1983 'Synchronicity' tour included a stop at San Diego State University's now-defunct Aztec Bowl. Last night's concert, which came 5 years after the group's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, featured two-thirds of the songs that are included on the two-CD set 'The Police', a ''greatest hits'' compilation released last year.

The performance, which also featured a short but rousing opening set by fellow 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Elvis Costello, drew more than 18,000 wildly cheering fans of many ages to the 19,442-capacity South Bay venue. (Because of traffic problems, some concertgoers arrived so late that they reportedly requested - but apparently did not receive - refunds).

It was the 57th date that singer-bassist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland - the group's sole American member - have done together since launching their reunion tour a year ago this week in Vancouver, British Columbia. By the time this global concert trek concludes in early August in New York, after 37 more shows in this country and Europe, its total gross is expected to surpass $340 million.

Or, as Sting wryly put it prior to 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', the concert's seventh selection: ''We started this band in 1977, when I was 10. Before that, I was a school teacher. I had a pension, a mortgage - what the (expletive) happened?''

Ultimately, though, the only numbers that really mattered, at least last night, are these: 101, 19 and 3.

Because while The Police was on stage for 101 minutes and performed 19 songs, the trio's members managed the impressive feat of seeming to make time move forward, backward and stand still. They also managed to make the nearly two-hour concert pass in almost an instant, which is a testament to their heady combination of inspired musicianship and seasoned stagecraft with pop-savvy songs that boast substance, subtlety and mass appeal.

It's a rare combination that paid repeated dividends, from the whisper-soft opening selection, 'Bring on the Night' (which found Sting playing a miniature acoustic guitar), to the turbo-charged 'Next To You', the fifth and final encore number. In between came one winning song after another, from such early Police favorites as 'Roxanne', 'Hole in My Life' and 'Can't Stand Losing You' - all from the group's 1978 debut album, 'Outlandos D'Amour' - to 'King of Pain', 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' and 'Every Breath You Take', three gems from 1983's 'Synchronicity', The Police's masterful final studio album.

'Demolition Man' and 'Bring on the Night' are the only two songs to be newly added to the set list for this leg of the tour. The latter featured a brief, but very potent, mid-song instrumental jam that suggested The Police was paying tribute to the pioneering blues-rock band Cream, while 'Night' was an unexpectedly moody and restrained opening number that earned only polite applause.

But throwing its audience off-balance appeared to be a deliberate move. So did immediately segueing into 'Message In A Bottle', the first of many favorites to turn into a mass sing-along. Like few bands before or since its early 1980s heyday, The Police know how to please an audience without pandering to it. The band also knows exactly how far to how to push the envelope - as it did last night with Andy Summers' edgy, jazz-tinged guitar solos, Sting's harmonically devious song structures or Copeland's deviously syncopated rhythms and drum fills - without shredding it.

As a result, even a seemingly silly love song like 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' achieved welcome depth, while 'Roxanne' found Sting briefly injecting the bass riff from The Kinks' 'All Day and All of the Night' with such grace and precision that it was only after the moment had passed when it became apparent what he had done.

True, the songs performed each night on this tour remain the same, with only their order varying (and then only slightly). It's a move that suggests this band knows exactly what its fans want to hear and is smart enough not to deviate. But the three members of The Police sounded fresh and vital from start to finish last night, as if they were determined to end this reunion with a mighty roar, not a whimper or even a hint of coasting on auto-pilot.

That's probably why Sting was pushing his voice even harder at the end of the concert than at the beginning, without it ever cracking, and why Summers delivered one arresting solo after another, each full of unexpected twists and turns. It's also why Copeland constantly drove every song forward with his trademark blend of percussive power and finesse, never relaxing when there was still another musical fire to set under his two (sadly) soon-to-be-once-again-former bandmates.

(c) San Diego Union-Tribune by George Varga