Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Live Review: The Police in St. Louis, July 2, 2007

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2007 at 2:30 PM

Despite the Best Buy sponsorship, break-the-bank ticket prices and vast array of merch (although the rug featuring the cover of Outlandos d’Amour screened on it was rather cool) – the Police didn’t sell out by doing a reunion tour.

For starters, this jaunt wasn’t a straight nostalgia trip where the band trotted out its biggest hits in their original form. The trio radically reworked many of its familiar hits – i.e., different melodies, unexpected harmonies, intricate arrangements -- rendering a few nearly unrecognizable until the lyrics kicked in. While a commendable move – after all, the path of least resistance would have been for them to re-learn how to play the original versions, and some of the new versions were insanely good – these experiments were extremely hit-or-miss.

“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” appeared to start like the original, all slow and murky. But then the chorus switched into a minor key, over which Sting sang a completely different melody line than either version of the song (even if one could sing the chorus of the 1986 version of the song over the new music, and it would have fit like a glove). Either way, the arrangement never meshed, and the song felt clunky.

The roller-coaster-speed “Synchronicity II” also dragged; despite featuring near-operatic wails from Sting (perhaps all of that Tantric sex or power yoga keeps his voice strong), the song kept building and building, but never reached a satisfying or transcendent resolution. An encore rendition of “Roxanne” featured a loping, stroll-in-the-park reggae jam in the middle that negated its taut spark. (Sting’s been doing this version of the song in his solo sets for years, and frankly he needs to stop.)

“Invisible Sun,” originally a deliciously ominous slow-burn, instead felt plodding and ponderous – if not weighed down by the serious, black-and-white photos of the band and underprivileged children flashed on the video screens above the stage. (Shades of U2 and its political gravitas, honestly – which isn’t surprising, seeing as how Bono dueted with the Police on that song in 1986.)

Now, don’t get me wrong: The sheer number and scope of these tweaks overall was often awe-inspiring; in fact, the entire show was technically impressive, from an ex-marching-band-geek standpoint, and more than handily demonstrated the immense musical talent of the Police. And I can’t fault the band for experimenting to keep itself interested in its own music.

But the new versions of old hits were often boring and self-indulgent, and deflated the excitement and energy in the crowd. (The couple sitting behind me actually left about halfway through.) Casual fans who came for the hits seemed sorely disappointed in the lack of familiarity; a few around me even resorted to smoking some seriously strong doobage to get through the tail-end of the set. I have to wonder how the vast number of kids there with their parents – and there were a ton – felt about the songs.

Whether stubbornly refusing to rely on the past, casino-circuit-style, was the band’s condition for reuniting (or maybe because Sting couldn’t hit some of the higher notes in the songs, despite his still-impressive voice) is unclear; either way, the concert contained the songs as the Police wanted them to sound in 2007 – and it didn’t seem to care how they were received or perceived. (Which, admittedly, is pretty fucking punk rock.)

Now, that’s not to say that the entire set was sub-par. In fact, the second half of the show showed flashes of brilliance. A slowed-down version of the 1978 new-wave thrasher “Truth Hits Everybody” was dynamic, while a faithful-to-the-original renditions of “King of Pain” (here's a great clip of the current version here; I think it was my favorite song of the night) and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” were inspiring. “Every Breath You Take” was thankfully brisker – if not the most perfunctory song of the set (which isn’t surprising, considering it felt like the song the band least wanted to perform, the hit it “had” to play).

“Wrapped Around Your Finger” was even better. Stewart Copeland emerged from behind his drumkit to an auxiliary percussion rig – which contained, among other trinkets, mini cymbals hanging from strings, xylophone and timpani – for the early verses and choruses, creating a mystical, wind-chime-like shimmer of beats in the background. At some point in the middle, where the song builds to Sting singing, “I will turn your flesh to alabaster / Then you will find your servant is your master,” he ran back behind his drumkit to add forceful; the song’s dynamic build was the best of the night. (See examples of his shenanigans here.)

The bookish-looking Copeland really was the star of the show. He received the most applause when introduced, and looked like he was having the most fun performing and experimenting -- based on the frequent smiles, looks of beatific concentration and mouthing-along to songs. (Heck, during “King of Pain,” he even ended up playing the drums using multiple drumsticks in each hand.) And to its credit, the trio showed few signs of the fractures and in-fighting that people expected from the band. Sting and guitarist Andy Summers often hammed it up with each other -- especially during “So Lonely,” during which the former put his head on the latter’s shoulder while they were playing (aww).

To his credit, Sting playfully mocked the band’s longevity, at one point saying, “The first time we came to St. Louis in 1875…” and trying to remember where the band played its first time in town: “Mississippi something…” Then the light dawned on him: “Mississippi NIGHTS!” he exclaimed, and tossed his hands in the air, messianic-style, before inserting the venue name at the start of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” to rapturous applause.

For such a high-profile reunion, the atmosphere was incredibly low-key. Copeland sported a headband and what looked like a bicyclist jersey, as if he had just come from the gym and hopped behind his drumkit. Sting looked like he just dropped by after yoga class, with his plain black pants and muscle shirt. And as my show companion noted, guitarist Andy Summers seemed like he was about ready to serve you some wine, with his classy black outfit and demeanor. The stage set-up was similarly unadorned, with crystal-clear screens projecting images of the band and a tasteful, impressive light show the only indulgences.

When the band came out for the third encore of “Next to You” – played closely in spirit to the punkish original – it was bittersweet. The galloping tempo and energetic riffing demonstrated urgency was lacking through much of the set. Then again, the Police conquered the world nearly 25 years ago; do its members need to prove themselves again to anyone? Probably not. In fact, this reunion tour in the end seemed like a fun way for the band to spend its summer vacation – hanging out with old friends, fooling around and playing music and having a grand old time.

Setlist: “Message in a Bottle” “Synchronicity II” “Walking on the Moon” “Voices Inside My Head” “When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” “Driven To Tears” “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” “Truth Hits Everybody” “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” “Wrapped Around Your Finger” “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” “Invisible Sun” “Walking In Your Footsteps” “Can’t Stand Losing You”

Encore one:“Roxanne”

Encore two:“King of Pain” “So Lonely” “Every Breath You Take”

Encore three: “Next To You"

-- Annie Zaleski

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