Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Police At MSG

Today we are lucky to have a guest entry on last Friday night's Police show at MSG by our good friend Artie Fufkin. I have to say that Artie is a far better writer than I thought he'd be - and certainly a better writer than he is a promo man.

If I were a betting man, I would venture to say that nothing Sting does these days happens by accident. With that being said, if one was to believe that his intention was to “shock the world” by announcing a Police reunion, mission kind-of accomplished. But if you dig a little deeper, you’d see that it wasn’t so shocking.

Digging back into the set-lists from Sting’s last back-to-basics concert tour (during which he played colleges for the first time in decades), his set leaned heavily on classic Police material. And so when the band appeared together at a Sundance cocktail party following the screening of Stewart Copeland’s DVD Why Does Everyone Stare, it seemed like something was definitely brewing.

Since the time the trio imploded at the height of its popularity, Stewart Copeland has kept busy as an avid film composer (scoring a staggering 60 movies) and Andy Summers returned to his first love, jazz, releasing niche records with little commercial success. Which suited him just fine. Or so it seemed.

Of course, everyone knows what happened to Sting. But for better or for worse, you gotta give the guy credit-- a lot of credit. He works really hard at it. (And he has the body to prove it - Ed.) Releasing a consistent stream of solo albums (Nothing Like The Sun, The Soul Cages and Ten Sumner’s Tales have all aged well in their own way) some not so good (the over-produced Mercury Falling or the forgettable Sacred Love) all the while dropping unexpected later-day career gems like “Desert Rose” and mounting extensive concert tours featuring some of the most seasoned studio musicians money could buy.

And even though The Police never really formally announced their break-up, you couldn’t help but admire Sting for the time and effort he put into his Dream Of The Blues Turtles band which featured the truly outstanding Omar Hakim/Branford Marsalis/Daryl Jones/Kenny Kirkland line-up which helped not just re-invent, but truly re-construct some of Sting’s darker material like “Shadows In The Rain,” “Bring On The Night,” “When The World Is Running Down…” into swinging jazz fusion monsters, with some versions actually eclipsing the originals. Many other line-ups would follow, but none would match the sheer splendor and wow factor of the original Turtle’s band. The line-ups that followed, while often equally talented in the sum of their parts, became more and more sanitized as the years wore on. The adjective I found myself using after seeing Sting shows was “polite.” Having seen most of them live, I tip-toed around The Police reunion cautiously.

With the advance buzz on the first few shows being very mixed, my intention was to approach the band’s return to Madison Square Garden with an open mind. Walking into the arena, a couple of things perked my immediate interest. The first one being that The Police themselves hadn’t played together on-stage at MSG in over 25 years-- I can’t recall another band (other than maybe Cream) that had been away this long. The second thing on my mind was more of a curiosity factor to see how the mostly older crowd would react to the band’s return.

That latter question was immediately answered the second I sat down in my in my $254 + tax, handling fees and UPS shipping charges seat. People were excited. Big time. So by the time the band’s intro song cranked through the P.A. (the well-fitting “Get Up, Stand Up”), most of the crowd was on its feet waiting for the band to kick into “Message In A Bottle” which has kicked off every reunion show on this tour thus far.

They started strong and quickly followed up with “Synchronicity II.” To the band’s credit, they kept the staging simple and the light show efficient, never over-powering the band or the songs. And thankfully, the band’s expanded line-up of their later tours, featuring back-up singers, horn sections etc., were nowhere to be found, leaving the original band bare of clutter, able to focus inward.

“Walking On the Moon” followed, eventually leading into a very tentative sounding “Voices Inside My Head,” which evolved brilliantly into the evening’s first real highlight; a full-on-blow-out explosion of “When The World Is Running Down…” It absolutely killed. It was obvious that they had taken the time to work on it. At this point in the show, I was ready to dismiss the negative reviews I’d read online, but unfortunately, the momentum the band had built got brought to a near stand-still by re-arranged versions of the punk rave-up “Truth Hits Everybody” (rearranged with an underwhelming 4/4 tempo that didn’t work), “Bed’s Too Big Without You,” (great on Regatta De Blanc in all its reggae nuanced glory, not so great live) “Dee Doo Doo, Dee Da Da,” which sounded aged (and not for the better) and culminating with an anemic version of “Invisible Sun,” (one of the band’s great singles) which sounded neutered and tired.

The band did bounce back near the conclusion of the show with an absolutely pulverizing version of “Can’t Stand Losing You” which morphed into “Regatta De Blanc” then back into “Can’t Stand Losing You” with the band truly coming together in a way that I’d never heard before, never over-shadowing each other but rather playing off each other and allowing for spaces between the notes to breathe in a new inviting way.

Without question, there is greatness left in this band. Sting’s voice has never sounded better and despite some strength that’s gone from Copeland’s playing, he’s still one of the most adventurous drummers ever and the best possible platform for Sting’s melodies and arrangements—when they work. He sang with strength and clarity in a way I’d rarely seen before and he seemed dare I say, HAPPY singing these songs again. But then again, if you grossed over 6 million bucks for one night’s work at Dodger Stadium, you’d be pretty fucking happy too. But without digressing into the obvious money making opportunity that this tour clearly is, if the band stopped playing it safe and followed the abandon that they’re hinting at, this could truly be a reunion tour to remember. Until that happens, the show will remain pretty ordinary with flashes of greatness.

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