Ghost In The Machine

Los Angeles, CA, US
Inglewood Forumwith Oingo Boingo
'Police' put on an arresting show...

Since aesthetic virtue isn't often commercially rewarded in today's rock market, the most interesting thing about The Police is trying to figure out how the band has gotten so big.

A few years back, when the trio was just another English new-wave import scrambling for attention, The Police seemed an unlikely choice to hit it big in the U.S. Traditionally, popular rock in America appeals to emotion. While the band's lyrics had romantic appeal, the crisp, reggae dominated arrangements elicited intellectual satisfaction instead of emotional catharsis.

However, a number of diverse elements helped to put The Police on top of the charts and into a packed Forum.

First off, the band has an uncanny knack for writing catchy pop songs that fit right into Top 40-radio programming needs. Pieces like 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' aren't lyrical dazzlers, but they are danceable love songs. Few other current bands write lyrics which appeal to the heart, and music aimed at the feet.

A second factor, not to be underestimated, is that the three playing these love songs are blond and good-looking. Lead singer Sting is one of the most distinctive figures in modern rock and much of his appeal stems from his teen-idol looks.

At the same time, The Police are a terrifically accomplished instrumental unit. The blurry production on their albums obscures the fact that these guys can play as strongly as anyone else around. Drummer Stewart Copeland has developed into a tireless, inventive player while Sting is an equally effective bass player. The constant rhythms they hammer out give free rein to guitarist Andy Summers, who lays down everything from heavy-metal speed licks to serene, esoteric sheets of sound.

This performing and playing edge resulted in Monday's highlights coming not from popular hits like 'Roxanne' and 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', but from the more complex, non-hit material. The band was at its most gripping in extended versions of pieces like 'Walking On The Moon', 'Hungry For You' and 'Shadows In The Rain'.

Taking the edge off the exemplary play, however, was the band's willingness to push buttons to get a crowd reaction. Sting disrupted some of the songs by trying to get the (largely unwilling) audience to sing along, while the house lights were repeatedly flashed on and off to spur the crowd reaction. It was surprising that a classy band like this would resort to such obvious ploys and detract from an otherwise strong performance.

Opening act Oingo Boingo turned in a surprisingly effective set. The band's complex sound - insistent,  jagged pop rhythms, topped by looping keyboard fills and scratchy guitar parts - would seem unsuited for the cavernous Forum. However, the band punched out 13 songs with lead singer Danny Elfman dramatizing titles like 'Nasty Habits' and 'Violent Love' with lots of body English. The effort earned the band that rarest of rewards for an opening act - a standing ovation.

The Police and Oingo Boingo play a third and final show tonight at The Forum. Starting time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets behind the stage are still available.

(c) Orange County Register by C.P. Smith