Ghost In The Machine

Lakeland, FL, US
Lakeland Civic Center Arenawith Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
The Police blend old reggae with new pop devices...

The Police staked out the commercial pop market a few years ago and decided on a method of operation not yet cultivated or burned out: "It's when you choose ingredients that are less used up that you get the most interesting results." drummer Stewart Copeland said in a recent interview. "We were looking for something else to try that hadn't been tried."

The trio of British blonds has gone on to parlay a budding commercial interest in reggae with pop hooks and choruses for a style that is its own, music that is provocative yet simplistic.

Early Police music was perhaps too repetitious and syncopated, as is the case with all reggae. But the group's last two albums - which have propelled it quickly through the ranks of new-wave rookies to pop superstars - finds it steadily moving away from reggae. This has cost The Police some of its raw urgency on records but gained a new realm of sounds from which to work.

Performing Sunday night for a capacity crowd of 10,000 at the Lakeland Civic Center arena, the trip joined both the rough-edged reggae formula of old with the newer pop devices it has used for a powerful, 90-minute concert.

Starting off on stand-up bass for 'Message In A Bottle' and a fast-moving 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', singer Sting began pushing his voice harder and higher than is heard on the group's records. He proved himself one of the finest pure rock singers. Much of the time, though, the sound mix in the huge arena robbed the audience from fully appreciating his voice. The group's overall sound is built around Sting's talents as a vocalist and bass player and its image created upon his teen-idol good looks.

Stewart Copeland, in perpetual motion behind his barrage of percussive weaponry, adds depth to the rhythmic direction from Sting's bass. Guitarist Andy Summers supplies what instrumental harmony and brightness there is in The Police's music, often accounting for the only grace in syncopated songs with shimmering fills and interesting use of a guitar synthesizer.

On it's latest LP, 'Ghost In The Machine', the band began to incorporate subtle keyboards and horns. In concert, the brass was joyously unleashed by a three-man horn section. When properly used, as on 'When The World Is Running Down...' and 'Spirits In The Material World', the horns added a vibrant, funky dimension to The Police. During 'Demolition Man', the horns served as a perfect counterpoint to Summers' hot guitar licks.

The show dragged somewhat during the reggae hits like 'Walking On The Moon' and 'Roxanne'. Instead of having the horns perk up to brighten these songs as they did on others, the horns were lost., blowing in beat with Copeland's heavy-handed drumming.

Sting has mastered all of the annoying arena-act clich├ęs: asking if the crowd "feels all right" and having it join in on choruses of the most familiar songs. But these detracted little from the overall arresting effect The Police had.

Opening the show were Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, which provided a short set of lean rockers culled from its hot-selling album 'I Love Rock'n'Roll'. Once a musical novelty with her all-girl band, the Runaways. Jett shows how practice and persistence can pay off.

(c) St. Petersburg Times by Drew Rashbaum