The Police caught in a time warp...
At the turn of the century there were few bands that seemed less likely than The Police to ever reunite. Bands with deceased members, maybe. So it was rather a surprise that the three men who made up the '80s punk/reggae/rock pioneer reassembled last year and hit the road. Given their fabled mutual animosity back in the '80s, more than a few eyebrows were raised. How long, skeptics asked, would this tour last?
Long enough to get them to Portland, at least, and really, isn't that all that matters?
Friday night the band played the Clark County Amphitheater in a set that showed both why the group was so great and why its breakup kept it great.
In the late '70s and into the '80s, the band was taut, lean. There was something tense, an underlying skittering sensation from which it derived much of its power. They were all three superb musicians: Andy Summers, bringing a density of sound on the guitar; Stewart Copeland, with a sophisticated sense of rhythm; and Sting, who could write a three-minute pop song, simultaneously intelligent and radio-friendly, like few others. They mixed mythology and culture and layers of meaning in their music. 'Every Breath You Take' might sound romantic, but listen to the lyrics: It's a total stalker song (please, people, stop playing it at weddings; it's just creepy).
But that was then, and this is now (well, two days ago by the time you read this).
The band members have gone on to separate, varying degrees of fame and fortune. Whatever they are now, they're not the same people they were. How could they be? More than 20 years have passed. While they remain musically adept, they're not young and hungry. They have nothing left to prove as The Police, nothing left to reach for. So that essential tautness that makes the best of their work so edgy and nervy and intense felt a little... flabby, Sting's ripped biceps notwithstanding.
Yes, they can still command a show. Sting's stage presence, Copeland's seemingly effortless drumming and Summers' precise guitar all showed that, far from atrophying, the three have remained musical forces to be reckoned with. The audience was theirs from the first notes of 'Message In A Bottle', the opener, all through 'Next To You', their second encore, which Summers mock-convinced the other two to return to the stage to play.
But the band had a basic problem that it never seemed to solve: Play its excellent catalog the same way it played it 20 years ago and risk a nostalgia trip, or come up with some new arrangements that might bring in some new ideas, but wouldn't be quite the same. It did a little of both, and neither was quite the right fit. On 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', for example, Sting's predilection for drawing out his vocals stripped the song of its essential menace. And his stretch into the upper registers of the song gave him some problems, robbing him of the high keen that gave so many of the band's songs their previous edge.
To their credit, the three seemed more like old friends and less like the at-their-throats enemies they were sometimes portrayed as around their breakup in the '80s. Sting consciously moved far to the side of the stage during Summers' longer or more intricate solos, perhaps aware that his charisma would have drawn attention away from Summers. (Most of the camera close-ups of Sting for the giant screen behind the band were of his famous face; most of the close-ups of Summers were of his talented hands running over his guitar.) Sting - the most famous of the trio, who's maintained the highest profile in the past two decades - made a point of repeatedly introducing his bandmates.
Far from sullying the memory of who they were, this show made it clear that they deserved the fame and the accolades they once won.
But the show also made clear that coming to an end is part of what keeps good things good. They were conquering heroes on Friday night in large part because of their long absence, and after they play their finger-pinkie-swear last show later this year, everyone in the crowd can say they saw The Police's last tour ever. Much less romantic to say you've seen The Police's third from last tour.
The reliably good Elvis Costello opened the night with his band, the Imposters. But while Costello has his own considerable body of work, boasting that rare trinity of indie cred, critical fawning and commercial success, he never entirely won over the crowd, who was clearly there for The Police. When Sting came out to sing on 'Alison', for example, the crowd came to life in a way it previously hadn't, despite Costello's best efforts.
The past and the present, nostalgia and the collision of old memories and new ideas - reunions are hard to do right, and even when they come off well, much of the excitement isn't about the moment we're in, but the moments that we've left behind.
And that's the thing: Those moments are gone. Time is the stream Thoreau goes a-fishin' in, and so do we all. When we try to reach down a hand and grab it, it runs through our fingers, and we can never find the same bit of it again.
(c) The Oregonian by by Luciana Lopez
The Police & Elvis Costello - Live at Clark County Amphitheater...
We sent pop music superfan Matt Slessler and photo whiz-kid Minh Tran to cover last night's Police + Elvis Costello concert. Due to traffic (Oh, why can't there be a 12-lane freeway bridge to Vancouver?), we have no photos of Elvis, but thankfully we have plenty of images of a suspiciously muscular Sting. Enjoy!
I've never been as offended as others have by Sting. His harshest critics bring up his perceived massive ego, his wank jazz leaning solo works, and the flogged horse that is the whole tantric sex thing. I choose to see him as songwriter/lead singer/bass player of the most successful trio of the rock era.
Coming on to the stage after an all too brief set by Elvis Costello and the Imposters (more on that later) Sting and his two bandmates who made up the Police - drummer Stewart Copeland and (66 year old!) Guitarist Andy Summers - hit the ground running with 'Message In A Bottle' replete with all the parts that make the Police whole: Summers dense guitar work, Copeland's hard-cracking snare beats, and the cod reggae keen of Sting.
It's the brilliance of the opening song that makes the rest of the show at times frustrating. At their best, the songs that made the Police the biggest band in the world in the early '80s were nervy and edgy, but in this concert setting, too much of the bite was taken out of the songs by long solos or jazzy sing-a-longs with the audience that rendered them dull at the edges.
A song like 'I Can't Stand Losing You' off their debut 'Outlandos d'Amour' is a twitching suicide note to a girl that dumped the author, yet Sting turned it from a dark single to a Harry Belafonte-esque call and response with 3 minutes of back and forth ''ooh way ooh's'' that did not fit the mood of the song.
On the Lolita inspired 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' they chose to do the slower, dreamier, and insipid version from the greatest hits package, and not the much superior original. When they did play it straight on songs like 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', or 'So Lonely' (arguably their best song), the results were reminders of what a great and wholly unique band the Police can be.
I was fully prepared to make a snarky comment about the true headliner being the opener in personal favorite Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Although he was able to pull songs from more albums in his brief 45 minute set than the Police released in their career (6 for Elvis, 5 for Sting, if you are just counting proper studio releases) it didn't really seem like the proper venue or spot on the bill that would be comfortable to Costello. Playing the part of warm-up for the main event, doesn't give Costello room to explore his vast canon, instead forcing him to rush out trifling fan favorites - yes, I'm talking to you 'Everyday I Write the Book'. I was embarrassed, and nearly driven to violence, when some yahoo in the back yelled out to Costello to ''play 'Alison' or some of the old stuff.''
Of course this jackass was late to his seat so he didn't hear the frenetic version of 'Pump it Up' two songs in, and Costello did play 'Alison', and in the first true highlight of the night was joined by none other than Sting for the 2nd verse. There were some good moments in Costello's set. An always searing 'What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding' included a brief jaunt into the Who's 'The Kids Are Alright' and enough can't be said about the pastiche's that the criminally-underrated Steve Naive creates with any keys he gets his hands on.
But having been to a dozen previous shows of Costello's and knowing the devotion that his fanbase has to the man's rich body of work, it was a little depressing to see the guy in the Jimmy Buffet shirt yelling song requests at the Costello.
I'm sure the cash he's making on this tour will help salve that wound though.
(c) The Portland Mercury by Matt Slessler