The Police weren’t perfect last night, and, perfectionists that they are, they probably weren’t completely satisfied with their performance, but it certainly was more than good enough. I’ll get in lots of trouble for saying this I’m sure, but their performance left me wondering, in terms of raw ability, how much better could The Beatles have been?
The Police haven’t toured since 1984, but their best-known songs live on due to Sting’s very long solo career and of course Sting performs them a lot. Since Sting sang and wrote the lyrics to all the best-known songs, his name is almost synonymous with The Police. What last night’s concert confirmed is that Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland contributed just as much to the band’s sound. Sting performing a Police song solo just doesn’t sound the same because there’s no way he could find a drummer/percussionist to replace Stewart Copeland. And while there’s no shortage of guitar heroes out there, could anyone sling a guitar quite like Andy Summers?
Clearly the set list is still a work in progress. Of course they play the songs everyone expects to hear–Message in a Bottle; Synchronicity II; Walking on the Moon; Every Little Thing She Does is Magic; Wrapped Around Your Finger; De Do Do Do, Da Da Da Da; Can’t Stand Losing You; Roxanne; King of Pain; So Lonely; and Every Breath You Take. The middle of the set seems a bit weaker. When you start getting into album tracks as opposed to singles, everyone has their personal favorites and it’s impossible to please everyone. Not every song toward the middle of the set was recognizable to the casual fan, and the album tracks tended to be the least memorable.
The controversial Don’t Stand So Close to Me was in the set; the band is considering dropping it. The original version was a classic; the 1986 re-recording for their first singles collection was a train wreck. Something resembling the original arrangement is likely to be difficult for the band to do live. To my ear, it sounds like the original had Sting singing lead vocals but all three members singing backing vocals. The only way to do that live would be to drag Sting’s son on stage to have him sing backing vocals. Come to think of it, that might not be a bad idea, if all parties were agreeable. Joe Sumner’s band is the opening act on this tour, and we’ll talk about that later.
Live, Don’t Stand So Close to Me was somewhere between the original and the 1986 version in sound, leaning more toward the original. It’s one of their better and more memorable songs, so it would be a shame to have to drop it.
The band was as fun to watch as it was listenable. Stewart Copeland looked like a madman on the drums. It was easy to see where he got his reputation for hitting the drums about four times as hard as necessary. You could see him straining at times, and he made me wonder how he could possibly do any backing vocals at all while pounding on those drums.
Copeland also made his contributions to the classic Police sound evident. On songs like King of Pain and Wrapped Around Your Finger, Copeland had an elaborate setup of exotic percussion instruments set up behind his traditional rock drum kit. Copeland would start out behind the drums, playing percussion, then race back behind the drums when the song switched to the drum kit, all the while not missing a beat. The set gave Copeland a chance to showcase his versatility, or at least some of it. Copeland even played guitar on a few of the band’s b-sides and other lesser-known tracks, and on his solo records recorded under the pseudonym Klark Kent, Copeland played all the instruments.
Sting introduced Summers as “The Legendary Andy Summers” and he lived up to it. Summers played a number of blistering guitar solos but he and Sting were also able to improvise well whenever they felt like stretching a song out a bit. Summers rarely cracked a smile during the show, but the look on his face looked more like intensity to me, rather than unhappiness to be there. It’s hard to stand out when Copeland is playing drums and racing around like a madman as if the fate of civilization relies on what he’s doing, and when you’re playing next to Sting. Summers’ performance would have been the highlight of pretty much any other concert I’ve seen, but he had a lot of competition tonight.
Sting was, well, Sting. You could tell he’s been doing this for more than 30 years and was comfortable with it. I think he’s lost a little range but has learned to compensate for it. I think his experience more than makes up for whatever he’s lost. I probably wouldn’t have noticed that Sting’s voice has lost something except his son’s band was the opening act, and Joe Sumner sounds just like Sting sounded 25 years ago. Sting didn’t spend a lot of time talking to the crowd, which is fine since we were all there to hear the band play rather than to hear him talk. I heard him make reference to Mississippi Nights, the legendary club on Laclede’s Landing that sadly closed earlier this year. I read in the paper this morning that Mississippi Nights was the first concert they ever played in St. Louis, more than 29 years ago in 1978.
I agree with the other things I’ve read so far that there were a few things they could have done that would have made the show better, but admittedly this is early in the tour. Even with the shortcomings, I still think it was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen. I probably won’t get the opportunity to see them again, but if I had the opportunity, I’d do it.
As far as the band’s notorious friction, I didn’t really see any of that. The three did seem to enjoy themselves, and it would make sense that three people who worked together for seven years making such unforgettable music would be able to click again for the same reason they clicked in the first place.
I know I’ll get the opportunity to see Sting again, but having seen The Police, it’s hard for me to get excited about that possibility. I don’t see how he could possibly put together a set of backup musicians that could hold a candle to the rest of The Police.
The opening band was Fiction Plane, a three-piece band fronted by Joe Sumner, Sting’s 31-year-old son. Fiction Plane has a harder, edgier, grungier sound than The Police, although it certainly appeared to me that Sumner learned a lot from his famous father. At one point he played one of Sting’s songs, and it certainly sounded convincing. I thought Fiction Plane showed a lot of talent and promise, but the question remains whether the radio will play any of it. I’m not sure what it takes to get on the radio these days but talent doesn’t seem to be the most important thing. I think I’ll buy some of their stuff though. I’ll listen to them even if nobody else knows who they are.
If you have the chance to see this tour and you’ve been sitting on the fence whether to go, I recommend going. I don’t see how they could let you down.