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Last Night: The Police, June 21, 2007

The Police
June 21, 2007
Honda Center, Anaheim
Better Than: Sting solo.

Sting and Stewart Copeland have aged as well as most of the Police’s back catalog; Andy Summers, not so much (he looked like a marathoner in his 25th mile by the third song). To my mild surprise, the trio, who have owned a sizable chunk of the radioscape since 1978, yet again have become a well-oiled hit machine a mere 21 years after their last concert together. The sold-out Honda Center crowd was, to paraphrase one especially touching Police ballad (which they played tonight), “wrapped around their finger.” (Just because every live review will likely use this meme, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.) I doubt the cheers for the Ducks’ Stanley Cup victory outdecibeled those heard for the Police tonight.

Striding onstage to the Wailers’ “Get Up, Stand Up,” the Police slipped quickly into "Message in a Bottle" after drummer Copeland’s ceremonial gong hit. It almost seemed as if we were back in 1979, so smooth and natural did this version sound. Copeland’s still a badass funky metronome on his large kit (which includes an array of hanging chimes, cymbals, kettles, xylophone and other exotic percussive ornaments) and bassist/vocalist Sting leapt during the song’s climactic chord like a man 30 years his junior.

"Synchronicity II followed, as lithe and full of adrenaline and intrigue as ever. Guitarist Summers tore off a fibrillating, whammy-barred solo, which he did often tonight. As Sting quipped later in “So Lonely” during the first encore, “Welcome to the Andy Summers Show.” Winded though he looked, Summers seemed hell-bent on establishing his ax-hero credentials: It was charming or pathetic, depending on your view of gratuitous showboating.

Then came one of the Police’s most endearing oddities, the eerie, spacious dub excursion “Walking on the Moon.” Sting’s voice is a bit lower and less limber than it used to be, but it’s still pretty supple and robust. He often left lyrical gaps for the crowd to fill in with their massed voices, and this worked particularly well with “Moon”’s “ee-oh ee-oh”s.

When the band shifted into “Voices Inside My Head,” one of their funkiest, spookiest compositions, my spirits skyrocketed. They soon plummeted when the tune prematurely morphed into “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” Now, I’m all for messing with expectations and tweaking the canon, but the Police never let “Voices” zoom like it needs to zoom. Still, when they accelerated the tempo for “World” and ventured into a spicy jazz-jam tangent, transgressions were forgiven. Similarly, the trio expanded their first hit, “Roxanne,” into an extended dub workout illumined by Sting’s jazzier, scatty vocals.

On “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” Sting’s phrasing was way more mellow on the chorus, deflating much of the album version’s tension. This change just seemed wrong. But on “Driven to Tears,” everyone played with a savage vengeance, which seemed more right than ever, as today’s world is, believe it or not, more fucked-up than it was in 1980, when “Tears” was released.

Over the 19-song, 110-minute, two-encore set, the Police hit most of the expected touchstones and a few slightly less-traveled pockets of their oeuvre (the Esperanto’d Eno-Byrne homage “Walking in Your Footsteps,” “Truth Hits Everybody,” “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”). In fact, masses commenced exodus after “Every Breath You Take,” the conventional-wisdom finale, but the Police shocked many by finishing with the amphetamine-fueled “Next to You” off their debut LP. I applaud the group’s decision to close a long set with one of their most energetic tracks, even if it meant having paramedics stage-side keeping a close eye on Summers. . . .

Critic’s Notebook
Personal Bias: I own Message in a Box, the boxed set that contains every note the Police recorded, and in a recent DJ set, I played “Voices Inside My Head,” which, you'll be pleased to know, provoked a very good reaction.
Random Detail: Estimated average age of attendee: 48.
By the way: This tour’s official charity is Water Aid, an international NGO committed to reducing poverty by improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene information.

Check out the Police slide show.

Comments (12)

  1. Richard Vaughn says:

    What the reviewer failed to mention was the abysmal sound. My wife and I own every Police and Sting recording and looked forward to seeing our heroes live. Most concerts take a song or two to get the mix right. We have seen Prince as well as Simon and Garfunkel at the Honda Center/Pond. All you could hear was Sting’s bass overpowering everything. Intricate guitar playing as well as Sting’s own vocals were reduced to a hollow echo. My wife and I left after the sixth song. Perhaps the mix was based on the performer’s ego rather than the sound that the audience would hear. Rolling Stone commented on the perfection the Police have for their music. They constantly argue over each subtle nuance of each melody. Perhaps they could interrupt counting their profits long enough to attend a sound check or two. Their fresh water charity picked the perfect group to promote their cause because Thursday night’s performance was all wet.

  2. Matt Rogers says:

    Great review.

    I am a huge fan and have read all the reviews so far. It appears that Andy, who was the off in the Oakland show, is trying to step it up. (C'mon old man, you can do it!) I'm very glad to hear that as I am going to the Chicago show too.

  3. Dave Segal says:

    I have to disagree with Mr. Vaughn. From where I was sitting and standing (to the left of the stage, lower level), Copeland's drums were loud and clear, though perhaps Summers' guitar could've been boosted a bit more. At only one point did Sting's bass overpower the mix, but that sounded like a technical snafu rather than a deliberate policy to satisfy Mr. Sumner's ego. Speaking of which, why would Sting reduce his own vocals to a "hollow echo" (again, I disagree with your assessment) if he is the egomaniac you're accusing him of being?

  4. chuck lanza says:

    I saw them in las vegas, their performance was exceptional. the house sound mix was as close to perfect as you can get, I was on the floor, towards the back right off the stage. I do not understand why the writer of this article picks on andy summers, so, he's not a slim pretty boy anymore, if he ever was. you can not ever take away his mastery of his instrument, this man has blended jazz stylings with pop and other forms of rock and has created "his" sound.
    I guess now a days it's not "cool" to be able to really play your instrument.

  5. Joe says:

    I was at the show Thursday and have to agree with the reviewer about the re-working of "Don't Stand So Close to Me." While the more mellow, slower version of "Don’t Stand So Close To Me" - sounding more like a older teacher's lecherous invitation rather than a younger teacher's desperate plea - was a slight disappointment, the new arrangement for Wrapped was splendid, IMHO.

    I can't say that I had the same questions about sound quality raised in a previous post. But in all honesty, I was so thrilled to see The Police - having been only 8 when they last toured - that I'm probably not the most un-biased - I couldn't even leave to go to the bathroom, I was so entranced.

    I thought Stewart Copeland was the most energetic of the three and agree with this and other concert reviews that seem to suggest Andy Summers is a bit slower at 64 - definitely forgivable. Sting sounded great.

    Not sure if anyone else felt this way about Next To You, but I wished they had sped it up more throughout. They definitely rocked it at the end of the song, but the song as a whole was a little lacking in that punk / edginess that makes it great.

    Can't Stand / Reggatta de Blanc was the best effort of the night, I thought.

  6. Adrian says:

    I have to wonder what show David Segal attended. I'm suspicious that he got the set list and listened to the original Police tracks on his iPod before writing this review. This was not The Police. This was 94.7 the Wave Police. This was "Fields of Gold" Police. This was self-indulgent Sting Police.
    For me, reunion tours should give us baby boomers the chance to relive our youth. Give us what we want and no one gets hurt. Although the crowd did sing along with a couple of songs, the energy coming from the stage was low. As the night wore on, less and less people were singing along, less and less were dancing. I've never yawned so much in a concert before. The mood of the people around me turned from boredom to frustration and then outright anger. Fleetwood Mac's comeback was awesome, the Stones know how to get a crowd going, but this comeback fell flat. I was lucky enough to get a free ticket, and I still want my money back.

  7. Pier Johnson says:

    Can you imagine leaving after the sixth song because the PA sound does not rival your home stereo?

    Perhaps you have matured and 20-something rock music played by near 60-something men no longer holds your interest.

    When they return for a second leg (bands almost alwyas do), the sound will be better.

  8. Tim in San Diego says:

    Andy Summers is done. It wasn't just the Oakland show. He was pretty bad last night at Dodger stadium anytime he attempted a solo. Stings vocals were amazing, however, as well as Copelands drumming. The new arrangements were disappointing on songs like When the World is Running Down and Don't Stand So Close. Overall, an entertaining show but did not meet my expectations by Police standards. For $250 I'd like the guitarist to practice a little before he takes a solo in front of 55,000.

  9. Phil Gray says:

    I also have to disagree with Mr Vaughn. I was on the club level about halfway back on the right side of the stage and the sound was excellent (for a basketball/hockey arena). Every buidling has accoustic quirks and perhaps Mr Vaughn just had the wrong seats that night.

  10. DJ Adjective says:

    First: Andy Summers is 10 years older than the other two guys, so he's not quite the spring chicken (he was in a psychedlic band in the '60's). Second: to the dork who thinks reunion tours should cater to the wanking desires of brain-dead baby boomers wanting to hear exact replicas of the recorded versions of songs - you should not be allowed to go to concerts. Stay home and listen to your cd's - those are the versions that you want to hear anyway. Maybe it's just me but, I prefer to have the band deliver something beyond the recorded versions when I go to a concert (Go Bob Dylan!). Lastly: I didn't make it to the show although I really would have liked to go, but with reunion tours I would say, no matter how much you paid for a ticket, try not to let your expectations get too high, after all there's a lot of water under the bridge...now how about a Jam reunion...

  11. Dave Segal says:

    In retrospect, I may have been too harsh on Summers. I wasn't denigrating his playing, just noticing that his vigor seemed lacking compared to his bandmates'. The age difference definitely had something to do with it, but you could also tell Andy hasn't been following the same fitness program Sting and Stewart have been. So I went for a cheap laugh. It happens.

    "For me, reunion tours should give us baby boomers the chance to relive our youth."

    Wow—are you serious? No wonder baby boomers have such a lousy rep... and I'm one myself (45).

    "The mood of the people around me turned from boredom to frustration and then outright anger."

    I'm glad I wasn't in your cranky section of the arena. I didn't catch that vibe at all from where I was stationed.

  12. Mike says:

    I saw them a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta and I thought they were amazing. The sound the three of the put out was great (I was disappointed when I heard tracking vocals on a couple of songs, though). Sting bass was heavy, but I thought it helped the songs, when tightly joined with Stewart's drumming, have the low end power. I thought Andy did great on guitar, but he seemed to stick to the solos he used on the "Synchonicity" tour. They had great energy and I wished I would have went back for the second night.

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