Police concert is no picnic for fans...
It seems most of Sunday's Police Picnic in Oakville was constructed to make the headlining act, the Police, look very good once it hit the stage. When the trio arrived, at 10:55 p.m., many of the nearly 30,000 people in Kiev Park had been there for 11 hours. They had been forced to sit through a number of dreary performances to prepare for the climax, which was two hours late and not in time for those who came to the performance on the GO Train to catch the last train home to Toronto or Hamilton.
The Specials, the reigning English ska band, stole a little of the Police thunder with a tight set of pre-reggae Jamaican rhythms and less exotic rock pieces; but they have not sold 14 million records recently, so the crowd didn't seem to come alive live like it does at star-time. At that point, with many hours of sun followed by slowly descending chill, it takes the headliner to move mountains. By the time they hit Message in a Bottle, an hour into the show, the Police had gathered the scattered loose ends of the crowd together again.
Early in the afternoon John Otway, better suited to small clubs, saw his set end earlier than he expected in a small shower of paper cups from the audience. Killing Joke then played tough but simple-minded music. Nash The Slash, a local solo act next on the bill, was then treated with utmost contempt by the stage manager. He had been promised 35 minutes and was cut off after 20 - in front of a crowd that size, many of whom know the performer and like him, they actually shut the power off just as he was moving into his new material. It was unbelievable rudeness and the crowd recognised it. Nash himself said some fairly rude things into a dead mike, but later in the backstage area had cooled to a philosophical slow burn.
Iggy Pop put the first consistent punch into the show. One does not screw around with Mr. Pop; his show ran its rollicking course, a re-statement of his excellent performance here earlier this year. It was a sorely needed spark of life; Mr. Pop put most or all of his abundant energy into his anthem, 'Lust For Life' and a rehash of the venerable Gloria - that's G-L-O-R-I-A, at full volume from the front third of the crowd.
The Police set seemed packed with hits, but it's only because the hits come quickly these days for the most popular - three or four of them lifted one after another from each of the albums adds up to almost a dozen or more solid AM and FM radio hits in a three-year period. 'Message In A Bottle', 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Da Do Do Do', 'Walking on the Moon', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' - all of them riding on bassist Sting's plaintive voice - were the pop highlights.
Elsewhere there was more reggae, or at least their poppy version of it, than they've exhibited in a long time: the new 'One World is Enough' was as Jamaican an item as they've ever produced, an up-tempo reggae song with a palpable, if trivialised, message. Sting has the voice, but guitarist Andy Summers remains the musical star of the show. There was a borrowed brass section for certain numbers, but it was generally up to Summers to keep the background filled with his superb rhythm guitar work. He rarely soloed; instead he fiddled with his knobs and dials, and changed his strumming techniques to fit the piece. He did the work of three competent stage guitarists, and without him Sting would be crying in the wind.
Life was hell for the working press, and by that I mean the people who were actually on assignment Sunday, no more than 25 in number. They were given the same status - the laughable "V.I.P." sticker - as the friends of the people who work in the record stores in Toronto, and when the time came, justifiably, for these people to be denied access to the front of the stage, the photographers and writers wearing the same passes were forced to face a mountain of hired beef on the hoof whose job was to impede legitimate efforts as much as possible, all of them convinced that civilisation's future rests on keeping the musicians safe from working journalists during this absolutely cosmic event.
Let's get it straight, fellas. The Police aren't worth it. No band is worth the subtle bullying and intimidation that goes along with things like this, with aimless youth given power for a day only because they resemble our evolutionary ancestors or because they are willing to work for free. It's all becoming quite vicious, and the promoters are planning to do a couple more just like it next summer.
© The Star by Paul McGrath
Ticket image courtesy of Dietmar