One law for them...
"No really, whaddya think?"
A predictable enough response from any Police audience, which made you wonder why Sting asked the question. But he sounded genuinely interested, and I suppose it's not entirely his fault if every little thing he's done makes it more difficult to give a straight answer.
The difficulty with building on your laurels is that, as Stewart says, "we can't blow people's minds any more." Not in the same way certainly. They have to put on a show and start meeting their audience's expectations. And they have to retain the vital edge that got them there in the first place, but they're still ahead.
The third gig after a three month lay-off is bound to b a bit stiff round the edges - which is probably why us media tyrants were discouraged from going to the first two at bayonet point. I've seen better Police concerts but none that attempted the scope of this one. They put their ever increasing catalogue of pop songs in a context that gave them full measure without trying to build them into something more than they are.
Having taken the complexity of their sound about as far as it's possible within a trio without resorting to backing tapes (which they've wisely avoided) they've complimented their wealth of technical; gadgetry with a black horn section from New Jersey. It's given them a fresh element to work off without ever threatening the vital three-piece sound that's their main characteristic.
They crammed 13 songs into an hour long set (although the encores added another 20 minutes to that) and started at breakneck speed, 'Message In A Bottle', and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' passing in a blur of speed. Even the slower 'Spirits In The Material World' clung rigidly to the beat and it wasn't until they got to 'When The World Is Running Down' that they started manoeuvring some space for themselves. And by 'Demolition Man' a couple of songs later they were ready to go with the flow instead of trying to dictate it.
By now it was obvious that their strident rhythms were moving closer to funk than reggae and the horn section highlighted this. But it was equally clear that the impetus for this change stems directly from the band. 'Demolition Man' and 'Hungry For You' have created a new dimension within the band and they seized the opportunities with the same relish that they displayed when they first got to grips with songs like 'Deathwish' and 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' a couple of years ago.
They gave the horn trio a break while they swaggered through 'Walking on the Moon' and then got down to some serious atmospherics on 'Shadows In The Rain' which continues to improve out of all recognition to the recorded version as Andy Summers' personal 'wall of sound' alternately screamed and swirled around the fluid rhythms from Stewart and Sting. Live, that track remains their greatest achievement, and it certainly made up for a rather dry and uninventive 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' earlier in the set.
By the time the horns came back after a version of 'Bring On The Night' that leaned more on power than atmosphere, they were into overdrive and 'One World' rode along on a relaxed swing that their earlier freneticism had denied.
But they had one more uppercut to come, 'Invisible Sun' was played on a darkened stage with the band invisible (Sting was on keyboards and his roadie on bass) while a screen behind showed the film of Belfast streets that the frightened rabbits who scamper up and down the BBC's corridors of power wouldn't show.
The sight of people simply living their daily lives in the middle of a war zone was more disturbing than all the carnage we've been shown on television. After all a bomb attack is the same the world over whether it's in Saigon or Beirut. But this film dispelled any smug feelings that only uncivilised foreigners indulge in these atrocities. And that's a view the authorities would rather you weren't aware of. With that kind of incompetence, is it any wonder we're in a mess?
The rest was The Police rock show everyone had come to see - 'Roxanne', 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely'. Everybody jump up and have a good time. We deserve it.
The final relief to your humble scribe was that the Police are still worth writing a book about. The tensile strength that made them has neither turned brittle nor started rusting at the joints.
Collectively and individually they continue to make progress. Stewart's drumming has adapted to the demands of the new songs and style with typical bravado, although he still has a tendency to race on some numbers. Andy Summers remains something of an enigma within the band. On stage he's the lynch-pin of their sound but he still hasn't made the same impact on record. But then he is something of a late developer. And Sting has tailored his rock star mannerisms to suit the new phase in his career without losing that essential natural streak that keeps him spontaneous.
No, they'll never have the same hip credibility that the Jam seem to wear like a second skin, but greedy millionaire jibes are just as unfair as they are inaccurate. They put aside 1500 seats for the gig available only through Capital Radio for the price of a toy to 'Help A London Child'. And they're investing £60,000 in a youth employment scheme. Millionaires can care, however big their egos.
© Sounds by Hugh Fielder
Ticket image from Paul Carter