For the Police, every little thing they do is magic...
Take Friday night's concert at the Hartford Civic Center, the first of two sold-out engagements there, when an audience of 16,500 joined lead singer Sting's yo-oh-oh calls in a tumultuous call-and-response.
Or the time the band took a wacky little tea break in the middle of their concert, going backstage for a breather, donning stovepipe hats and sipping a bit of Tetley - all the while being followed by a video camera which was relaying the scene back to the crowd. Or the images of children in war-torn Northern Ireland projected onto a huge screen above the stage for the band's moving rendition of 'Invisible Sun'.
The 15-by-20-foot screen was a dramatic presence for the entire two-hour show. This technique of projecting the live show at hand onto an on-stage, screen is now common for stadium rock shows. But this was one of the rare times that it was used at an indoor venue. Or used so well. With an official seal of approval by this best-selling band, the practice may be more common in the future. With it, everyone in the arena has binoculars. Even the fans in the ozone of the hall can see the veins in Sting's throat stand out as he reaches for a note; see the massively taped left hand of drummer Stewart Copeland; see Andy Summers as he frets away on his guitar. The technology is also in keeping with the tour's affiliation with MTV the cable television music network, which is officially "presenting" the band. This raises some conflict-of-interest questions of media and music so closely aligned in such a profit-making venture, but that s another critical matter - not relevant to the show at hand.
Opening the show was R.E.M. from Athens; Ga. Lead vocalist Michael Stipe was mysteriously and painfully remote for the half-hour set; clutching the microphone, as is his custom, but not being released by the music, which is also his custom. The band played well, especially in its last few songs; but there was a tenseness Friday night that was not in evidence when I caught this young, hard-driving band at other shows. Perhaps it was due to the fact that this was the first night the band was opening for The Police in this leg of the tour.
As the music of The Police is a hybrid, so is their audience, being made up Friday of teens, a college-aged crowd and a good sprinkling of the over-30 set. For the younger fans, there's catchy melodies and the teen-idol attraction of Sting, 32. But for other fans, the music is the thing. Listen to the Third Worldly wooziness in 'Walking In Your Footsteps', or the bluesy anger in the concert version of 'Demolition Man', or the jazzy energy of 'Murder By Numbers'. But, it's more than reggae, blues, or jazz. Rarely has a pop band been so successful in combining so many various musical styles into a distinct and original sound of its own.
Looking good in a white, over-sized blouse, Sting mood-swung through the show; happy hopping to 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', kicking in a sound monitor or two, leading a sweet singalong, trashing a mike stand. Most of the show was dominated by the band's latest album Synchronicity, currently the No.1 LP in the country. With this brilliant masterwork, the band scouts even further the musical and emotional territory that it has marked off for itself.
Unfortunately, the two new songs not written by Sting - Summers' Mother and Copeland's Miss Gradenko - were not played for the show. Nor were the three fine back-up singers - Tessa Niles, Ray Shell and Shady Calver - credited in the show. (To add insult to injury, they were hidden in silly sheikh outfits.)
There's a musical economy in the new album's songs, which are as gripping as anything the band has written. Each sound has an individual effect as well as a cumulative one, and this has been translated miraculously to the stage. Highlighting these songs is 'Every Breath You Take', with its tight; lean and clean sounds that make your ears clench. The tune is so tense, threatening and obsessive that it sounds as if it's John Hinckley's love song to Jodie Foster. In the end, The Police go beyond craft and persona and exudes a spirituality to their music. That's why the sing-alongs are not cliched or crudely manipulative, but rather joyous, communal experiences. That's why it was such a pleasure to hear the band play older songs yet again and again and again.
If I had the talent, the blessings and the magic, I would want to play like The Police.
© The Hartford Courant by Frank Rizzo