Police perform for 70,000 at Shea Stadium...
"We'd like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium," said Sting, the bassist and singer of the Police near the trio's concert at Shea Stadium. The group topped the Shea Stadium attendance figures for the Beatles and everyone else on Thursday night because a way was found to pack in 70,000 for a sold-out performance. That meant shoulder-to- shoulder standing room on the field and completely full bleachers, and a bit of rain for those who arrived on time, but the mood of the crowd was pure exhilaration.
It is a good sign that the Police can draw so many people and satisfy them, because the band's music works radical changes on what rock arena audiences came to expect in the 1970's. The band's songs are light, not ponderous; introspective rather than aggressive; syncopated, not stomping, and more clever than simple-minded. Sting's lyrics even drop names like Nabakov and Scylla and Charybdis.
Just about every Police song has a fleet, irresistible groove that might hint at reggae, African pop, funk, classical minimalism, or rock. No single instrument sticks out; Sting's bass lines mesh with Stewart Copeland's articulate drumming, while guitarist Andy Summers plays cross-rhythmic chords or floating washes of sound. Above and around the beat, Sting sings in a high tenor about mystical notions like Jung's "Synchronicity" (the title of the band's current album) or about loneliness laced with paranoia, as in Police hits like 'Every Breath You Take' or 'Message in a Bottle'.
What makes the Police stand out among performing bands is that it never bothers to imitate its records. The trio couldn't if it tried, since band members overdub extra instruments in the recording studio. So it goes to the other extreme, revamping every song in a gleeful whirl of improvisation. The Police is one of the few rock bands - along with the Rolling Stones, the Talking Heads and the Grateful Dead - that is willing to shake up its arrangements nightly.
That takes concentration, and the band's fingers were so busy that the players had no time for typical arena theatrics. Sting would occasionally cue the audience to sing along, and sometimes Mr. Summers would do jumping jacks on the beat. But the three video screens above and flanking the stage at Shea Stadium usually presented a much more visually active show, with rhythmic cross-cutting from player to player, than was actually occurring onstage.Yet the audience responded, not to showboating, but to intricate musicmaking. Although the Police added two female backup singers on one song and a bassist on another, along with an occasional repeating lick from a synthesiser, the bulk of the set thrived on the players' spontaneous three-way interplay.
The band members took out their virtuosity on rhythm and texture rather than individual display. Mr. Copeland ranged over a standard drum kit laced with all sorts of exotic percussion to find the right click or bonk for each off beat, while Mr. Summers and Sting chased each other through some songs in such close pursuit that they seemed to switch rhythm parts. Instead of stretching songs with long solos, the Police would slow down the groove for echoed, dub-style interludes for full trio. The concert was filled with the kind of jubilant, daredevil group playing that is rarely heard on rock stages anywhere - much less at Shea Stadium.
© The New York Times by Jon Pareles
Ticket image from Scott Reid