The Police at Sydney Showground...
"All made up and nowhere to go / Welcome to this one night show / Just take a seat, they're always free / No surprise - no mystery / In this desert that I call my soul / I always play a starring role..."
Last song of the night, and not without its ironies... Or its prophetic truths. 'So Lonely' was one of the first songs the Police committed to vinyl, and established what was to become an ongoing theme in Sting's writing - a seeming obsessions with solitude, separatism, resigned despair, alienation... hardly the stuff of mega selling pop.
But that's exactly what it became. Which led one to wonder just how much of the Police Phenomenon has to do with form, style, image... over substance, meaning, content. There's no doubting Sting's personal magnetism - his demigod-like allure hung over this Event like the dark clouds overhead. And perhaps his sheer force of presence was enough to stop them from raining.
As if that could have dampened the ardour with which the Police were received. This was indeed the Succoured Coming - and the last some time, as we were constantly reminded in the weeks of build-up to this night.
On the sleeves of all five albums, you'll find a little note: 'All noises made by the Police'. Well aware of the limitations on a three-piece band in the live situation, once could hardly expect the same maxim to apply here tonight... given the instrumental sophistication of the last two albums in particular. As it was, Sting has the most help - three female backing singers, the occasional pre-programmed bass line, even a small onstage trampoline for those highest of high jumps!
Andy Summers' only accoutrements were the usual array of pedal effects, a guitar synth and small keyboard - all of which he operated otherwise unassisted. Stewart Copeland - appropriately attired in athlete's garb - literally jumped between his armoury of drums and a separate percussions setup located on a riser behind his kit. All of which added to the general spectacle.
And a spectacle it was - three video cameras monitored the action, slicing, dicing and projecting fragmented imagery on a giant screen overhead. Predictably (and naturally) enough, pictures of Sting predominated, though the most intriguing shots were taken over Copeland's shoulder, affording an excellent view of arguably the most dexterous rock drumming technique in the world today. Where you can be assured Sting and Summers will deliver in any case, Copeland's loaded mixture of firepower and subtle dynamics is a source of constant amazement.
Though on occasions it appeared his frenetic tonicity would bulldoze the other two off stage. After the frantic opening brace of 'Synchronicity I' and 'Synchronicity II', it was as well that a tempering level was reached with the lyrical 'Walking In Your Footsteps', on which Copeland switched to percussion. Then the pace switched back into motor drive, with a ridiculously fast rendition of 'Message In A Bottle'... followed by another breath-catcher, 'Walking On The Moon, for which Sting switched to his customised stand-up bass.
"I feel much better now," Sting told the crowd as the band lunged into a speedy version of 'Oh My God' . "I was feeling quite nervous before." Sure, mate. More like wired - he did look a little pinched round the eyes, and more than once left it to the backup trio to swell out a vocal line. But it has been a long, arduous tour, and this was the second last date...
Only one song went perilously close to falling apart - after a perfunctory 'Da Doo Doo Doo' etc and the gently lull of 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', the band laid back on 'Tea In The Sahara' to the point of snoring, despite Copeland's efforts to push the flagging tempo. And when Sting pulled out a clarinet for the fadeout, a faint odour of self-indulgence wafted through the air.
This was dispelled by a spirited version of 'Hole In My Life', on which the 30,000-plus throng joined Sting for some full-throated sing-along. (Funny how some of his most desolate lyrical themes inspire such wanton empathy.) Upward flight continued with 'Spirits In The Material World' (a personal highlight) and 'Invisible Sun', Sting's most overtly political song - accompanied by some soberly appropriate video footage of riot-torn Belfast.
Enough depression! Sting's melodramatic breast beater 'King Of Pain' and a calypso 'One World' brought back the massed choir, which gathered intensity as The Hits rolled forth. Of these, one seemed curiously out of place - the heavily MOR 'Every Breath You Take', which I still reckon is a barely disguised rip-off of that C&W chestnut, Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through The Night'. But who can argue with mass opinion?
With 'Roxanne', the till-now standard rock lightshow exploded into shimmering overkill - a bank of white spots mounted across the top of the stage rained out across a sea of heads bobbing in unison. This became a blitz of incendiary power during 'Can't Stand Losing', as a dazzling array of chasers and follow-spots swept the arena.
Then the ironic finale: 30,000 people shoulder to shoulder, mouthing the chorus of 'So Lonely' - followed by a closing fusillade of fireworks. Pretty impressive.
Just how much of the Police's success can be ascribed to Sting? Well, every song performed tonight was his, he owns The Face that launched a thousand impassioned sighs... and has made feigned pain, vocal strain and alienation a celebratory art form. No wonder he's laughing.
© RAM by Phil Stafford (with thanks to Dietmar)
Ticket image from jooZt