Police at Shea: super sound and a televised tea break...
"The first time I ever came to New York, we got into a car at the airport and the driver took us to the Bowery and a placed called CBGB," Sting said as he surveyed the 70,000 Police fans who packed Shea Stadium. "After that, we played the Bottom Line, then the Ritz and the Palladium. When we came back again, we played Madison Square Garden - twice." The bassist paused, scanning the enormous stadium with undisguised awe. "And now we're here. Makes you stop and think, doesn't it?"
It does. Every ticket for the event was sold out in a little over five hours. At the time of the show, the newest album, 'Synchronicity', was perched comfortably at #1 on the album chart and showed no sign of budging. But nearly 18 years to the night that the Beatles peered up into those same mile-high tiers, Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland proved that there's been no "hype master" at work here. Everything they've gotten, they've deserved.
From the second the band hit the stage in a swirl of red, yellow and blue smoke to blast through a back-to-back barrage of 'Synchronicity I' and 'II', the crowd was on its feet and raving. With the three musicians projected onto huge video screens, every fan was, in effect, in the front row. And the sound quality was excellent, making it a mystery why Shea doesn't play host to rock bands more often.
When Sting played his African reed pipes during 'Walking In Your Footsteps', every note rang crystal clear. When he danced across the stage, even those sitting way up in the cloud seats were able to drift along with him. While much has been written about how Sting has given a whole new meaning to the word ego
, nobody can accuse him of lacking presence.
While his high, mournful voice was augmented briefly here and there by several female backup singers (and what sounded like a few pre-recorded voices), the bulk of the Police's onstage sound was still the work of only three pieces; proof that, in the Police's case anyway, less is definitely more.
Lacing into one of his patented, geometric hypno-riffs for 'Message In A Bottle', then holding back with those spare, chiming chords that punctuate 'Walking On The Moon', Summers proved that he's one of the most musical of rock guitarists, who too often rely on mere overkill. And while Copeland remains one of the busiest drummers, he makes his point on every song without ever getting in the way.
"Let's hear seventy thousand people again," Sting shouted early on. The enormous crowd responded with a cheer that probably rattled dentures in Milwaukee as the band steam-rolled through a Who-like intro to what turned out to be 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' from 'Zenyatta Mondatta'. Surprisingly, when the three tied the slow, drifting 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' to the mirage like 'Tea In The Sahara', the audience remained noticeable quiet.
With five albums to their credit, the Police obviously couldn't play everything. Though several of their best songs (including 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic') were conspicuously absent from the repertoire, they still tapped into every phase of their commercial climb.
Midway through the show, the band trooped off stage for a bizarre "three-minute tea break" (complete with sterling silver tea service) that was televised to the crowd from the bowels of a stadium dressing room. Then the Police quickly bounced back for 'Every Breath You Take' and its flip side 'Murder By Numbers', turning in a punchy, aggressive performance on the latter that probably made many who were hearing it for the first time wonder why it isn't on the album.
"Once upon a time, there was a schoolteacher," Sting announced by way of introduction to 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', with 'Roxanne' following hot and heavy on its heels. An extended, heavy duty encore built around 'Can't Stand Losing You' brought the gig score up to a full 21 songs, each one confirming that the Police have deserved every long-winded accolade that's been heaped upon their shoulders these past few years.
"We'd like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium," Sting said at the very end of the show - humble words from a man not noted for being humble. It was good to see that even three of today's best musicians were willing to give credit where credit was due.
© Circus by Dan Hedges (with thanks to Dietmar)
Ticket image from Dietmar