05.28.2007 - 2007-05-28 VANCOUVER: GM Place / The Police return to rock Vancouver...
The Police return to rock Vancouver...
It appears to be an immutable law of rock and roll that every former band, no matter how dysfunctional and personally incompatible, must eventually reform.
After twenty-one years apart, The Police finally fulfilled their duty, taking to the stage for the first of two sold-out nights at the 20,000 seater GM Centre in Vancouver, Canada, to launch their comeback world tour.
It had been such a long time that Sting (apparently the officer in charge) felt it necessary to introduce his bandmates to each other. "Andy, this is Stewart," he joked. Well, I think he was joking.
The Police were never so much a power trio as a power struggle trio. Although the three virtuoso musicians use the primary instruments of rock and roll (drums, bass, electric guitar and voice), they don't so much meld together into a tight, cohesive force as continually pull apart, each straining to take the songs in a different direction.
With atmospheric guitarist Andy Summers, wildly percussive drummer Stewart Copeland and even Sting himself embarking on structural, rhythmic and melodic digressions from and excursions around the central themes of what, in essence, are incredibly succinct and classically structured songs, this is as close to jazz as pop gets.
The effect is like Cream reinterpreting the Beatles. At its best it is hypnotically mesmerising, sucking you into a sonic and harmonic jigsaw of musical interaction before delivering you back to the comfort zone of the chorus.
At its worst, or at least its most self-indulgent, it is baffling, and not only to the audience. "I don't recognise that, what are we doing?" Sting mischievously enquired of Summers during one particularly oblique intro.
After so many years doodling about on his own, Summers was clearly relishing the opportunity to doodle in front of an adoring audience, disguising hooklines with echo and ambient effects, and unleashing torrents of frantic solos.
The song in question turned out to be 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', which may have been one of the themes of a surprisingly low-tech event.
Perhaps to emphasise musicianship over showmanship, the only significant concession to modern developments in staging were three giant screens, with a single camera allocated to each band member.
It was instructive how rarely they strayed across the lines to appear in the same shot.
To be honest, anyone could be forgiven for not wanting to get too close to Copeland. Wearing an ill-considered cycling suit, headband and spectacles, and pulling furious gurning faces, the hyperactive percussionist resembles an escapee from an asylum for the criminally insane. I don't think I have ever seen a drummer get so involved in the action of his hi-hats, frequently neglecting the rest of his kit for extended periods, only to suddenly bang the snare drum in the place you would least expect it.
At once polyrhythmic and spacious, he makes few concessions for those sections of the crowd who wish to clap along.
Singalongs were just as frustrating, given Sting's penchant for melodic modulation , although when things were straying too far afield he would lift spirits with a bit of trademark "ee-yo-ee-yo-yo"ing.
If at times it feels as if there is no centre to The Police, everything is ultimately held together by the sheer force of Sting's charisma.
His band mates may be showing signs of wear and tear, but this walking advertisement for the power of yoga still looks like a rock god, and still commands attention.
His voice has deepened over the years but has a richness and soulfulness that added emotional dimension to slowed down, intimate versions of 'Invisible Sun', 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' and 'King of Pain'.
And on a showstopping 'Roxanne', even his yodelling sounded positively bereft.
A rapturously received set delivered every song a Police fan would want to hear (even if it took a while to identify them all).
If there was a slightly frantic air to much of the proceedings, then it may be simply a case of trying too hard to make up for lost time.
Hopefully, by the time the tour reaches Britain in September, The Police will have developed a more softly softly approach to crowd control .
© The Daily Telegraph by Neil McCormick
Photo by Dave & Wendy