07.14.2007 - 2007-07-14 LOUISVILLE, KY: Churchill Downs / Driven to cheers...
Driven to cheers...
"You have no idea what this song is, do you?" Sting asked as the sun set behind the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs on a spectacular summer evening. "You will."
With that, a bright guitar agitation by Andy Summers fell into place as 'Every Little Thing She Does in Magic', one of the 20 hits big and small that The Police restored to often-inventive new life before a crowd of 27,000.
This was a reunion that shouldn't have worked - a high-priced, high-profile rock 'n' roll indulgence by a band that self-destructed more than 23 years ago at the height of its popularity. But last night's Police raid proved the best way to go home again was by acting your age. This was a band that, despite demanding top ticket prices in the $200-$300 range, didn't seem interested in De Do Do Do-ing a recital of hits as they existed nearly a quarter-century ago.
Instead, The Police - bassist/ singer/megaceleb Sting, 55, guitarist Summers, 64, and drummer Stewart Copeland, 55 - stripped the mechanics of its '80s post-punk, reggae-friendly music down to essentials.
Arrangements were elongated, grooves were plumped up and solos - especially those from Summers - were abundant. This made a rethink of the Police's more popular material necessary. But that was where things really got fun.
For the wailing 'Synchronicity II', Summers was called upon to construct rugged but refreshingly economical guitar riffs that were sturdy enough to withstand Sting's most efficiently aggressive vocal performance of the night. For 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', Copeland replaced keyboard accents with the clattering of chimes and rumblings of timpani to create rhythms best described as an evil twin to bossa nova. And for 'Walking on the Moon', familiar reggae grooves melted first into waves of guitar ambience before detouring into tasty jazz flourishes.
But when The Police set its way-back machine for its most formative music - leaner, more obviously reggae-fied hits scored between 1979 and 1981 - the band worked as a more potent and singular voice. Having Sting lead the Churchill crowd in the wordless reggae skanking vocals of 'Reggatta de Blanc' was both a testament to the inviting vitality of the band's post-punk roots as well as to its crisp sense of elemental groove. That this fine little interlude was tucked into the middle of 'Can't Stand Losing You', a new-wave-ish grind recorded in 1978, provided an even bigger kick.
A host of works from 1980's 'Zenyatta Mondatta' seemed to especially ignite band and audience alike. 'Voices Inside My Head' and 'When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around', melted into a single workout that opened with a meditative bounce that again let the Churchill crowd loosen its lungs. But the killer was 'Driven to Tears', which ignited into a loose-fitting jam that Summers injected with huge, cranky guitar blasts that shoved rhythms around like a bulldozer.
And then there were moments when The Police played things quietly safe. An encore of 'Every Breath You Take' cruised along with its usual undisturbed and metronomic pace, but still managed to stand as one of the creepiest love songs of the '80s. Similarly, the show-opening 'Message in a Bottle' uncorked the evening with a roaming guitar line from Summers that set up the tune's rigorous "sending out an S.O.S." chorus.
While the absurdly fit Sting kept onstage chat to a minimum, he couldn't resist using Churchill's history as reference points for The Police's near dinosaur status in pop history. He joked that the pop charge of 'Truth Hits Everybody' was first designed in 1875, the same year Churchill opened. Sting also briefly made mention of Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner named after his youngest son. "So I have some history with this place," he told the crowd.
Mostly though, it was cool to see The Police working as a band last night. Sure, there were some modest embellishments - a sampled or pedal-induced effect here, an arguably canned background vocal there. But this was essentially music designed, executed and brought back to life in a trio format.
Perhaps that explained the refreshing stylistic breadth of the program, from a tempered reworking of 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' to a brutish finale of 'Next to You'. Such rich, involving sound came not from some revue-style rock orchestra. It was provided by three guys with a learned drive that gave The Police a purpose.
Opening the evening was a London trio called Fiction Plane, fronted by Sting's eldest son, Joe Sumner. There were echoes of The Police's stuttering reggae grooves in tunes like 'Cross the Line' and 'Two Sisters' and generous reflections of dad's broken tenor singing in Sumner's vocals. A pleasant enough curtain-raiser of a band, for sure.
© Lexington Herald-Leader by Walter Tunis