08.01.2007 - 2007-08-01 NEW YORK, NY: Madison Square Garden / Sing Along With Sting, One More Time...
Sing Along With Sting, One More Time...
During their exultant encore at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, the Police played songs from their first and last albums, released only five years apart. For the few people in the arena who weren't singing along, it was a reminder of the actual brevity of this band's reign. And when Sting altered the lyrics to one of the older songs, singing "Welcome to the Andy Summers show" in a verse of 'So Lonely', it was a reminder of why ages passed before this reunion tour.
Surely Sting was sincere in his plugging of Mr. Summers, the band's ingenious guitarist. He must have meant it, too, when he repeated the line with the name of Stewart Copeland, the band's wickedly cunning drummer. (Right?) But the Police were rarely such a magnanimous cooperative in their day. And in the two decades or so since, Sting has basked contentedly in the spotlight, while his former band mates tended to quieter solo careers.
The tour, which has been going all summer, bypasses this drama to get to the heart of what was there, and still is, among the three players: a lean and flexible group dynamic, spring-loaded with vital tensions. It seems the only rigid thing about the reincarnated Police is their set list, which hasn't changed substantially from one city to the next. (Sting has sung those modified lyrics on more than one occasion, too.)
Some sly liberties were taken with the songs, though not with respect to melody. On 'Synchronicity II', strange new chords underscored a spirit of portent, and Mr. Copeland periodically pulled back the tempo, imposing an artificial restraint. 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' opened into an extended jam that was loose-limbed but inspired. Less productively, there was the mellowing out of 'Truth Hits Everybody', which was originally a jittery punk screed and now resembles a sober reflection.
At times it really was the Andy Summers show. He took a handful of engrossing solos, including a customarily scabrous wail in 'Driven to Tears'. His improvisations were full of small but surprising turns, conveying much more substance than flash. He's a better musician now than he was during the band's original run, and it shows especially at the core of a song, where his playing provides the guts and the glue.
On a few tunes Mr. Copeland climbed onto a riser to play a rack of cymbals, bells and chimes, as well as several timpanis and an enormous gong. But his chief calling was naturally behind the drum kit, where he got mileage out of each twittering hi-hat ellipsis. On 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', there was excitement simply in his backbeat on the snare, which crackled like a recurring pistol report.
Sting was in superb voice as a singer, and in fine form as a bassist - he guides the band from both extremes of register - and he appeared almost suspiciously well preserved. So did his songs, which of course are the engine behind the Police's success, now as then. Because even the mega-hits hew to a fundamental sound, there was little differentiation in the show between what were once singles and B-sides. Except perhaps the reception: obviously there were bigger cheers for 'Roxanne' than for 'Voices Inside My Head'.
"We have a long history with this city," Sting said early in the show, pointing out that the band had played at CBGB in 1978. "Eventually we played Madison Square Garden," he added nonchalantly. He didn't mention that the last time the Police performed in New York City was in 1983 at Shea Stadium, on what would be their acrimonious final tour. Why would he? Some history is better left unsaid, especially when it's being revised.
© New York Times by Nate Chinen