08.04.2007 - 2007-08-04 BALTIMORE, MD: Virgin Festival / Police really are that good...
Police really are that good - The biggest surprise of their 100-minute set was the ferocious playing of Summers...
It's good to be Sting.
Two days ago, Billboard reported that the first leg of the Police reunion tour grossed more than $107 million from 38 shows that drew 929,941 fans (not including the band's headlining stints at Bonnaroo and last weekend's Virgin Festival).
The biggest take came from the trio's July 5-6 stop at Wrigley Field in Chicago, which brought in $9,494,248 from almost 80,000 people.
Tickets on the tour range from $50 to $350, depending on the market. (The top price at Philly's Wachovia Center, where the band plays Nov. 14, is $225; at the smaller Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City a week earlier, it's $350.)
If I were reading these numbers a week ago, I'd have a growing contempt for Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. But mostly Sting, the already-richest of the trio.
Knowing the kind of numbers they would draw in stadiums, knowing the tour would be a Bonds-powered homer, they couldn't have pulled a Garth Brooks and charged a flat $50 for every seat in the house? (I know Brooks' tickets were $20 - let's call it cost-of-living inflation.)
Even the Wrigley shows would have grossed $4 million. Surely enough for the toned and beautiful Sting to purchase a few extra yoga mats.
But then I caught The Police's closing set Saturday at Virgin Fest in Baltimore, and for the first two minutes of 'Message in a Bottle' I was numb. Couldn't even scribble anything in my notepad. They really were, as everyone I knew who had seen the show said, that good.
While I trust my friends' judgment, I was a little skeptical because The Police's performance at Live Earth a month ago didn't raise any hairs on the back of my neck - especially when they trotted out Kanye West to demolish all good will with his stilted rapping during 'Message'.
Couple that with Copeland's self-flagellating blog after the band's opening night in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the end of May and Sting's penchant for twisting some of the hits into jazzy jams, and my confidence in what I initially thought would be the best tour of 2007 started to rapidly fade.
But as he strode in black combat boots across the giant stage set up on the infield at Pimlico Race Course, Sting beamed, a mischievous gleam in his eyes evident on the big screens.
There could have been a good reason for his cheery demeanor.
Earlier Saturday, I chatted with someone who works at CBS Radio, the parent company of the now-completely-deceased-as-a-rock-station WHFS (though it's on life support at HD radio). Since 1990, the station has been known for its annual concert festivals, usually held at RFK Stadium in Washington. Even when its format was flipped in 2005 to tropical Latin music, the HFStival lived on.
Last year, a two-day HFStival was held at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., with Kanye West, Counting Crows and Matisyahu among the main acts.
This year, CBS wanted to hold the event with The Police as headliners. It bid $1 million. Richard Branson, the bazillionaire behind the Virgin empire, and, obviously, Virgin Fest, outbid them.
Game over. Bazillionaire wins.
Considering $1 million is about the usual guarantee The Police are getting for every date of this tour, it's a safe assumption that Sting and the boys were nabbing a paycheck in the $1.5 million range Saturday.
I'd be smiling, too.
Still, if you're considering trying to catch one of their shows when they return this fall for a handful of East Coast dates - Halloween at Madison Square Garden, the aforementioned Atlantic City and Philly shows plus Boston and Atlanta - a lot would have to go wrong for you to be disappointed.
The biggest surprise of their 100-minute set was the ferocious playing of Summers.
Yes, Copeland is an amazing athlete behind his giant set of toys, especially when he gets to play with a forest of cymbals and percussion for 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' or chew into a solo during 'When the World Is Running Down'. And his love affair with the ride cymbal and snare drum is a beautiful thing to observe.
But Summers, the elder statesman at 64, is an unheralded marvel.
You wouldn't expect him to tear into a solo with the intensity he exhibited during 'Synchronicity II' any more than you would expect him to be wearing a "South Park" guitar strap with the eternal catchphrase "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!"
But he did. Both.
Yes, there is some minor tinkering to some songs - the rephrased syllables in 'Bottle' and a reggae-ified 'Don't Stand So Close to Me'. But for the most part, singalongs such as 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' and 'So Lonely' were punctuated with Sting's favorite phrase - "eee yo oh" - and kept intact.
So maybe The Police are overpaid and a little greedy. At least - evidenced at this show - they're giving fans a crisp, hits-filled show with some impressive musical phrasing.
It's good to see Sting working to afford his next Italian villa.
© Richmond Times-Dispatch by Melissa Ruggieri