|Tour||The 'Ghost' years 1981/82|
LONDON: Wembley ArenaThe Police at Wembley Arena...
The last night of a residency can be many things: a blow-out, a piss-up, a tired release, a last lunge for the heights. I don't know about the other days; but The Police's final show in the Wembley Arena - a great barn of a place hardly conducive to niceties like 'communication' and 'warmth' - panhandled the obvious and still managed exhilaration in heavy doses.
Big sweeping rushes are what The Police are all about: so in spite of their slim range of ideas they have no trouble in pacing a set to weave through a series of crescendos. That's just fine for a venue like this, where that's entertainment considerations overtake subtlety. Given the comparatively low-key nature of 'Ghost In The Machine', something a little more broody might have been envisaged - but no, The Police give 'em the hits, and the hits are what's ordered.
Hits are what The Police are about. All their LPs are pretty hopeless, really, a few tracks intended to run at 45 padded with a sackful of scrapings from the lining of the sofa. The singles are so smartly designed. 'Roxanne' chunters along with you waiting-waiting-waiting for that flawless harmony hook to squeak along with. 'Walking On The Moon' has enough entry points - the perfect chang-chang guitar line, the dialect-cheek of the vocal, the unexpected construction - for any span of brow to attach affection. And there's the ensnaring accelerando of the intro to 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'. Or the way 'Message In A Bottle' seems to get faster and faster until it wants to burst.
'Message' is what they play first on this night, Sting thrumming an upright, Eberhard Weber-type electric bass and safely behind his microphone. For a stadium supergroup, The Police make surprisingly few concessions to the requisite accoutrements of spectacle. An uncomplicated lightshow, no dry ice or anything - this might be some scruffy little club band! They haven't altogether forgotten the old days.
A certain whiff of disbelief is what The Police are about. Andy Summers can obviously hardly believe it still. Years of Brit-rock worthiness behind him and suddenly this bass player with the shapely torso and the bathtub Caruso voice skyrockets them up into the megastar league. Old Andy, with his baggy blue trousers and glittery jacket, seems to know he's the lottery winner of a sort. He does his best to forget those old guitar immortal posturings but when there's not much else happening he sidles to the front of the stage and leans tentatively back in a half-remembered gesture of heroics. Then he goes guiltily back again.
Stewart Copeland is even less intrusive. For a man of (we were told) giant ego this might be a surprising reserve. Perhaps, though, there is not much else to do when stuck behind a colossal drum kit other than stay in the engine room. Copeland birches his gear with desperate conviction, as if determined to drive it to the front of the stage. Otherwise his is a taciturn, vaguely sulky presence.
Of course, Sting is what The Police are about. It's not the clothes, it's the way you wear them: in what looks from my middle-distant perch to be a rather careworn suit he is still exactly the part. Only he speaks; he does nearly all the singing, letting the familiar tonsil athletics go when necessary yet - miraculously - keeping the "yo-yo-yos" to a minimum; and he has the grace to spare us his saxophone playing (a discreet three-piece horn section play on some numbers). Stars, they don't bother me, but this one does twinkle some. Two young things on my right, out for the night with their mum and pipe-smoking dad, give up their hearts to him without any qualms.
The alleviation of the wretched connotations of ta-ran-ta-ra pop shows is won by The Police's knowledge of time and limitation. By concentrating on those spare, golden hits, intelligently programmed, sequinned by an occasional twist that is probably unnoticed, they are assured of a double triumph. Hits shows usually leave me cold: this one is so unerringly appropriate that, heck, I'd've been disappointed if they'd left one out!
Something for everybody - the slight, suspect heaviness of Summers' guitar breaks, a pinch of psychedelia ('Shadows In The Rain') and the manifesto of Police politics: "A political message - one world is enough for all of us" says Sting, and there is earnest acclaim. 'Invisible Sun' is played with the backdrop of The Video, and hearts tighten in distant sympathy. They follow that with 'Roxanne', though, and the dark spirits are gone. Good Bloke politics: perhaps it's all that can be asked of a very big pop group.
These great splurging emotions - this indiscriminate potato love (see Herzog) - they are well suited to The Police. It is a brilliant performance, one which sees them talking down to their worshippers with such a beaming, roisterous benevolence it would make a dissenter a drab, miserly spirit. The exuberance of the grandstand played to a thrilled multitude. What The Police are about.
© NME by Richard Cook
Ticket image from Paul Carter
LONDON: Wembley ArenaOne law for them...
"No really, whaddya think?"
A predictable enough response from any Police audience, which made you wonder why Sting asked the question. But he sounded genuinely interested, and I suppose it's not entirely his fault if every little thing he's done makes it more difficult to give a straight answer.
The difficulty with building on your laurels is that, as Stewart says, "we can't blow people's minds any more." Not in the same way certainly. They have to put on a show and start meeting their audience's expectations. And they have to retain the vital edge that got them there in the first place, but they're still ahead.
The third gig after a three month lay-off is bound to b a bit stiff round the edges - which is probably why us media tyrants were discouraged from going to the first two at bayonet point. I've seen better Police concerts but none that attempted the scope of this one. They put their ever increasing catalogue of pop songs in a context that gave them full measure without trying to build them into something more than they are.
Having taken the complexity of their sound about as far as it's possible within a trio without resorting to backing tapes (which they've wisely avoided) they've complimented their wealth of technical; gadgetry with a black horn section from New Jersey. It's given them a fresh element to work off without ever threatening the vital three-piece sound that's their main characteristic.
They crammed 13 songs into an hour long set (although the encores added another 20 minutes to that) and started at breakneck speed, 'Message In A Bottle', and 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' passing in a blur of speed. Even the slower 'Spirits In The Material World' clung rigidly to the beat and it wasn't until they got to 'When The World Is Running Down' that they started manoeuvring some space for themselves. And by 'Demolition Man' a couple of songs later they were ready to go with the flow instead of trying to dictate it.
By now it was obvious that their strident rhythms were moving closer to funk than reggae and the horn section highlighted this. But it was equally clear that the impetus for this change stems directly from the band. 'Demolition Man' and 'Hungry For You' have created a new dimension within the band and they seized the opportunities with the same relish that they displayed when they first got to grips with songs like 'Deathwish' and 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' a couple of years ago.
They gave the horn trio a break while they swaggered through 'Walking on the Moon' and then got down to some serious atmospherics on 'Shadows In The Rain' which continues to improve out of all recognition to the recorded version as Andy Summers' personal 'wall of sound' alternately screamed and swirled around the fluid rhythms from Stewart and Sting. Live, that track remains their greatest achievement, and it certainly made up for a rather dry and uninventive 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' earlier in the set.
By the time the horns came back after a version of 'Bring On The Night' that leaned more on power than atmosphere, they were into overdrive and 'One World' rode along on a relaxed swing that their earlier freneticism had denied.
But they had one more uppercut to come, 'Invisible Sun' was played on a darkened stage with the band invisible (Sting was on keyboards and his roadie on bass) while a screen behind showed the film of Belfast streets that the frightened rabbits who scamper up and down the BBC's corridors of power wouldn't show.
The sight of people simply living their daily lives in the middle of a war zone was more disturbing than all the carnage we've been shown on television. After all a bomb attack is the same the world over whether it's in Saigon or Beirut. But this film dispelled any smug feelings that only uncivilised foreigners indulge in these atrocities. And that's a view the authorities would rather you weren't aware of. With that kind of incompetence, is it any wonder we're in a mess?
The rest was The Police rock show everyone had come to see - 'Roxanne', 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely'. Everybody jump up and have a good time. We deserve it.
The final relief to your humble scribe was that the Police are still worth writing a book about. The tensile strength that made them has neither turned brittle nor started rusting at the joints.
Collectively and individually they continue to make progress. Stewart's drumming has adapted to the demands of the new songs and style with typical bravado, although he still has a tendency to race on some numbers. Andy Summers remains something of an enigma within the band. On stage he's the lynch-pin of their sound but he still hasn't made the same impact on record. But then he is something of a late developer. And Sting has tailored his rock star mannerisms to suit the new phase in his career without losing that essential natural streak that keeps him spontaneous.
No, they'll never have the same hip credibility that the Jam seem to wear like a second skin, but greedy millionaire jibes are just as unfair as they are inaccurate. They put aside 1500 seats for the gig available only through Capital Radio for the price of a toy to 'Help A London Child'. And they're investing £60,000 in a youth employment scheme. Millionaires can care, however big their egos.
© Sounds by Hugh Fielder
Ticket image from Paul Carter
LONDON: Wembley ArenaNo complaints at all...
Sting talking. "This is the third night of my annual London audience survey." (Hoots of excitement). "Now on the first night, I must admit I was rather impressed! (Scattered screaming). And on the second, I was bloody delirious! (Peals of delight). And you lot - you're not going to disappoint me, now are you?" (Seven thousand shouts of 'Naaaaah!').
And we didn't. And the feeling was mutual. The true hallmark of The Police's exceptional showmanship was that - even here, in what amounts to a gigantic concrete garage with seats in - Sting still somehow concocted a feeling of warmth and intimacy. They threw peanuts at him: and he ate them. They chucked biscuits at him: he took a bite and bunged them back. If you must know, someone even tossed a suspender belt at him; "Who belongs to this? I want to know! Andy, is this yours? Stewart?!" Nothing passed him by.
The only minor gripe; even with a set as positively groaning with short, sharp classic singles - Sting still has to pad them out with wandering instrumentals and a distinctly irritating quantity of "yo-yo-yo" chorus fills. A shame that, because they really don't need to any more. Especially with the welcome addition of a three-piece funky black brass section; cool as icecubes, and all with names like "Marvin from New York City." Plus some surprisingly delicate and colourful overlaps from "Andy Summers from Bournemouth"; who looked throughout like a clockwork toy remaining motionless for minutes on end and then suddenly flying across stage in a series of uncontrolled leaps and then - on one occasion - falling over. Brilliant!
What did they play? What didn't they play more like. We got everything bar 'De Do Do Do', and even a chance to see the tame and impressive "banned" video for 'Invisible Sun' projected onto a screen behind them, giving the strange impression of six foot soldiers running about on stage.
No complaints at all. It was even warm enough to take your coat off.
© Smash Hits by Mark Ellen