The 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