Sting's ain't what they used to be...
"EEOOAA, EEOOAA, eeooaa," chants white man on stage at Hammersmith Odeon. "Eeooaa, eooaa, eeooaa," replies capacity crowd with feeling.
So the Police return triumphant to this country and play two nights at London's top venue. America loves them and London is determined to love them too. The seal of approval has been struck.
The audience is an accurate reflection of the band's across-the-board appeal. Last year's punk jostle with this year's mods and last decade's hippies. Cubby boys with their shirts off and eight pints tucked away inside their bulging bellies dance drunkenly in the aisles. Everyone is on his feet from the start of the set to the very end... and to anyone who supported the band from the early days this seems nothing less than justice.
But even Stewart Copeland, one times Sounds drum reviewer, couldn't have known, in his supreme confidence about the band's long term prospects, that the rise of bassist Sting as a film star and popular hero would coincide so fortuitously with America's embracing of The Police as The Acceptable Face Of The British New Wave, with its carbon copy implications for Britain. But these lads leant a long ago that if you've got it, you should flaunt it.
So Sting is very much the frontman, Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers very much the backing group tonight. Look at him out there basking in the glory, not to mention the three spotlights that track his every move lest we should miss a single twitch of his perfectly formed features. And the act is very much the same; only the shades have been changed to protect the innocent.
As a performing unit, The Police are almost immaculate. Not quite, not tonight anyway because a lot of the time Andy's guitar isn't as loud as it should be and the snare drum is too loud, the result being a distinct bias towards Sting's wailing vocals and the thrum-thrum of his bass guitar. But then perhaps that's intentional. Sting, after all, is the star. He gives us what we want.
"Eeooaa, eeooaa,eeooaa." You want tribal chants? We got plenty. They fill out the numbers nicely, see; bring a touch of style, a certain je ne sais quoi
to that distinctive ethnic style (don't call it white reggae - people might be offended).
You want musicianship? We got plenty of that. Andy Summers' understated, almost lazy guitar work is as much an essential characteristic of the sound as Sting's powerful falsetto. Copeland's drumming draw heavily on the particular syncopations of reggae and exploits to the full the gadgetry and gimmickry with which a successful percussionist can surround himself these days.
But somehow, despite the set's blend of new material and golden oldies like 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You', both classics of the genre, I find I can't entirely dispel the impression that to a large extent, the band are simply going through the motions. Try as I might, I couldn't detect any real emotion behind tonight's performance. Perhaps it's all happened too fast for them and they're having to resort to a safe formula in order to cope.
I'd like to believe otherwise, because I'm as much a sucker for their comfortably universal appeal as the next man, but what am I supposed to think, when the biggest change I can detect since I witnessed their first appearance at CBGBs a year ago is that they're louder now and have a bigger lighting rig?
I mean, does Andy still enjoy doing his northern monologue in the middle of 'Be My Girl'? To me it's all getting a bit too much like a later Marx Brothers movie where Groucho is the real star but Chico always gets to do one piano number and Harpo always gets to do one harp number.
The Police are capable of a lot, but on the strength of this show, their spirit of adventure seems to be taking something of a backseat while their record sales do the driving down a rather safe and predictable path.
© Sounds by Tony Mitchell (with thanks to Dietmar)