According to drummer Stewart Copeland, the Police returned from the States a couple of weeks ago on a high because of reaction over there but fully expecting to have to call on all their reserves of self-esteem to withstand the cool-to-vindictive home reviews.
Instead and inexplicably, they found that suddenly everybody loved them: splashes in all the papers and bid audiences going bananas. I suppose they feel they can't possibly have changed that much in 18 months to justify the complete volte-face. Yet their development has been pretty radical.
On the Cherry Vanilla tour when they first played Newcastle, they did come across as pseudo-punks. Although they were genuinely inspired by the new raw speed and energy at first they were just turning out neat plastic imitations.
But then Sting, who had come pogoing straight out of jazz rock, started to get the hang of it and Andy Summers' imaginative guitar was brought in. Result: a hot bitch of a band.
At the University this time round the only song which reminded me of their earlier work was 'Fallout' - the first single. The rest of the set struck like a snake, all muscle from tongue to tail. They told the stories in skeletal white reggae then hammered out the chorus riffs to the unlikeliest misses of '78, 'Roxanne', 'Can't Stand Losing You', and 'So Lonely'.
Everything about them was alert and responsive to the moment. Every 'middle eight' was fresh, no mere album facsimiles here. When Sting's bass was extinguished by a backline hitch, it was no problem - Stewart and Andy ripped out some surging rhythm variations which were as exciting as anything scheduled.
And they had a truly musical connection with the audience, like no band I've seen since Kokomo. What I mean is they didn't invite routing clapalong and singalong which so often seemed to be the Colgate smile disguising a bad night. They stirred the crowd into living and giving a bit instead of just watching.
For instance Sting got them chanting the 'yeahs!' in the dry, hypnotic 'Hole In My Life' then the band jazzed around them so they were really part of the song. Then he had everyone clapping the double beats on the encore of 'Can't Stand Losing You'. Small details maybe, but they make the difference between sycophants and participants.
The Police gave it everything then bounded away so frolicsome it looked as though they would gladly have stayed for another hour. Their next headlining tour should be an event.
As Bruce Mitchell remarked before the Albertos took to the boards, they have picked themselves a mean combo to follow, and so it proved. The pissed-up gathering was not in the mood for satire. And for all their new cine-gear, the Albertos' manic efforts to entertain fell into increasing disarray. Apart from the mini-Cooper-Clarke routine only the one liners worked. As in their 'Save The Whale' sequence: "We were going to have a sperm whale live on stage but instead we bring you half a pound of marge"" The rest of the comedy and musical parodies verged on the embarrassing.
Rock needs bands like the Albertos and the Bonzos as a vaccine for its various incurable ills of hypocrisy, pretension and greed, but even they have to take care of business. They need a much tougher, tighter, better scripted act to fall back on in crises like this.
Otherwise they just strike attitudes without making points/punchlines and the listeners just yell 'boring' and 'fuck off' as this lot did.
© Sounds by Phil Sutcliffe