05.28.2007 - 2007-05-28 VANCOUVER: GM Place / The Police's Reinvestigation...
The Police's Reinvestigation...
The members of the Police - Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers and Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting - were already young veterans of the British music scene when they first performed together on May 28, 1977. Wise middle-aged veterans now, they played no new material during Monday's 30th-anniversary reunion concert here, a 110-minute show that officially kicked off their lengthy tour. Instead, they enriched their music by stripping away much of the familiar bombast and pop trappings to expose the songs' raw structures and rebuild them in unexpected ways.
Four months of rehearsals began with the men running through a repertoire culled from five albums to gauge how their evolution as musicians had changed their approach to the material, Mr. Copeland said when we spoke by phone a few days before opening night. Sting, he noted, has been playing these songs for decades, though often with arrangements that differed from the band's recordings. "So we originally had to come back to the Police versions," Mr. Copeland said. Then, he added, "we've been reworking those songs into a new pocket," using a musician's term for a groove.
Musicianship is at the core of the trio's relationship and the Police's enduring legacy. When they first formed the band, Sting had been playing jazz fusion, Mr. Copeland progressive rock and Mr. Summers was a seasoned sideman. Their refined skills put them at odds with the energetic but musically undemanding punk scene in the U.K., but they also gave them a way to make interesting commercially minded music that drew on reggae rhythms and a jazz-like sensibility. At their peak, the Police were a band you could sing along to - or you could ignore their melodies completely and still find the music fascinating. And they sold some 50 million albums world-wide.
After the band splintered in 1985, Sting became a pop-music superstar in his own right, bringing jazz and world-music inflections to his increasingly urbane songs. Mr. Copeland composed orchestral works and film and TV scores, and he drummed with the legendary jazz-fusion bassist Stanley Clarke and, later, Oysterhead, a rock trio featuring Primus bassist Les Claypool and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. Mr. Summers wrote film and TV scores, and he recorded a string of intriguing albums, including a Thelonious Monk tribute. "The stature of the original Police made it possible for us to work with the best of the best of the best," Mr. Copeland said.
For Mr. Copeland, the appeal of a reunion is blending what he called Sting's "raw animal power" with Mr. Summers's sophisticated approach to guitar. As for his role as the band's engine, he said, "I'm driving us back into rock. That's the art form where we can distill ideas."
Their evolution as musicians was apparent early in the Vancouver set, as the trio went to work on a frill-free monochrome stage on which Mr. Copeland's expanded drum kit was bracketed by a wall of amplifiers. Their third number, 'Spirits in the Material World', hinted at the night's possibilities: Mr. Summers relaxed the staccato chording he featured on the original and left the responsibility for the midsection up for grabs. Throughout the song, while Mr. Copeland played deft figures on the cymbals or slammed the snare, his band mates alternated roles exploring the middle and holding down the bottom, approximating the familiar riffs on the disk but going elsewhere when the opportunity arose.
But as the show progressed, filling the midsection no longer seemed an objective. In 'Walking on the Moon', Sting and Mr. Copeland created a tense platform for Mr. Summers. But rather than soloing, he joined the rhythm section, keeping the tension alive until Sting resumed the verse. Similarly, at times only Mr. Copeland's cymbals relieved the rumble at the bottom of 'Every Little Thing She Does'. Mr. Summers's punchy playing on 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' gave way to an alluring bass pattern by Sting that the band wisely extended.
On vocals, Sting often held back - crooning where in the past he'd shouted, and muting his energy to pull the audience into the mystery of the new arrangements. In strong voice throughout the evening, Sting kept the verse and chorus at the same level during 'Don't Stand So Close', and his measured reading of 'Invisible Sun' gave it an ominous tone. His staid approach to 'King of Pain' changed its focus and liberated it, making the song far more affecting.
Sting's melodies are so strong that thorough deconstruction doesn't alienate the songs from their pop roots. On a muted 'Walking in Your Footsteps' that drifted far from its original structure, Mr. Summers finally anchored it in rock with a snarling solo. 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' was built on Mr. Copeland's melodic playing on chimes, bells and kettle drums. In both cases, the audience sang along as if little had changed.
Which isn't to say the band set out to distance itself completely from its classic sound. The opening number, 'Message in a Bottle', as well as 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You', were faithfully rendered. Nor did everything work exceptionally well: Several songs seemed to wane, as if the trio couldn't find a foothold, reminding the audience that it was opening night and that no amount of rehearsal will reveal what will work on stage when risk is at play.
But when the group chose to add delicate textures or create suspense off a single chord, it showed how well something new suits something familiar, and how experience and a sense of adventure can drive musicians forward.
© Wall Street Journal by Jim Fusilli
Photo by Dave & Wendy