06.13.2007 - 2007-06-13 OAKLAND, CA: McAfee Coliseum / The Police, Sting are back - but are they happy about it?
The Police, Sting are back - but are they happy about it?
Sting couldn't keep it off his face.
Magnified a thousand times on giant video screens, he kept making tiny winces that otherwise wouldn't have been seen. He didn't look all that comfortable, almost as if he didn't know what to do with this whole Police reunion idea.
With his typical timing, however, Sting did know exactly when to reconvene his old rock combo. His solo career has been at probably its lowest ebb since he left the Police - his latest album was Elizabethan folk songs backed by lute - but now he is suddenly on top again, leading this summer's top rock box-office attraction, and drawing a midweek full house Wednesday to McAfee Coliseum in Oakland.
Reunited with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers, Sting walked out clapping and carrying a battered Fender four-string, and then thundered open 'Message in a Bottle' to start the two-hour performance. As the trio cruised into 'Synchronicity II' the lighting design smothered the stage in the colors of the cover of 'Synchronicity' the album that made the Police the rock band of 1983, the year of 'Thriller'.
The band first appeared in the Bay Area in 1979 at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium, the same month as two other promising British new wave imports, Boomtown Rats and Ultravox, and where are they now? The original 'Synchronicity' tour played 24 years ago at the same baseball park, then called Oakland Coliseum Stadium, and outdrew that summer's 'Serious Moonlight' show by David Bowie (with Stevie Ray Vaughan in the band) and where is he now?
And despite an enormously successful solo career, where he has done everything from post-bop fusion to Algerian rai electronica, Sting still finds himself inexorably linked to the rock trio he left at the absolute peak of its success. His most recent tour, in 2005, featured a blistering, stripped-down rock band that suggested a return to his punkish roots, but it played to an audience less than one-tenth Wednesday night's size at a small hall in San Jose.
But back with the Police, the chemistry is obviously still unstable. Summers is a phlegmatic soul whose guitar style depends more on carefully processed sounds than fiery playing. He brought as much joy and charisma to the task as a cashier giving change. Copeland, as engaged as Summers was detached, wore golfing gloves and sweatband that matched the athleticism of his drumming.
Sting looked great, all rippling muscles and chiseled features. Still his frustration came through in his joyless exuberance, his phony bonhomie as he coasted through vocal parts he used to burn through.
The band tucked some little jammy parts into certain songs and slightly reworked some of the familiar arrangements, giving Sting room to run a couple of catchphrase choruses into the ground or lead the audience in a chant-along: eeh-ow-yee-ow.
He remodeled 'Roxanne', almost abstracting it, like a live remix. But even then, he didn't sound fully committed, more as if he was toying with the piece - and the audience.
In many ways, Sting's solo career helped keep the Police idea going. Not matter what he did, he would always be known for his early work with these two other guys. He raised an entire generation of fans too young to have seen the band the first time.
He also clearly left the band in the first place because he felt restricted as a musician. He wanted to swing free. He saw worlds beyond three-piece rock. He wanted to collaborate with challenging, exhilarating musicians like jazz keyboard whiz Kenny Kirkland. Now he's back with the Police and obviously having a hard time playing it straight.
© The San Francisco Chronicle by Joel Selvin