07.16.2007 - 2007-07-16 CLEVELAND, OH: Quicken Loans Arena / Police performance is arresting - Extra jamming, reworked songs work smoothly...
Police performance is arresting - Extra jamming, reworked songs work smoothly...
It's been nearly 25 years since the Police performed in Cleveland, and for its return to the city Monday night, it brought no keyboardists hiding behind the bass amps, no backup singers swaying in unison, no horn section and no crazy lighting or wild stage to distract.
It was just Sting, Andy and Stewart - the birthday boy - whipping through their five-album, hit-filled catalog on a very bare stage with simple lighting and a trio of giant screens set high to give the sellout crowd great unfussy views of the band.
Even the usually awful seats directly behind the stage were rendered not terrible.
After Stewart Copeland's tongue-in-cheek bashing on his blog of the band's shaky opening night show in Vancouver and a few mixed reviews of the band's differing arrangements of a few of the tunes, I was half expecting it to play some sort of free-jazz versions of Police tunes. But anyone who has heard or seen footage of the band before it was the Biggest Band in the World shouldn't have been surprised by the extra jamming.
With no album of new material to force into the 19-song, two-hour set, the band unleashed a steady stream of hits, beginning with 'Message in a Bottle' and moving smoothly into 'Synchronicity II', which offered the first of several good solos from Andy Summers.
With a month and a half worth of shows behind them, the three have certainly found their groove. Beyond the gray and graying hair that tops all three members' heads, they looked and sounded as good as their halcyon days, if a little less frantic.
Naturally, Sting is still the handsome frontman and primary songwriter, and he revived his standard "Bee-yo-yo" sing-a-long chants (does he have that phrase trademarked?) on 'Walking on the Moon' and other tunes. However, the bare-bones-trio format left plenty of room for Summers' underrated solo work and almost every fill Copeland played sounded like a compact drum solo.
As for the maligned experimentation on familiar tunes, most of them worked for me, including the smooth transition from the slow groove of Voices in My Head into a funky, slow-boiling 'When the World Is Running Down' that featured a lengthy angular solo from Summers (sporting an "Oh, my God, They Killed Kenny!" guitar strap). Summers' solo sped up to near punk speed and sent the relatively mellow crowd into its first frenzy of the evening.
Somehow, 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' (which Sting introduced by mentioning the band's first show in Cleveland way back in "1878") managed to keep its basic arrangement but still sounded a bit like the ambient '86 version.
It also played old fan favorites 'The Truth Hits Everybody' and 'The Bed's Too Big Without You' from its first two albums, stretching out the latter song as the band has always done.
The percussion-heavy ode to dinosaur and human extinction, 'Walking in Your Footsteps', featured Sting on the pan flute (make your own Zamfir joke). It was given a relatively rocking ending, while 'Roxanne' was given a jazzy midsectionsimilar to the band's comeback performance on the Grammys telecast.
The show ended with a high-octane 'Next to You' that actually rocked a bit harder than the original recording and sent people in the sellout crowd, a melange of ages and races, back into the night tapping their toes.
With ticket prices ranging from $50 to more than $200, it's easy to be cynical about these big reunion tours (Genesis is next in September). And, the Police will certainly make googobs of cash; perhaps even more than in its first go-round, when it was one of the biggest bands in the world. But both Summers and Copeland have said for years they wanted the band to take the victory lap denied it when Sting decided to move on after the contentious 'Synchronicity' Tour.
Now, watching the 50- and 60-somethings smile at each other while jamming, they honestly appeared to enjoy playing together. You could see and feel the onstage rapport that Sting seemed to be trying to recapture on his stripped-down tour that stopped at Cleveland State University in 2005.
Or, perhaps Mr. Sumner (Sting's name is Gordon Sumner) actually listened to a few of his recent albums and finally discovered how boring he had become as a solo artist.
Speaking of Mr. Sumner, his son Joe's band, Fiction Plane, opened the show with a set of songs that sounded a lot like other people's songs, including its ska-flavored single 'Two Sisters'. It sounds like a young StingfrontingSublime, while the tune 'Cigarette' resembles a young Sting (yeah, his voice often sounds like his father) fronting, well, the Police.
If he's trying to step out of his father's shadow, he's chosen an interesting route by taking the opening slot on the Police tour (though that could be chalked up to good business sense).
Sting Jr. is also bass player/frontman like his father and Fiction Plane is a nonpower trio like his dad's band (the guitar player even plays a telecaster like Andy Summers).
The band's also not very interesting or distinguished, though it is obviously talented.
Good luck, kid.
© Akron Beacon Journal by Malcolm X Abram