07.22.2007 - 2007-07-22 TORONTO: Air Canada Centre / The Police out in full force...
The Police out in full force...
Call it a Police escort. When a famously reunited British band played the first of two nights at Air Canada Centre, it was accompanied not by staff musicians or bought-and-paid-for backup singers, but by an arena-sized choir that had practised 23 years for the gig.
"The question is, Toronto," leader Sting asked early on, "are you ready to sing tonight?"
He had good reason to wonder.
The chorus of opening number 'Message in a Bottle', which, on earlier dates of the reunion tour, had fans participating in a cheerful, wavy drone, was met blankly by the Hogtown mutes on hand.
That was the exception, though, and not indicative of the crowd's spirited reaction over the course of 110 minutes and 20 songs.
The crowd eventually proved to be in "good voice," as judged by Sting, and often met his wordless calypso bellows. The Police pleased, not that there was much chance they would do anything but.
Were they recognizable after so long?
Yes and no. A set list of whopper hits was predictable - "You guys haven't changed a bit" might greet the threesome - but the renditions were not straight Xeroxes.
Although never straying too far from the their trademark light pop harmonies and succinct reggae rhythms, the trio did venture. 'When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around' (the second half of a medley with 'Voices Inside My Head') was funky and jazzed. The Lolita-loving 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', written by former schoolteacher Sting, was mellowed and without its lewd edge.
However, a sprawling, athletic 'I Can't Stand Losing You' excited.
The band was fit and spry, from the heroically-biceped Sting (who has not lost his distinctive high tenor), to the interested, nimble-fingered guitarist Andy Summers (he rescued 'Driven to Tears' with his committed soloing). Drummer Stewart Copeland, with headband and gloves, looked like an earnest soccer goalie.
Mr. Copeland's solo on 'Roxanne' was his big moment. A four-song encore followed ('King of Pain', 'So Lonely', a flaccid 'Every Breath You Take' and a furious, awkward 'Next to You')
The subplot of this autumnal reunion has to do with the trio's often volatile relationship. Perhaps that's why a night-closing three-way handshake of triumph earned the evening's fullest applause.
Those arriving as opening act Fiction Plane muscled its way through a set of full-sized rock songs were bound to be confused initially, because the band was led by a singer with a most unmistakable voice.
Except that it was mistakable - belonging to Joe Sumner, and not his famous Pop, Sting.
Energetic, polished and mostly uninteresting, Fiction Plane failed to take off.
© The Globe & Mail by Brad Wheeler