09.04.2007 - 2007-09-04 BIRMINGHAM: National Indoor Arena / The Police at NIA, Birmingham...
The Police at NIA, Birmingham...
The last time the Police played Birmingham, Sting told the audience at the city's National Indoor Arena last week, was in 1983, "when I had a broken hand and Andy Summers was suffering from gallstones". In an otherwise tight-lipped performance where the music did the talking, this brief announcement revealed a lot about the Police, past and present. It hinted at the backstage fist fights between Sting and the drummer, Stewart Copeland, that led to the bass player injuring his hand and the group disbanding within five years of becoming the biggest rock act on the planet.
Audible in that curious reference to gallstones was an acknowledgment that even in their heyday, the Police were no spring chickens. At a time when youth ostensibly called the shots in new-wave rock, they were seasoned veterans - another reason they were able to travel so far so fast, before tiring of the grief that megastardom brought in its wake. That their current world tour has been greeted as the rock event of the year is a reflection of the fact that many, if not most, Police fans never had the chance to see them in action. No band has ever quit when it was further ahead than the Police after wrapping up the 'Synchronicity' tour in 1984.
The show they debuted in Britain on Tuesday night was a far less elaborate affair than their previous swan song. For most of their 1? hours on stage, we were back with the Police Mk 1, the ruthlessly efficient, punky reggae machine of the first three albums, playing rhythmically taut, relentlessly catchy guitar rock. They had no backing musicians and nothing much in the way of a set. When they strolled on and piled straight into 'Message in a Bottle', the Police looked and sounded much the same as the band that stormed the pubs and clubs of Britain in 1978. The man with the battered bass and the white T-shirt had the same lithe presence and searingly precise vocals. Copeland's glasses had shrunk to granny size, but he was still smiting his drum kit like the hyperactive blacksmith of old. Time had taken its toll on Summers, now a jowly, chinless 64-year-old, his features contorted in a fixed frown of concentration, but his guitar-playing was the revelation of the evening. His solo on Driven to Tears rivalled Hendrix in the delicacy of its fretwork and masterful use of controlled feedback.
With so many hit singles at their disposal - all but one of which, 'Spirits in the Material World', got an airing - the Police were never likely to lose momentum. Things briefly flagged with a rather plodding 'Invisible Sun', and the bits when Sting went off piste, yodelling "Roxanne, oh-eeh-oh-oh-oh", were as tiresome as ever; but they accounted for less than 10 minutes of a show that otherwise kept its foot to the floor.
The set reached its climax before it ended, with an epic reworking of 'Can't Stand Losing You', during which the hall was strafed with lights and Summers's guitar performed more sonic somersaults. Three encores later, the temporarily reunited trio were dancing about, triumphantly punching the air. It was nice to feel that on this occasion they probably weren't about to carry on punching each other in the dressing room afterwards.
© The Sunday Times by Robert Sandall