08.07.2008 - 2008-08-07 NEW YORK: Madison Square Garden / A Police Tour That Ends on Good Terms...
A Police Tour That Ends on Good Terms...
The final concert by the Police, at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, could have felt like any number of things: a victory lap, a spectacle, a backward glance, an amen. It was all of the above to one degree or another, but what it ultimately suggested was the last day of school. At the close of a reunion tour that stretched past a year, reaching well over three million fans and earning more than USD350 million, this three-piece rock band seemed not only festive but also relieved, and frankly giddy at the prospect of freedom.
The Police performed with the New York City Police Department Band near the start of the show on Thursday, for a beefed-up version of 'Message in a Bottle'.
"It's been a huge honor to get back together," a full-bearded Sting said several songs into the show, before thanking the group's drummer, Stewart Copeland, and its guitarist, Andy Summers, "for your musicianship, your companionship, your friendship, your understanding, your patience with me." Have a nice summer, he could have added.
Instead he sounded a note of jocular confession: "The real triumph of this tour is that we haven't strangled each other." Not that it hadn't crossed their minds, he added. The crowd roared knowingly, well versed in the history of a band that broke up in 1984, at the pinnacle of its success, in a bitter haze of clashing egos.
So the tour, which began in May 2007, has apparently been more of a diplomatic rapprochement than a sentimental journey. But it has also been a chance for the band to revisit its pioneering sound, a sparse but kinetic hybrid of reggae, punk and new wave that conquered charts and airwaves from the late 1970s to the mid-'80s. The grand finale on Thursday, a benefit for the New York public television stations WNET and WLIW, was no different in that regard: it confirmed the unusual chemistry that always bonded these artists, musically if not personally.
Along with most of its bigger hits, like the tersely reverberant 'Walking on the Moon', the band played a handful of less celebrated tracks, including 'Hole in My Life', a jaunty complaint, and 'Demolition Man', a hard-charging boast. Social commentary arrived in the form of songs like 'Driven to Tears' and 'Invisible Sun'.
There was ample opportunity to savor the atmospheric and judicious guitar playing of Mr. Summers, and the propulsive, breezily intricate drumming of Mr. Copeland. Of course Sting's soaring vocals were front and center throughout, as were his mostly durable songs.
In a nod to the setting, the group welcomed nearly two dozen members of the New York City Police Department band near the start of the show, for a souped-up version of 'Message in a Bottle'. This did nothing to improve the song, but it was welcome stagecraft, even if Sting looked patently silly in a police cap.
There were other anomalies. The opener was 'Sunshine of Your Love', and the first encore was 'Purple Haze'. This was a nod to two other lean and flexible rock trios: Cream, which had its own blockbuster reunion not long ago, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which never got the chance. Obviously the Police were staking a claim here, and the point was well taken, though neither cover felt half as strong as the original.
Sting had other points to make. Introducing 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', he recalled his early career as a schoolteacher, mock-lamenting his wayward path as a rock star. This would have been insufferably smug, if not for the tableau presented before the encore: after leaving the stage, Sting settled into a backstage barber's chair backstage, preposterously, for a shave and a manicure. His shirtless image, projected onto the large screen above the stage, elicited hoots and cheers, especially when Mr. Copeland entered the frame to deliver a kiss on the lips. Everyone was in on the joke.
But the concert's closing moments - involving a crew member in costume as the fat lady singing, and an audio clip of Porky Pig stammering "That's all, Folks" - came across like a fizzy drink with a bitter aftertaste. It was a prankish, almost flippant way to go, but its sharp ambivalence felt totally honest.
©New York Times by Nate Chinen