Police hit Philadelphia with a touch of Memphis ska...
For a multi-act show, it really seemed to be a more symbiotic bill than most concerts. With the Police, the Specials, the Go-Go's and Oingo Boingo (the Coasters were a last minute addition) as a drawing card, nearly 20,000 music fans, mostly Philadelphians and Jerseyites, paid fifteen dollars a ticket for a full day's worth of rockin' and rollin'. The event, held at Liberty Bell Racetrack just north of Philadelphia on a warm August Saturday, began at noon with the Coasters. It would stretch to 7:30 before the Police would have the entire throng on their feet for the final encore.
In the large open-air backstage area, there was an incredible communal spirit, since, with the exception of the Coasters, all the acts knew each other well. Three of them - the Police, the Go-Go's and Oingo Boingo - are on the A&M/I.R.S. label. So it was no surprise when the three members of the Police arrived in time to watch the Go-Go's, a full three hours before they themselves were to perform.
Referring to the Go-Go's, five bouncy. female rockers from L.A., Andy Summers, the Police's diminutive guitarist said, "We jammed with them last night at Miles's (Copeland, the Police's manager) wedding. We had some equipment set up, and we played a bunch of Elvis songs - 'Jailhouse Rock' and a few others. It was some party."
The Police have just finished recording their fourth album, titled Ghost In The Machine. Andy said it's more up, more raw than the others. It's a fun record. The time we took off to write really helped us." It's been a while 9last January) since we've seen the Police in these parts. How is the band feeling?
"I don't know about anybody else, but I'm nervous," Andy admitted. "We did a show in Venezuela two weeks ago, but other than that, we haven't played live in a long time."
After the Specials and the Go-Go's turned in outstanding sets, the audience began buzzing in anticipation of the Police. Everyone knew this was to the band's only US concert until next year, and just before 6:00, the three reggae-rockers bounced on stage to a thunderous roar. They kicked off the set with 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', followed immediately by 'Walking On The Moon', with Sting using his odd-looking cutaway upright bass. Switching back to his Fender electric, Sting performed a spirited dance during 'Fall Out', the band's first UK hit. 'Man In A Suitcase ' was next, after which Sting told the crowd, "I fell more relaxed." Them by way of introducing 'Bring On The Night', he said, "This is one of my favourite songs."
At the song's completion, Sting walked to the mike and looked out at the massive crowd, "OK," he said smiling, "this is the moment we've all been waiting for. We're going to play a few new songs and you're the first audience to hear them. Not even my mum's heard 'em."
He slowly counted off 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, and they performed 'Invisible Suns' - a sombre. strong, deliberate tune, slower than most in their repertoire, that featured a biting Andy Summers guitar solo to match the emotional lyrics about Belfast. Then it was back to more familiar territory: 'De Do Do Do...', 'Truth Hits Everybody' (which Sting introduced as 'Truth Kills Everybody') and 'Shadows In The Rain'.
At this point they were joined on stage by their horn section: two saxophonists and a trumpet player. "This is another first," Sting noted with a wave of his hand in their direction. Their first song together was 'When The World Is Running Down'. The horns punctuated the third and fourth beats of the verses, sounding a bit like the old Memphis Horns, and then backed by Sting's vocal for chorus; it was a new and surprisingly compatible evolution for the Police.
Sting announced, "This is also from our new record, (which was released on October 2, Sting's birthday)."This one is called 'Demolition Man'."
With that, an entirely new direction for the Police was revealed. 'Demolition Man', like several other songs on their new album, is a ska tune, in a style which is somewhat similar to reggae but is generally played much faster. 'Demolition Man' is one of the most powerful ska tunes in memory, and during this performance, Andy's furious rhythm guitar playing fuelled the song to a blistering conclusion'.
Another new one followed, 'One World (Not Three)'. Again, a ska tune, but this time a slower one, with a stark middle section reminiscent of 'Roxanne'. The horns provided the accenting rhythms, and Andy echoed them with his chord work. The fourth and final song was one called 'We Are Spirits In The Material World', again ska and again slower, with a hypnotic, rhythmic melody line.
The regular set closed following spirited renditions of 'Bed's Too Big Without You', the horns adding muscle to the melody while Sting played synthesiser with his foot; 'Driven To Tears', 'Message In A Bottle', and the expected 'Roxanne'. They encored with the powerhouse 'Can't Stand Losing You', and Sting began to get playful with the crowd.
"Want some more??" he teased. "C'mon, we're not gonna play for months!" The place exploded. "We did this before, but I like it a lot," Sting added as they tore into 'Demolition Man' again. But this time, another bass player came out, freeing Sting to pick up a silver saxophone and join the horn section to everyone's delight.
It was a unique performance and a bold but totally successful experimental show by one of the most innovative bands of the moment. After this, the Police were to take a month off, tour Germany throughout October and retreat to some individual projects. Stewart will be exploring the making of videos and films, Andy is set to record an album with eccentric and brilliant Robert Fripp, and Sting will experience his first lead role as an actor in a production titled 'Brimstone & Treacle', in which (he says) he plays a "disturbing young man with evil intent."
That certainly doesn't describe our favourite blond disciple of Bob Marley, but then, that's what acting is all about.
© Circus by Steve Weltzman