The Police at the Sprint Center...

May 13, 2008

If you attended the Police reunion show at Sprint Center on Tuesday, your reaction to it probably depends heavily on a few factors: where your seat was; what you paid for it; and whether you were ready for how the band treated about 20 of its greatest hits.

According to Sting, about 12,000 fans were in the arena, an official figure that looked pretty accurate. All the seats behind the stage were roped/curtained off; the rest of the place looked about 98 percent full. That's an accomplishment for a tour that charges fans $200-plus for seats that run the spectrum from great (floor) to average (like Row 13 in Section 107, where I was sitting). The upper-level seats weren't cheap, either ($100). So lots of money was spilled, which meant expectations were high.

Despite the high ticket prices, there weren't lots of frills. Video screens flanking the stage broadcast images of the band to fans in the upper-levels with seats aside the stage; a much larger screen behind drummer Stewart Copeland fed the same images to the rest of the crowd.

We saw lots of Sting, who looks closer to his age with his short, grizzled Iron John beard. Several times, the screen was split with a huge image of his singing head next to much smaller images of Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers (a visual metaphor?). A roving camera man walked behind Copeland, giving the crowd bird's-eye shots of his battered drum skins and bruised cymbals. We also got closeups of old, skilled hands playing stringed instruments.

There weren't many other effects or visual surprises: The video screens, somewhat randomly, flashed variations on those red digital figures on the cover of 'Ghost in the Machine', and a row of six lights behind Copeland rose and dipped and changed intensity, altering the mood. Otherwise, this was a show primarily about a trio of powerful musicians and the songs that made them famous and wealthy.

Sting made an early appearance this evening, during the opening set by Elvis Costello and the Imposters: He joined Elvis in a swell version of 'Alison'. (I hoped they'd bookend that with a duet on 'Roxanne' but no dice.)

I caught the last three songs of Costello's set, including 'Alison'. The sound for his performance was a little tinny, but if you've seen any of his shows at the Midland or Uptown theaters, you know he's not a true arena act. However, he did deliver one of the more raucous moments of the night, his call-to-arms closer, 'What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding'.

The Police are a true arena act, but they would be better served if they had an arena-anthem like that one. The crowd this evening was wound up and ready for an explosive time; instead they got 100 minutes of performances - a show that required more watching and listening (admiring, really) than it prompted unabandoned participation. Like the St. Louis show in July 2007, this one came off more like 'Sting does the Police' than a true rendering of material from every Police album.

There were some sing-along moments: during 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', but Sting doesn't write arena songs in the vein of Springsteen or Bon Jovi. So the sing-alongs didn't pack quite the same gusto. (I've noticed that even diehard Police fans don't know every word to even the most popular songs.)

The set list was great. It included the big hits and some favorite non-hits, like 'Demolition Man' and 'Driven to Tears'. As advertised, the band took some of these songs on instrumental odysseys - into the realm of fusion jazz and progressive rock. They kept the jams relatively short, but there were many of them.

'Wrapped' was especially epic: Copeland, the hardest working man on stage, jumped a couple of time from his massive drum kit to a bank of percussion instruments (timpani, a huge gong, tiny bells, vibes) behind him and back again.

And as he did all night, Summers fussed with both his rhythms and leads. His embroidery these days can be incredibly elegant or deceptively avant-garde. And he wore the coolest shoes: lime-green/black checkerboard Vans.

Sting remains the Sting he has always been: the charismatic center of a band loaded with talent and ego. He opend with a pretty, acoustic version of "Bring on the Night" then lit the fuse on a bomb: 'Message in a Bottle'.

He would deliver an adequate amount of stage chatter throughout the show, remembering the band's previous shows in Kansas City: the most recent one in 1983 and one way back in 1979 at One Block West. "Seven people were there," he said. He also emphatically enunciated his location: "Kansas City, Missouri," and once or twice he prompted the crowd to get a little louder.

The crowd was loud, in fits and starts, especially when there was room to open up and sing along, like during 'De Do Do Do...' and 'Roxanne' and 'So Lonely'. When the music got a little too indulgent, however, people surrendered and took a seat.

At 100 minutes (and $200), I thought the show was a little brief. That included a five-minute break about halfway through. It doesn't include the long (nearly an hour) opening set by Elvis C., a headliner himself.

I know a lot of people in the place who were seeing the Police for the first time on Tuesday. Several of them said afterward that they'd wanted to hear the band sound more like it used to, the way it did back in '79. They delivered moments like that: during 'Can't Stand Losing You' and the closer, 'Next to You'.

The new versions didn't bother me. I was prepared for the difference, which, admittedly, was profound during several songs. Plus I kept in mind all night that the second time I've seen this wonderful band would probably be the last.

© Kansas City Star by Timothy Finn


May 11, 2008

Show Date: May 11, 2008
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Venue: Van Andel Arena

May 10, 2008

Show Date: May 10, 2008
Location: Chicago, IL
Venue: Allstate Arena