The program the Police are offering on their reunion tour could have just as easily been a show from 1986 or ’87, a time when the band would have been at or near the height of its powers and a string of greatest hits dates would have filled stadiums. In going back to the drawing board, Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland have chosen to ignore the last 20 years and where their music has taken them; this is a bona-fide return to the old days — the Police are playing the music the way they played the songs when they were newborns. And like all newborns, some are plump, some are adorable and some are whiny.
It’s quite a fascinating tack to take. Most bands find a way to re-create their records — Steely Dan’s reunion, for example, required an army of musicians to get the songs just so — but the Police seem more keen on re-creating their concerts, specifically the ones performed when they were a three-piece with no added horns, keyboards or voices.
In some cases, that treatment provides an extra amount of air to seep into a song like “Synchronicity II,” which was given some intriguing tempo shifts, and elsewhere they pad, just as they did in the 1970s when they had an album of material and needed to deliver shows that were nearly double the length of their single LP.
Nearly every song is given an interlude that won’t be found on their five albums and the results are a mixed bag. “Walking on the Moon,” one of their finest songs, has built-in rhythmic virility to stand up to an extended jam and both song and band performed fine at Staples. “When the World is Running Down,” “Driven to Tears,”
“The Bed’s Too Big Without You” and “King of Pain” were among the highlights, and in nearly every instance, the musicians picked interesting spots to dart around the melodies and provide an extra little jolt to the material.
Other songs proved unwieldy: “Truth Hits Everybody” was played at an odd — and ultimately boring — meter; Sting needs to admit he can’t hit the notes on “Every Breath You Take” and should change the tune’s key; and when Sting took a slow, practiced approach to a lyric, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” being a prime example, he drained tunes of their visceral power. (“Don’t Stand” is probably the biggest let-down of the two-hour show.)
In their prime, the members of the Police were held up as superb musicians, the first group to emerge from the punk movement in which the band had a thorough grasp of their instruments. In this go-round, it’s much more about getting the song performed than flashing any technical brilliance; Sting’s bass playing is solid but not consistently authoritative and guitarist Summers has rounded out some of the angularity that shaped the songs on record.
Copeland, though, remains one of rock’s greatest drummers and when the band was sharp and crisp Wednesday, it was due to Sting and Summers following Copeland’s lead. He has the unenviable task of creating several layers of sound that allow Sting to stick to melodic bass lines and Summers to accents; during “So Lonely,” Sting altered a lyric to note “welcome to the Stewart Copeland show” and if he’s willing to cough up some credit, Copeland’s value may be deeper than any of us realize.
Tour is to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their first single “Roxanne” — don’t worry about your mind playing tricks on you, it wasn’t until early 1979 that anybody cared about the band — and the rather thin demographic that filled Staples Center was a reminder of the shortness of the Police’s career. Nearly everyone in the house hit a key birthdate (16, 18, 21) between 1979 and 1984, the year the Police called it quits.
The Police’s popularity rests in the aud’s reclamation of youth. And with a catalog of just five albums — loved ’em when they came out and still fond of them today — the Police don’t need to be anything more than what they once were; nothing they did back then has gone out of favor. And the band and their merchandisers realize this: There are no new pictures of the Police on the merch and every item for sale at the souvenir stands had images from the albums. The stands looked more like warehouse liquidation sales — get your “Zenyatta Mondatta” T-shirt, only 35 bucks — than a celebration of anything living and vibrant.
The Police perform at Dodger Stadium on Saturday; Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1 and 3 and Oct. 31; and Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 5.