Last Night: The Police, June 21, 2007

The Police
June 21, 2007
Honda Center, Anaheim
Better Than: Sting solo.

Sting and Stewart Copeland have aged as well as most of the Police’s back catalog; Andy Summers, not so much (he looked like a marathoner in his 25th mile by the third song). To my mild surprise, the trio, who have owned a sizable chunk of the radioscape since 1978, yet again have become a well-oiled hit machine a mere 21 years after their last concert together. The sold-out Honda Center crowd was, to paraphrase one especially touching Police ballad (which they played tonight), “wrapped around their finger.” (Just because every live review will likely use this meme, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.) I doubt the cheers for the Ducks’ Stanley Cup victory outdecibeled those heard for the Police tonight.

Striding onstage to the Wailers’ “Get Up, Stand Up,” the Police slipped quickly into “Message in a Bottle” after drummer Copeland’s ceremonial gong hit. It almost seemed as if we were back in 1979, so smooth and natural did this version sound. Copeland’s still a badass funky metronome on his large kit (which includes an array of hanging chimes, cymbals, kettles, xylophone and other exotic percussive ornaments) and bassist/vocalist Sting leapt during the song’s climactic chord like a man 30 years his junior.

“Synchronicity II followed, as lithe and full of adrenaline and intrigue as ever. Guitarist Summers tore off a fibrillating, whammy-barred solo, which he did often tonight. As Sting quipped later in “So Lonely” during the first encore, “Welcome to the Andy Summers Show.” Winded though he looked, Summers seemed hell-bent on establishing his ax-hero credentials: It was charming or pathetic, depending on your view of gratuitous showboating.

Then came one of the Police’s most endearing oddities, the eerie, spacious dub excursion “Walking on the Moon.” Sting’s voice is a bit lower and less limber than it used to be, but it’s still pretty supple and robust. He often left lyrical gaps for the crowd to fill in with their massed voices, and this worked particularly well with “Moon”’s “ee-oh ee-oh”s.

When the band shifted into “Voices Inside My Head,” one of their funkiest, spookiest compositions, my spirits skyrocketed. They soon plummeted when the tune prematurely morphed into “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” Now, I’m all for messing with expectations and tweaking the canon, but the Police never let “Voices” zoom like it needs to zoom. Still, when they accelerated the tempo for “World” and ventured into a spicy jazz-jam tangent, transgressions were forgiven. Similarly, the trio expanded their first hit, “Roxanne,” into an extended dub workout illumined by Sting’s jazzier, scatty vocals.

On “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” Sting’s phrasing was way more mellow on the chorus, deflating much of the album version’s tension. This change just seemed wrong. But on “Driven to Tears,” everyone played with a savage vengeance, which seemed more right than ever, as today’s world is, believe it or not, more fucked-up than it was in 1980, when “Tears” was released.

Over the 19-song, 110-minute, two-encore set, the Police hit most of the expected touchstones and a few slightly less-traveled pockets of their oeuvre (the Esperanto’d Eno-Byrne homage “Walking in Your Footsteps,” “Truth Hits Everybody,” “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”). In fact, masses commenced exodus after “Every Breath You Take,” the conventional-wisdom finale, but the Police shocked many by finishing with the amphetamine-fueled “Next to You” off their debut LP. I applaud the group’s decision to close a long set with one of their most energetic tracks, even if it meant having paramedics stage-side keeping a close eye on Summers. . . .

Critic’s Notebook
Personal Bias: I own Message in a Box, the boxed set that contains every note the Police recorded, and in a recent DJ set, I played “Voices Inside My Head,” which, you'll be pleased to know, provoked a very good reaction.
Random Detail: Estimated average age of attendee: 48.
By the way: This tour’s official charity is Water Aid, an international NGO committed to reducing poverty by improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene information.

Check out the Police slide show.

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