Last night I saw the Police play at Wrigley Field. It was difficult at first to admit that I would want to see this show. I generally resent and ridicule reunion tours, and hold in particular disdain the casefied tastes of aging rockers reliving their youth. But after hearing Stewartâ€™s fill at the end of â€œRoxanneâ€ as the band opened the Grammy Awards, I gave in. I had to see this band play live.
A close friend scored ideal seats right in the upper deck, front row (a consolation from management for living within two blocks of the diamond). The weather was unbelievable. As Karen said, it was the kind of night where you could wear any amount of clothing and feel comfortable. Cool and clear. Sun setting just as the band took the stage.
But letâ€™s talk first about Fictionplane. Sting’s son’s band. I haven’t seen this pointed out in the reviews I’ve read, but itâ€™s positively creepy how much heâ€™s like Sting. As we’re walking into Wrigley, we wondered if they were playing some strange solo Sting music… no, it’s just that his son sounds exactly like him. We come out to our seats to see a guy that looks exactly like Sting with a wig, playing bass and fronting a three-piece band, with an overactive drummer and a noodling guitar player. Just to make sure you caught the comparison, the band also managed to work a reggae beat into at least one section of each of their tunes. It was positively creepy. Kid could sing though. Not sure about the songs (â€œThis song is about when I was in high school…â€).
So let me just say it was great to see the Police. My high school pals and I got obsessed with that band around the time their Message in a Box set came out, and even Karen and I have fond memories of early Police tunes that made up the soundtrack of our freshman year in college. So it was definitely surreal to actually watch the band play live. And the talent and energy is definitely still there. The band rocks. Stewart still plays gymnastically, planting fills unexpectedly and always barely landing them. Sting clearly has laid off a lot of the higher notes in these new arrangements, but letâ€™s be honest, thatâ€™s like saying Jordan doesn’t dunk as frequently as he used to. The guy is still unbelievably on. Andyâ€¦ well, Andy’s a sweetheart, a great guy, a creative and talented guitar playerâ€¦ And ancient! I wouldâ€™ve laughed when he tried feebly to execute the mid-air splits from the drum riser, but I was worried about him hurting himself.
The band seemed to have its off-moments. There was one song where Stewart continued to play after the rest of the band cut offâ€¦ several times the soloing and jamming seemed to go from jazzy (hey, I actually like Andy’s twelve-tone solos) to chaotic (maybe okay if you’re Ornette Coleman, possibly not when you’re playing pop hits from the 80’s for a crowd of 40-year-olds)â€¦ and through no fault of the bandâ€™s, there were weird crackles of distortion from the bass and sometimes from Stingâ€™s vocals. Perhaps the oddest thing about the show, though, is how inappropriately suited the band is for a stadium setting. While the bandâ€™s sparse arrangements are a large part of its genius, sometimes the empty space simply makes the show kind of boring when itâ€™s at that scale. Needless to say, a small club show from this band would be transcendent. But I certainly wouldnâ€™t have them emulate U2 and put hidden keyboard players backstage to fill out the sound. The Policeâ€™s authenticity in this reunion experiment has been the best thing about it.
But last night managed some transcendence as well. The opening arpeggios of â€œMessage in a Bottleâ€ make one of the best concert openings in history. And, as if on cue, the hooligans in the alley waited until the climax of â€œCanâ€™t Stand Losing Youâ€ to launch an impressive fireworks show in the twilight behind the stage. It was awesome.