The Police reunite in Vancouver, but is it all about the money?



By Steve Newton

The Police may be remembered as musical revolutionaries who dragged punk-tinted new wave into the ’80s mainstream, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t commit their share of crimes. Sure, “Message in a Bottle” deserves a spot on the proverbial desert-island jukebox, but hands up everyone who could have done without the soft-rock favourite “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”. The sold-out kickoff to the comeback tour of one of the Greed Decade’s biggest acts offered the opportunity to reassess ancient history. Were the Police one of the greatest bands of all time or are they just one more reason to avoid QM/FM?

Hordes of music journalists from around the world flew in for the historic reunion last Monday (May 28), and 20,000 people paid upward of $250 for tickets. Heck, even celebrities like Penelope Cruz and Eddie Vedder were rumoured to be in attendance. It was the most talked-about rock extravaganza to hit town since last year’s Rolling Stones road show.

Following a widely ignored warmup set by Fiction Plane, a Police-like outfit featuring Sting’s sound-alike son Joe Sumner, the headliners took to the silver, oval-shaped stage, a simple structure in keeping with the band’s minimalist aesthetic, and tore right into “Message in a Bottle” off its breakthrough second album, Reggatta de Blanc. The audience–which, despite the odd gaggle of Japanese hipster kids, was mostly made up of 40-somethings out for the first time in a decade–took this as a cue to party like it was 1979.

Sting looked buff and healthy as hell–those 14-hour tantric-sex sessions must be paying off–while Summers’s jowly, 64-year-old face exuded more of a grandfatherly vibe. The guitarist’s age didn’t seem to affect his apparently effortless playing, though. On the night’s second selection, “Synchronicity II”, Summers performed an extended lead solo using nothing but tricky chords. What a nutcase!

Copeland is one of those superphysical drummers who approaches his job like it’s a sporting event; he was decked out in a headband, leather gloves, and what looked like a cyclist’s racing jersey. On certain songs he’d steer his bandmates into jazzy improvisations, but for the most part he stuck to the program, delivering studio-perfect timekeeping on the Police’s myriad radio hits.

The group seemed to enjoy itself the most on punk-edged tunes from its brilliant debut, Outlandos d’Amour–short, sharp blasts of angst like “So Lonely” and “Can’t Stand Losing You”. On the downside, when it came time for the song that started it all, “Roxanne” was drawn out to near-interminable length by Sting’s call-and-response shenanigans.

He was just giving the crowd–which sang along joyfully for most of the night–what it wanted, of course. And it was nice to see Sting give something back, considering Police bomber jackets were pulling in $425 at the merch tables. So, was it all about the money, you ask? Perhaps, but the more pressing question was once again: are the Police worthy of iconic status?

Considering the fact that they only released two exceptional albums out of five before imploding in a hail of bruised egos and bitter infighting, probably not. They may have struck gold with commercial-radio programmers around the world, selling 50 million units in the process, but two great records do not a Stones make.

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