The first six weeks of The Police's reunion tour has been largely met with resounding yawns by both critics and fans - but Saturday night at Churchill Downs the band delivered a focused, committed and frequently intense 20-song set.
Maybe they just needed some extra practice.
Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland came out roaring with 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Synchronicity II', the energy fairly cascading from a massive stage that threatened to dwarf the English trio. The songs were quick reminders of why the band made such an impact in 1978: its mix of pop, rock and reggae remains distinctive enough that no other band has successfully mimicked it.
All three musicians were in fine form and, despite their storied and combative history, seemed to get along famously.
Sting, 55, has lost a little off the top end of his voice but not enough to care about. Copeland, 54, remains one of rock's finest, most inventive drummers, a man who can make the simple seem complex and vice versa. And Summers, 64, may have been the show's most consistently impressive performer, tearing into solos with a thinking man's attention to detail combined with a real ferocity.
They played around with a few songs, stretching 'Roxanne' to twice its length, for example, but rarely did the changes seem gratuitous. The best moments were a perfectly gorgeous 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', fiery versions of 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'Driven to Tears', and a celebratory 'Every Breath You Take'.
The band's only real misstep was with pacing. They worked up a serious head of steam several times only to derail themselves with a poorly chosen slow song - or, in the case of 'Walking In Your Footsteps', simply a poor song.
That's nitpicking, however. Any hard-core Police fan went home happy last night, if quite a bit poorer after $225 tickets and $7 beers.
Fiction Plane opened with an enthusiastic set of pop and rock that mixed early U2 with splashes of reggae and ska for flavor. The band was at its best on the more pop-oriented songs such as 'Cross the Line' and 'Two Sisters', where the reggae influence was most pronounced and highly effective.
Fiction Plane is fronted by Sting's son, Joe Sumner, and the vocal resemblance between the two is uncanny. It must be tough for Sumner's friends to not beg him to sing 'Every Breath You Take' on karaoke nights at the pub.
© Louisville Courier-Journal by Jeffrey Lee Puckett