The old songs didn't quite play themselves at The Police's sold-out reunion show in South Florida. But on Tuesday night at Dolphin Stadium the British reggae-rock trio was tighter and more automatic than it arguably had any right to be after 23 years off the road.
Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers had played about two dozen dates coming into Miami Gardens, and have received generally positive reviews for a tour offering no new music. Copeland, the drummer, famously panned his own band's second-night performance - in Vancouver in late May - in a post later pulled from his Web site. It's hard to imagine that he would have found much to dislike about Tuesday's concert.
A crowd surpassing 45,000 people got just about everything it could have wanted from the occasion. The set list was a greatest-hits live bonanza, rounded out with some of the better b-sides. The Police themselves were engaged and often inspired. A few improvised jams went on too long, and not every tune has improved with age. But the trio mostly played to its strengths, knocking out the catchy, punctual gems that made rock stars of The Police a generation ago.
'Message In a Bottle' got the show off to an encouraging start. Summers, on guitar, played the familiar opening sequence - four chords arranged in three-note clusters. Copeland and Sting, on bass and vocals, fell in right behind Summers with a bounding rhythm. And when Sting sang, he sounded a lot like the pining lad who first sent out that love-starved S.O.S. on the band's 1979 album, 'Regatta de Blanc'.
'Synchronicity II', played second, was less effortless. A balky song with alternating themes and a Loch Ness Monster metaphor, The Police's big rumination on the madness of modern life did what its acoustic designers no doubt meant it to do back when they wrote it: II flooded every corner of the ballpark on Tuesday. But as an example of grandstanding arena rock, it's always been a reminder of how far away The Police sometimes wandered from their spry, punky origins.
The echo-bathed reggae balladWalking on the Moon was a much sweeter, less complicated moment of nostalgia. The garage-rocker 'Truth Hits Everybody', though hardly a hit by the band's globe-conquering standard, stood out because of its lean, no-frills spirit. Copeland's nimble playing powered 'Truth' and so many of Tuesday's songs that's it's fair to say the drummer, more even than Sting or Summers, is driving this reunion train.
'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', one of classic rock radio's more overplayed favorites, came across less like a guest that wouldn't leave and more like an old friend. The Police always were good at locating the comedy in romantic obsession, and that trace of the absurd was nicely sustained by Magic's "almost-tragic" narrator.
'Roxanne', another doomed-love ditty and the band's signature song, has become even more likeable over the years. The Police played their career-launcher near the end of Tuesday's set and treated it as well as it's treated them. Any band that wants to write punchy, memorable songs can still learn a lot from Roxanne's mix of melodrama and sharp musicality.
Whether The Police have any ambition to attempt new material is an open question. But there's no arguing they have plenty of durable work on hand, and all the skill and chemistry required to keep playing it.
Tuesday's first opening band would have struck concertgoers as familiar. A British trio called Fiction Plane played energetic rock sometimes tinged with reggae, and was led by a singer-bassist with a high, keening voice. In fact, Plane frontman Joe Sumner is the son of Sting, and not a few people in the seats remarked on the vocal and physical resemblance.
Overall, Fiction Plane's take on three-piece playing was less original, and less grounded in punk and reggae than The Police's. The songs were heavier and more in tune with the big soundscapes of Coldplay and U2. But when Fiction Plane busted out its first single,'Two Sisters', a conflicted love song done in reggae time, any similarities to the headliner had to be strictly intentional.
Maroon 5 also warmed up the crowd. The popular five-piece seemed determined at first to ditch its trademark - slick, soul-inspired pop - and convince the crowd this band can actually rock. At one point Maroon 5 was practically in Uriah Heep mode, jamming with the instruments cranked. The short set improved once frontman Adam Levine and his mates settled into their field of expertise, playing the breezy 'Sunday Morning' and the wistful 'She Will Be Loved'.
© The Sun-Sentinel by Sean Piccoli