Police Reunion

Birmingham, GB
National Indoor Arenawith Fiction Plane
All rise for the second coming of Sumner...

''Get up, stand up,'' sings Bob Marley as the house lights fall. The grey-haired people around me do more than that; they clamber over the seats to get to the front. I originally interpret this wrongly: I assume they're driven by lust for their balding idol, but there are no screams when he appears, so my second guess is that their eyesight just isn't too great these days.

Not that The Police are much to look at any more. First, it's Stewart ''Why the Long Face?'' Copeland, in a sci-fi drum riser equipped with a gong and a glockenspiel. Next, with a red Fender around his neck, it's the guitarist Andy Summers, and lastly, in a moth-eaten white vest, it's Sting, unbeaten champion of the Biggest Git in Rock contest for more than two decades.

Only Bono can rival Sting's messianic, massive ego, and Sting didn't even have the saving grace of a self-aware Zoo TV period. I once sat in open-mouthed disbelief at a Mojo awards ceremony as Sting claimed responsibility for a temporary rapprochement between Israel and Palestine. And just look at his post-Police career: dressing up as an Amazonian native, advocating tantric sex, recording an album of Elizabethan lute music... Even tonight, he can't resist tootling on Peruvian pan pipes, and once again I'm agape.

The Police were never cool. Which is no crime, unless you're trying to be. Along with Deacon Blue, they represent the forlorn subgenre of Schoolteacher Rock. Mr Sumner, acknowledging his former profession, instructs this 15,000-strong class that ''Don't Stand So Close to Me'' was not autobiographical, but fails to apologise for that infamously clunky lyric ''Just like the/Old man in/That book by Nabokov''. Even more than The Stranglers, they were shameless jumpers on the punk bandwagon. Sting's vocal style was an even greater crime: the most insulting travesty of a Jamaican accent this side of Sebastian, the singing lobster from Disney's The Little Mermaid.

The suicidal tension of ''Can't Stand Losing You'', a fine song, is ruined with call-and-response yodelling, and 'Roxanne', Sting's Pretty Woman prozzie-rescue fantasy, is similarly stretched out with grotesque bass soloing and a cameo from local hero Ranking Roger of The Beat, a far superior rock-reggae hybrid. They encore with the one about Sue Lawley, and the inevitable 'Every Breath You Take'. Yes, I know it has a sinister stalker vibe, but it's also directly responsible for Puff Daddy's success and is therefore condemned to pop hell, case closed.

'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' may summon gruesome memories of the video with all that ''ah, you guys!'' joshing on the ski slope, but for all the mutually appreciative jazz faces they make at each other, there's precious little onstage chemistry, and there have already been tales of backstage acrimony from Copeland's own equine mouth.

In summary, irritating git who's written a handful of decent songs gets back together with muso sidekicks for money-spinning arena tour. You have the right to remain silent.

(c) The Independent on Sunday by Simon Price

Sting, where is thy sting?

All the hits were there, but the Police reunion, bar the odd moment, was curiously unarresting

Towards the end of the second night of the Police's UK tour, someone onstage gets punched in the mouth, just as 'Roxanne' fades into the rafters. Everyone gasps. It's the most exciting thing that happens all evening.

Have the simmering tensions within the world's most famous trio finally bubbled over? This, after all, is a band whose drummer Stewart Copeland infamously wrote: 'Fuck off, you c***' on his drumskin in the band's heyday. He was addressing Sting, the tall, blond guy at whose head he also used to fling drumsticks. Almost as famous for their spiky interpersonal relationships as they were for their hit singles, the Police dissolved in a crackle of antipathy in 1984. They'd gone six years, yanking songs three ways between the imperious Sting (closet jazzbo and band focal point), Copeland (the extrovert drummer who started the band, gave them their name and whose brother managed them) and Andy Summers (jobbing guitarist who, against type, was probably the least creatively selfish of the three).

Some sort of stasis has been achieved in order to make this reunion tour possible. As with any rematch between old combatants - the Velvet Underground, Pixies, the Who - part of the sport of watching the Police tour the world this summer has been examining their body language for latent hostility or signs that the diplomatic bonhomie of middle-aged men cashing in their chips was beginning to fray.

Thus far, all had seemed rosy in the garden. Sting, lean and eagleish in black drainpipes and a ripped, teensy white T-shirt towers benignly over Andy Summers, who is wearing sensible trainers and - inexplicably - a South Park guitar strap. Copeland often steps into a percussion pod that looks like a Nepalese car spares shop with its dangling, bell-like accessories. Even though he sports an unironic bandana, he's the most strangely fashionable of the three, with his nu-rave white trousers, white gloves and big baseball boots. He flings his drumsticks behind him when they break - not at Sting's head or even at Sting's little table with a cup of tea on it (doubtless some fine ayurvedic blend to keep his throat stadium-fit). They all seem to be enjoying themselves. Then - whack! - Summers gets clouted.

It's not because his guitar solos are way too long tonight, either, or way too high up the guitar neck (and they are). He merely gets in the way of Rankin' Roger's outstretched arm, in an end-of-encore bow malfunction. Rankin' Roger is tonight's surprise guest, a local Birmingham hero, formerly of the Beat, who adds a verse and some train noises to an extended 'Roxanne'. His arrival onstage, bouncing along in a black tracksuit with rasta piping, is probably the second most exciting thing that happens all evening. The third most exciting thing? Watching where Copeland's discarded drumsticks end up.

It's not that the Police aren't good - they are. I used to like them a lot and I'm shocked at how many of their lyrics leap intact into my mind as Sting bellows them. It is as deeply unfashionable to like them now as it was then. They are not even uncool enough to be a Guilty Pleasure. That said, Johnny Borrell's penchant for white (and the businesslike demeanour of his guitarist) means that Razorlight have a touch of the Police about them. But Razorlight are probably as widely disliked among the NME-reading masses as the Police were among the punks they tried to emulate. A Geordie schoolteacher singing reggae, egged on by an alpha-drummer and a mild-mannered axeman: theirs still seems an unlikely success story.

Unlike their first, error-strewn reunion shows back in Vancouver, they make few mistakes tonight. A little smile does ricochet round the band during 'Hole in My Life', but that could just be pleasure at a particularly tricky key change. The many hits they play sound just like you remember them, for the most part. The opener, 'Message In A Bottle', rewinds the clock back to the Eighties so effectively people almost forget they have camera-phones. 'So Lonely' is a pithy delight, until Summers's interminable soloing stretches it out of shape. For every two or three songs they play relatively straight, the Police tinker with the arrangements on another. Half the time, these musicianly flights actively stink. Did they really need to sully the fabulous 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' with smug, jazz-rock excursions? The Police always were a band of musos bent into a commercial shape by ambition and now, with three solo careers behind them, letting them anywhere near their old pop canon seems fraught with peril.

Yet half the time the reconfigurations work. A haunted 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' gains intriguing depths as Copeland's percussion plays off Summer's mesmeric guitar line and Sting's echoey vocal. The most brazen rewrite is 'Walking in Your Footsteps' in which Andean pipes, monkey noises (Sting) and polyrhythms combine to make a fairly uneventful song strange and beautiful. Until, that is, Sting and Summers ruin the mood with another jazz-funk lick-trading indulgence kicked off by the lyric about a brontosaurus.

Perhaps the most pleasurable song is 'I Can't Stand Losing You', which comes out barbed and direct. It has only one digression: Summers hitting a pedal that makes his guitar sound like a church organ - a brief and unexpected pleasure.

But it's just not exciting. Satisfying, yes, competent and professional, certainly. But no one feels like dancing in the aisles. In the Police's defence, it is hard to get properly overwrought in an all-seater stadium where only the three front rows are allowed to stand up and rush the barrier. And the audience are more than happy to keep to their seats and sway along with restraint.

How different these rock star reunions might be if bands had the guts to play smaller venues, where some actual human contact might occur. As it is, we have to content ourselves with an accidental slap.

(c) The Observer by Kitty Empire