Police Reunion

Chicago, IL, US
Allstate Arenawith Elvis Costello & The Imposters
The Police revive hits; Elvis Costello mixes old and new...

Crisis at the gas pump, an unpopular president, tensions with Iran - sound familiar? Welcome to the late 1970s, 30 years removed. The twin bill of the Police and Elvis Costello added to the flashback Saturday at the nearly sold-out Allstate Arena; both bands took part in the U.K. punk invasion of that era but hung on to become major pop stars.

''What the [expletive] happened?'' asked Sting, the Police singer who recalled his band's first appearance in Chicago, in 1979 at the long-shuttered club Beginnings. ''It was [expletive] cold. Seven people were there,'' he remembered.

Consider this a victory lap for the band, which promised to end its current reunion tour this August in New York, 15 months after it started. The 18-song, 95-minute set was not far removed from the two-night stand at Wrigley Field last July - hits were big and so was the ticket price. The Police ruled the pop world for a contentious six years before breaking up in 1984. This reincarnation was a showpiece for the catalog the band built rather than any rekindled fire between bandmates.

The band performed to a crowd of fans nearly their age, some with young children. Considering that the set list featured mostly hits, the crowd knew every word, especially when Sting transformed songs such as 'Roxanne' into arena singalongs.

After a year of playing together, the Police are far better musicians than they were in the early days. Sting's bass lines danced around the melodies, his voice packed with more luster. On almost every other song guitarist Andy Summers played taut, blues-tinged solos, but he gutted the songs with the instincts of a jazz improviser. Even though Stewart Copeland had a chance to twice show off his dexterity on a percussion riser of chimes, a timpano and a gong, he was best behind the drum kit, the excitement in his playing translating beats dozens of ways.

The band provided serviceable renditions of its hits, although after almost a year of similar set lists, there was disinterest: The jittery sexual panic of 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' sounded like a sluggish pledge of abstinence. But there were moments, like 'Demolition Man' and 'So Lonely', when the band played to raze the song's interiors in order to still raise expectations.

Elvis Costello was determined not to settle for hits: his 12-song, 50-minute set featured many new songs from 'Momofuku' (Lost Highway), released two weeks ago the old-fashioned way: on ''big, fat vinyl,'' he said. Played with the Imposters, a band of longtime stalwarts, the new songs were cranky with fuzz guitar and carnival organ. Yet when Sting stepped out to share lead vocals on his 1977 ballad 'Alison', the promise of fidelity from a young man's perspective was endorsed by the cool assurance of middle age.

(c) Chicago Tribune by Mark Guarino

Police beat nostalgia, say proper goodbye to fans...

In October 2006, Andy Summers published 'One Train Later', an entertaining memoir spanning the guitarist's formative musical experiences through the Police's chart-topping apex. The book concludes as Summers savours his accomplishment as part of the world's premiere rock trio, but he expresses regret that the group imploded without acknowledging its fans with a farewell tour. ''There was need for a closure maybe impossible to obtain,'' he wrote.

Not two years later, the Police are taking a victory lap following 2007's most successful rock tour. Chicago fans with deep pockets got a triple treat on Saturday, as a jaunt emphasizing previously overlooked markets added Allstate Arena to last summer's packed Wrigley Field performances.

Most of the set echoed material played at the Friendly Confines, but innovative twists made familiar songs like 'Roxanne' seem more adventurous. 'Bring on the Night' was a new addition, led by Sting's undulating nylon string guitar and ghostly wails from Summers' road-worn Stratocaster. The loping reggae-pop of 'Hole in My Life' was also freshly dusted off, featuring the sharp crack of Stewart Copeland's snare drum.

The band ignited during songs allowing Summers to slip his leash. The 65-year-old guitarist blazed through a stinging 'Demolition Man', supported by Sting's nimble and bubbling bass. The slashing chords and sparking solo of 'Driven To Tears' also lifted the show beyond nostalgia, as Copeland applied dexterous but pile-driving rhythm.

Some of the show's least forceful moments were its most mesmerizing. During 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', Copeland left his drum set to tinker with racks of hanging bells, spinning discs, and a booming kettle drum. Summers' crystalline guitar chimed during 'Walking On The Moon', while Copeland filled space between beats with colourful fills. Sting led the room in enthusiastically sung ''e-yos.''

There were a few missteps, including Sting's bungled verse during 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and Copeland's blown ending during an otherwise hot 'Next To You'. A revamped 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' had more life than the band's 1986 remake, but didn't achieve the tension captured on 'Zenyatta Mondatta'.

If anyone had a rough night overall, it was Sting, who kept a bottle of throat spray and steaming mug within close reach. His voice seemed rattiest while reaching for the high tenor of 'Can't Stand Losing You'. During 'Every Breath You Take', Sting seemed grateful for the 14,000 strong voices that came to his aid. ''Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for helping me out tonight,'' he said later. ''I'll never forget it.''

The Police recently announced their final show ever, a benefit concert to be held later this year in New York City. Unlike '80s veterans Asia and Bauhaus, whose classic lineups have released new albums this year, the Police seem determined not to muddy their legacy. But at least they came out for a proper goodbye.

Opening act Elvis Costello ensured that most attendees were in their seats early. Costello led his Imposters through fifty minutes of hard-hitting pop, including material from the new 'Momofuku' album. The spiky reggae of 'I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea' and dub-influenced 'Watching the Detectives' were ideally matched to the Police's radio-friendly mixture of punk, pop and reggae. Sting himself appeared for a duet on brooding ballad 'Alison'.

(c) Chicago Sun-Times by Jeff Elbel