St. Pete Times Forum
July 11, 2007
In all my years of traveling this great country of ours to witness music , I can hardly recall a single instance that can top the anticipation building in my belly during the 45-minute drive from Orlando to Tampa. Indeed, the butterflies could have been caused by leaving work early under the guise of a plane flight to North Carolina for a cousin’s wedding (which in all truthfulness was not until early the following morning), and the nagging voice inside my head screaming not to look at the car beside me stuck in Disney traffic because when I do it will surely be my boss.
Granted, back in my hard touring days I lost several jobs and dropped plenty of classes for a good weekend of Widespread Panic. But with age comes the realization that with a proper job comes stability you do not want to easily let go. However, once we got past the theme parks the fear subsided and the joyfulness rang out.
It was time to roll down the windows and punch on the gas, we were going to see The Police. THE POLICE!
The band did not waste any time getting into the favorites, launching into the solid one-two punch of “Message in a Bottle” and “Synchronicity II” promptly after taking the stage at 8:48 PM. A bit of Sting stage banter followed with what seemed like a forced smile. They are early into a world tour and he is already sneering and generally looking down his nose at the crowd.
For instance, I think we lost him during the third song, “Walking on the Moon,” where he prompted us to sing along but hardly any followed, and most of those dropped out by the 2nd chorus. By the time we got to the medley of “Voices inside My Head” (way too short) > “When the World is Running Down” (way too long…it reminded me of a Dave Matthews show where he just repeats the chorus incessantly) Sting looked like he had thoughts running through his head of ‘this crowd sucks and it hurts to sing these songs.’
At that point I was reminded of the butterflies I had on the way to the show. What if I had passed my boss on the way and I did not see him? What if I did not have a job come Monday morning? And, I realized Sting is thinking the same thing: "What if I can’t write another hit song?" "What if I have lost it?" It is probably why he agreed to do this tour; it is time to get back together with the old boys and see what it was that got me here in the first place. Now, just four songs into the 26th show, he was regretting it.
One thing that worried me coming into the night was how a three-piece would pull off the horns and keyboard work that permeate Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity. Would they use CDs or backing musicians? Would they even attempt some of my favorite songs in the history of recorded music? Then, I started looking over the set lists in the exclusive ‘virtual ticket’ (aka: more money) area of their web site.
The Police are not known as a band to switch up the songs each night and they definitely had not been doing so in the shows leading to Tampa. So, I had a feeling my ‘Murder By Numbers’ wasn’t coming and neither was the bust-out most forum posts have called for, “Tea in the Sahara.” But what can you do? The band released five full-length studio albums over five years (’78 – ’83) and had more hits than most do over a career three times as long.
Another common thread coming out of the early dates of the tour was that the band was not exploring enough. They were keeping the songs tight and concise and not jamming at all. Now, either the band was just getting warmed up or they actually do listen to their fans, because on my notes I wrote ‘Jam’ beside no less than four songs. I even have a ‘Summers !!!’ beside “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.”
Copeland and Summers seemed into it the whole night. Summers worked the stage more than Sting. From Andy’s perch on stage left he would walk out front to solo during the extended portions of songs, and worked the back of the oval stage like a pro. He spent more time actually looking at the crowd than Sting when he ventured near the cheap seats.
I guess the long and short of it is that Sting’s heart did not seem into the show but Copeland and Summer’s did. They seemed generally pleased to be out there playing these songs again and making these people happy, which is what they are paid to do: provide entertainment. It is not the crowd’s job to entertain the performers and we should not be made to feel small for choosing not to sing, but (gasp) listen. We have spent endless years playing air bass/drums/guitar and singing Sting’s parts in our cars. I think it is time he give us back half of the heart we put into those stoplight performances.
This is not all to say the show was a bust or the crowd did not enjoy it. The majority of us were on our feet the entire show. Really, the only negative I can bring up throughout the night is the fact that Sting’s attitude soured the mood of the hall. The band seemed to be on the brink of launching the roof off the ‘Ice Palace’ several times but never quite achieved liftoff. Of course we are all older and it wears on a body longer if you play “The Truth Hits Everybody” as fast as you did when you were still looking up at 30.
The reviewers out there who seem shocked by those adjustments amaze me. Why would a musician want to play a song exactly how they did it in 1979? Ray Charles couldn’t hit the same notes he could as a kid, neither can Stevie Wonder, but nobody complained when they started switching keys, or certain phrasing, to allow for greater breathing control and to give the song some freshness. Being on the road for close to two years and singing the chorus to “The Bed’s To Big Without You” over and over will have a much greater affect on your vocal cords than it did twenty some odd years ago. Just as Roger Daltrey about the last time he was in Tampa (The Who had to reschedule their performance on the night-of because of a case of ‘vocal challenges’, according to the band’s web site).
The stage itself was a thing of beauty, although I think they stole the three gigantic screens bordering the top from the last U2 tour. It does allow for maximum use of the venue, giving fairly clear sightlines all the way around any arena they will perform in over the tour. Running the length of the stage, below the screens, was an LED display that was perfectly in synch with the music and gave a unique take on light design.
The best use of the stage, however, was Copeland’s percussion rig, which rose up behind him for the first time during “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” When he scurried back to his trap kit and whacked the snare just in time the crowd went nuts with appreciation of his efforts. At this point it was truly the “Welcome to the Stewart Copeland show,” as Sting said later.
However, the bubble of anticipation was quickly burst with a lack-luster “De Do Do Do…” which went on way too long. The only saving grace of this selection was the fact it was followed closely with a stellar “Invisible Sun” and “Walking In Your Footsteps.” I even caught a “Synchronicity I” tease written during the Jam of “Walking In Your Footsteps” that proceeded “I Can’t Stand Losing You.” Just as the crowd and the lights are going off the chain, the band leaves the stage signaling the end of the main set.
In no way was the crowd going to let them leave without an encore and the band obliged with a solid “King of Pain” and “So Lonely.” After taking a quick bow they were off and almost directly back for “Every Breath You Take.” It is not one of my favorite songs and never has been, even before the radio took it to such lengths, but I have to say they nailed it and it was a pleasure to actually hear it live and not through some crappy car speakers. Even though it is a song about a stalker, it is one that many people have danced their first dance to and I appreciate that moment and apparently so does the band.
However, the third encore was exactly what I had been looking for all night. The fire that is captured so truthfully, and originally, in Copeland’s Everybody Stares: The Police Inside Out DVD or 1995’s must-have Live CD erupted during “Next To You.” If you want to know what one of the best trios in the history of rock n’ roll is capable of you need only check your bag for the encore at an upcoming show. From mega-hits to hardcore favorites, it had it all. If only the entire show had been played with as much heart it could have easily ranked in my top 5, alongside Copeland’s Rhythmatist Tour.
Almost exactly two hours after they took the stage we were out the door of the Forum, filled with joy from the musical spectacle but feeling abused by the ego lashing out from stage right. If Sting’s attitude was worse during the band’s heyday, and by all accounts it was, I am glad I waited this long to see The Police and you should not miss a chance to do so yourself.
Message in a Bottle, Synchronicity II, Walking on the Moon, Voices Inside My Head > When the World is Running Down, Don’t Stand So Close to Me, Driven to Tears > Jam, Truth Hits Everybody, Bed’s Too Big Without You, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Wrapped Around Your Finger, De Do Do Do De Da Da Da, Invisible Sun, Walking in Your Footsteps, Can’t Stand Losing You, Roxanne
Encore: King of Pain, So Lonely
Encore 2: Every Breath You Take
Encore 3: Next To You