The Police at Hollywood Bowl, May 27, 2008
By Paul Rogers
Sting’s ego alone could fill the Hollywood Bowl, but on Tuesday night his band’s performance mitigated any bloated self-esteem. Almost a year to the day since The Police launched their 30th anniversary reunion tour, the trio was a svelte — rather safe — machine. There’s no mystery to their crowd connection: cultured musicians, a lived-in, yet lithe, voice, and other-worldly songwriting will always fill seats.
The black-clad, bearded Sting evoked both a sun-weathered sea captain and well-to-do mogul as he steered a genial hour-long “best of” set (plus inevitable double encores). No new material was offered (or requested), and the rumored muso re-toolings of the band’s classics -– “Roxanne”, “Every Breath You Take”, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, “So Lonely” etc. –- amounted to little more than 30-second bluesy/proggy workouts. Sting studiously offered props to his cohorts (“legendary” guitarist Andy Summers and “extraordinary” drummer Stewart Copeland), clearly conscious of the enduring “band rift” mutterings. There was little of the punk-lite adrenaline of old (Summers’ signature leap is now all of six inches), and the once racing tempos have been tamed, though “Can’t Stand Losing You” strained at its taught urgency amidst an otherwise well-mannered set (“Next To You” being particularly blunted).
The Police, who perform again tonight at the Bow (also with Elvis Costello opening), shunned the crutch of a major stage production, instead performing with basically a (very wealthy) bar band’s stage set-up and limiting their instrumental adventure to Sting’s acoustic guitar treatment of opener “Bring on the Night” and Copeland’s marimba and gong forays. Pedestrian humor flecked the set, and musty stage banter (“Raise your hands!”; “Let’s make some noise!”) triggered smiley sing-alongs. The wide-open spaces of “Walking On The Moon” personified The Police’s ultra-efficient yet artsy grace ‘n groove: around reggae-inflected vocals, guitar and bass communicated like lifelong confidants – pausing to listen to one another and responding in timely, thoughtful fashion – while Copeland’s super-articulate rhythmic chatter bonded the conversation.
Their deliciously lean songcraft and arrangements mean The Police can re-ignite their legend at will. Yet at the Bowl they over-relied on the in-built resonance of the tunes and seldom upped the emotional stakes with the tension-fueled delivery of their tantrum-tainted past. Once more gentlemen please, with bad feeling.