Friday, July 06, 2007

Old Man at the Old Man Show

What was I doing going to see The Police on a Thursday night when I had a class to go to, a class I had spent a week preparing for, a class that was and is sure to kick my ass? These days when a band I like comes to town I get excited and then almost immediately annoyed. Then depressed. The idea of buying tickets, standing in line for a seat or a spot on the floor, waiting through an opening act that is sure to, at best, bore me, waiting the grueling length of time it takes for roadies to set up the gear and then the equally punishing amount of time for the band to get off their diva asses and finally take the stage, well, that is starting to become less and less appealing to these old man bones.

Since turning 36 I seem to feel every year, every cigarette and every drink I have ever imbibed all aching within me deeply as if I had a tolerance for life in my younger days that has finally waned. My energy comes from a can (Red Bull) or a mug (green tea since coffee hurts too much to even contemplate) and though I am trying to get my ass on a bike or a track (padded in order to save the knees) I seem to more often rely on artificial stimulants, though I know a wee bit of cardio would surely be more effective. Perhaps knowing that exercise and eschewing the tiny killers (smokes, booze, caffeine) would add years instead of erase them is what makes me fall back on vices. There’s that lingering adolescent in spirit who thinks life is simply not worth living, the rebel who often thinks of smothering the world in the blackest tar. Oh, I was young once!

Okay, this is merely the product of being tired. I saw the concert. I stayed up later than I should have and I woke early due to being programmed by years of 9-5 repetition. 6:30 comes and I snap awake, alarm or no alarm. ‘Tis a sad state of affairs. Please take that into consideration in regard to the above.

Anyway, the class was cancelled so I managed to go to the show guilt free. I had driven to work that day so my car was nearby. I swooped out of the office early, grabbed the ride and picked up the brother, holder of the tickets and Police fanatic. We then picked up our cousin at the train station and headed north toward Wrigley Field, home of Chicago’s hard luck baseball team, countless drunken yuppie “fans” and the worst acoustics you’ll ever hear when seeing an overpriced reunion concert.

I must say that the ticket price for this show, while steep, does not rival that if the average Rolling Stones concert. And The Police, despite this tour, are sure to not return with the kind of regularity that Mick and Co. demonstrate. We had nosebleed seats to be sure, but it could have been worse. Thankfully there were video screens flanking the stage so we could see the band as more than tiny ants frenetically moving far below. Of course one wonders how this differs from watching a concert movie, but I’ll dispense with that crashing train of thought for the moment.

The opening act consisted of a Sting look-alike that, I’m told, is his spawn. He sure sounded like him. He played bass and sang for a three piece outfit. The drummer was agile and flashy. The guitarist was understated at times and used generous amounts of echo to accent his bar chords. Hmm… sounds like another band I’ve heard of.

Once the opening act (whose name I couldn’t read from my elevated heights) finished playing to the crowd of people struggling to find their seats, the excitement returned. I was going to see The Police. I love The Police. Stewart Copeland is one of my heroes. Along with Dale Crover and Keith Moon, he’s a supreme example of innovative percussion in rock music. And he seemed to better sum up the personality of The Police than Sting ever could. Sting was the face and the voice, but, as his solo career has proven time and again, he’s nothing without Stewart and Andy. And what about Andy Summers? An underrated guitarist, Summers always brought reggae and jazz sensibilities to the pop/rock trio. He plays subtly at times and frighteningly fierce at others. His moveable chord progression in “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” seems to anchor the song as much as Sting’s descending bass line; the solo for “Driven to Tears” is a small gem of avant-garde feedback freak out. Summers once said that he is most proud of the opening effect of “Synchronicity II” an alarm sound he coaxed from his instrument that, apparently, filled most of a reel. Of course, the band used a short piece of it to kick off the song, but I like to think that Summers, oddball guitar freak he is, has the full recording at home, waiting to annoy rude dinner guests.

Perhaps I am being unfair to old Sting. I mean, I liked the guy in the ‘80s, but everything he has done since the disbanding of The Police has put me to sleep. The lute is a fine instrument and I admire him for trying to branch out, but he can stay home and fuck his wife for 8 hours so why does he insist on fucking over his old fans? I know, I know, he’s exploring his interests and that’s all that matters, but still when I listen to any of the Police records I can’t help but get angry at Sting for everything he’s done as a solo artist. Ah, I’ll never feel old so long as Sting is around because he will always be older, as evidenced by his choice of instrument and waning enthusiasm. The Sting of 1983 was a monster, jumping and playing his ass off. Now his output is something akin to dinner music. It seems clear that when musicians get old they gravitate toward world music (that annoying umbrella term) as a means of reinvigorating a shrinking muse. Sting, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, they all pimp the African and Eurasian when it suits their needs.

(By the way, I’ll save you the trouble of making similar arguments about the Secret Chiefs 3 or any of my other heroes who, yes, incorporate “exotic” instruments and rework Indian or Middle Eastern traditional melodies. There’s an unmistakable artistry to some of these composers (Trey Spruance) that Sting lacks. Perhaps he’s too busy posing with the lute and soaking up the self-satisfaction to work a little harder on his music.)

So I feared Sting would fuck things up. I had total faith in Stew and Summers, faith not betrayed, but Sting I was unsure of. To my surprise he didn’t totally suck. His bass playing was as interesting as it always was in the ‘80s, a strange sort of beast that thumps and stutters on “Roxanne”, slides and oozes on “Contact” and bounces wonderfully on “Demolition Man.” Sting can still play the bass wonderfully. Sadly, he butchered a few of the songs with his trademark baby-talk chants. “Roxanne” was transformed into “Roxanne-ooh!” which the crowd was invited to chime back (and did like good little lambs); “Regatta de Blanc” was a welcomed insertion into “Can’t Stand Losing You” which was once sung by Sting with a bit of “The Banana Boat Song” thrown in for poor measure. This time it worked, though the climax of the recorded version was duplicated in a needless gesture of indulgence. The power of the first crescendo was essentially robbed by a repeat. The guys can still play, there’s no doubt, but they need to remember the power of the short, well-constructed song and not drag them out live until they are rendered into static sing-a-longs.

Really that is the problem. I’m a purist when it comes to a pop rock act like this. I want to hear a relatively faithful rendition of my favorite songs. Sting always was good at recreating the material into something far more obnoxious. Remember his version of “Roxanne” at Live Aid? Or worse, the god fucking awful song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me 86” that appeared on the unessential singles collection. A by product of too much studio time and band animosity, I doubt the three members were even in the same room when that piece of crap was recorded. But remember that both these offenses were committed as Sting was rising in popularity, the clear leader (though weakest link) of a powerful band soon to implode.

Aside from extended or reworked songs, I had little complaints with the show. Sure, they pulled out some predictable choices but they augmented those with a few more “deep cuts” that were nice to hear. A few songs sounded weak and tired, even ones I was eagerly anticipating, others were surprisingly well played, powerful and exciting. “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” a song I love and defend, sounded damn good stripped down three-piece style. (Though Stewart didn’t hit the snare drum fill toward the end that I have obsessed over since the song was a fresh radio hit. Seriously, when the song is on the radio and that little drum fill comes up, I get goose bumps in anticipation and have to play air drums even if I am driving down the expressway.) And I thought “Invisible Sun” sounded really good as well. Damn near haunting and perfect. These studio/keyboard heavy Ghost in the Machine songs that one might expect to suffer live actually amazed me more than anything. I was very happy that the boys did not have a back up band or pre-recorded synth tracks to accompany them. Nope, it was a raw three-man band playing live with little to no frills (save for the silly light show and nostalgia montage).

For the record, my ideal Police set would have looked like this:

Next to You
Hole in My Heart
Bring on the Night
On Any Other Day
The Bed’s Too Big Without You
Does Everyone Stare?
No Time This Time
When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around
Driven to Tears
Man in a Suitcase
Invisible Sun
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Demolition Man
Hungry for You (J'aurais Toujours Faim de Toi)
O My God
Ms. Gradenko
Synchronicity II
Tea in the Sahara
Murder By Numbers

Dare to dream.