Sting said something curious after the Police's tight and inspired two-hour set at the Toyota Center on Friday: "Thank you, Houston. See you again. Good night."
OK, the thank you and the good night are standard-issue stuff, but "see you again" could be a pretty cruel tease. After all, he, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland pulled the chord on their band while it was still riding high more than two decades ago. Clearly fans weren't as ready to have the band turn in its badge.
These sorts of autumnal reunions can seem forced, but to the Police's credibility is kind of protected by the fact that the band quit while it was ahead. This reunion tour doesn't muddle with that, either. It will undoubtedly be a financial success (dig the $125 Police jacket in militaryish olive drab). And without new stuff to plug, the only way to screw it up would be to dial it in.
Fortunately, the band includes three perfectionists.
So while the set wasn't long on surprises, it was wound tight like a baseball. Eleven of the 12 songs from the band's The Singles compilation made the 19-song setlist. There were a few interesting choices, ('Driven to Tears', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You'), that made it hard to quibble about exclusions (Canary in a Coalmine). Only the light 'Walking in Your Footsteps' seemed difficult to justify.
Not surprisingly, the best stuff was often the most integrated material, with each third pulling equally in short, sharp bursts. Summers is a fine soloist, but his efficient, slashing reggae riffs are a fine counterpart to Sting's bubbling basslines and Copeland's snappy drumming. So 'Bed's Too Big', 'Walking on the Moon' (which had its chorus slowed down a smidge) and 'So Lonely' were standouts.
Copeland, it should be noted, doesn't often get his due as one of rock's monster drummers. He can thump with power (he was hitting so hard on 'Roxanne' that he flinched with each belt) and color with panache.
Of course, couples got all snuggly for 'Every Breath You Take', despite the fact that it's a song from the POV of an obsessed stalker post-split.
"Since you GONE, I've been LOST without a trace..."; it's not cryptic.
Its biggest hit done, the band wasn't quite done, raving up Next to You as a crackerjack closer.
It all felt tidy, but not too much so. Some songs, including 'Roxanne', opened up nicely for a little free-form action. Occasionally, such stretching felt a little like Hamburger Helper to push the set to the two-hour point (they were, after all, charging $250 for some tix).
Mock Sting all you want (I do) for his leaf-eating, leg-twisting, clean-breathing anti-rock 'n' roll lifestyle. But his voice remains clear and untattered by the sorts of abuses that come with rock and age. The sorts of things that stole Elton John's falsetto. When he needed to reach (Roxanne, to name just one), it was there.
He's a fine frontman, which is easy to forget since he's spent years trying to convince us he's an old fart: the hurdy-gurdies, the Jaguar commercials, the Jedi clothing. There was just enough playfulness in his presentation to make the sell-out crowd feel involved without making him seem lazy.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that three guys were all that was needed to bring this set home. No auxiliary guitarists, no touring keyboardists, no backing vocalists. Three guys, and a very small smattering of instruments. There was no guitar swapping going on: Both Summers and Sting walked out with an instrument and each played it through the show's entirety. Stewart was the extravagant one, augmenting his kit with a big gong and some other bells and whistles.
So it was the Police. Not an approximation of the Police, not the Police with some new friends. The Police as you remember them, certainly sonically.
© The Houston Chronicle by Andrew Dansby