Sting was in a reflective mood as the Police played their first show on British soil in more than 20 years. Just two numbers into the set, he began reminiscing about the last time the group had played in Birmingham. "It was 1983," he told the 13,000-capacity crowd. "I had a broken hand; Andy had a kidney stone. We're in much better shape now."
The reunited trio provided an eloquent rebuttal of the live-fast-die-young ethos which rock stars are supposed to embrace. Neither the chiselled Sting nor the wiry drummer Stewart Copeland, both 55, were carrying an ounce of extra fat, and if Summers looked a little jowly on the huge screens above the stage, he still cut a rakish dash at the frankly implausible age of 64.
And, if anything, their prowess as musicians has been enhanced by the passage of time. During a sequence that welded together 'Voices Inside My Head' and 'When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around', Sting played impossibly syncopated bass lines and sang in a conflicting time signature, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Summers soloed during 'Driven To Tears', among several others, in an angular, jazz-fusion vein that was more Thelonious Monk than Jimi Hendrix. And 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' was retooled as a showcase for Copeland, who clattered around a maze of percussion instruments, and on other numbers clanged out his trademark fractured triplets on various cymbals and bells.
It was certainly not a case of simply trotting out the greatest hits - although there were plenty of them to go round as well. They began with 'Message in a Bottle', 'Synchronicity' and 'Walking on The Moon', an instant reminder of Sting's uncanny knack of locating a catchy tune and the group's collective ear for an arresting arrangement. With no help from any additional musicians, the three men each managed to cover an extraordinary amount of territory individually, while still locking together securely as a unit. Some of the rhythmic contortions on 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' seemed to have been arrived at by means of an advanced mathematical calculus, yet still led up to a chorus that everyone could sing along to.
But for all the dexterity of the musicians and the populist appeal of the songs there was a slightly aloof air to the performance as a whole, as if the band were there to prove something to themselves rather than to the audience. Sting, nevertheless, encouraged the fans to clap and wave along, and when the group rolled into 'Can't Stand Losing' You the stands at the side of the hall were literally bouncing.
But a final encore of their early headbanging opus 'Next To You' suffered from a disappointingly languid treatment. The Police may be many things, but their punk credentials - which were never all that convincing in the first place - were left a very long way behind at this most sophisticated of arena-rock shows.
© The Times by David Sinclair