We've struggled long and hard on just how to approach this review of last night's Police show at Wrigley Field. On one hand, we are unabashed fanboys who believe the core trio of Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland, can do no wrong. On the other hand, there were obvious chinks in the band's armor.
So let's get the negatives out of the way first.
For most of the show, The Police seemed to be playing through a viscous fluid, with most of their songs' rhythms being just a half step behind the pace our memories had set. And, to be sure, there was far too much Sting-ish noodling early in the set. 'Walking On The Moon', three songs in, had our hearts racing as we believed the band had finally found their pace, only to have our hopes dashed as the composition spun out of control and slowed to a snail's pace amongst the group's jammy tendencies.
(And here is the point that we acknowledge, begrudgingly, that the backing vocals for most of the evening were handled by tapes obviously pre-recorded to reignite of Sting's younger days and broader vocal range.)
So let's say this here and now, and then move on to the more thrilling moments: The Police are a much older band, that gave in to the temptations of stadium excess - be it call and response or extended bass / guitar solos - and you have to be forgiving of that going into the show.
But when they were on, they were on.
Sting, although nearly bald, was almost a dead ringer for the fellow that last toured with the band in 1984. Stewart Copeland was still a monster behind the drum kit, leaping from level to level to handle xylophones, auxiliary percussion, (over-the-top) gong duty, and everything that propelled the group's sound. How that man kept up the pace he did is still beyond us, and should put just about every other modern percussionist to complete shame. Andy Summers was the most static of the three, but he still effortlessly drew out the reggae-pop chords that helped propel the group to the top of the charts in the first place.
The crowd enjoyed the show, but were rarely driven to the point of dancing (well, beyond the usual mega-show arm waving that is commonly driven by 30-somethings revisiting a long dormant love affair with the Mary Jane). But when the band hit on all cylinders (sorry for that cliché) the crowd couldn't resist. They were easily drawn in by the band dropping in the vocalizations of 'Reggatta de Blanc' in the midst of 'Can't Stand Losing You'. And when the stadium met Sting's "eeyay-eeyay-eeyayos" it was truly chilling.
We suspect the band was aware of their faults, because they more than followed through on the promise we all expected with their encore. 'King Of Pain', long a song we thought superfluous, was transformed into an anthem that led directly into a transcendent 'So Lonely'. This was the song we most feared hearing, since it ranks as our own personal #1 song of all time, but the band attacked it with gusto and let it stand on its own without trying to rework it into a Boomer anthem. A flaccid 'Every Breath You Take' followed, and the throngs started to stream out.
Because just after 'Every Breath You Take', the band launched into a visceral version of 'Next To You'. All the punk fury we had been looking for all night long - say what you will about the band jumping on the punk bandwagon, but when they spat fire, it burned - exploded over the remaining throngs and literally stopped us dead in our tracks. Copeland made up for Sting's name-checking Comiskey Park earlier in the evening by wearing a custom-made Cubs jersey that both pandered and displayed the band's underdog mentality, even as they surfed a multi-million dollar wave of single-evening ticket sales.
We went in with high hopes expecting the worst, but we came out completely satisfied and feeling like we got our money's worth. The Police are older, and a little slower, but they still managed to give us exactly what we were looking for. Could you ask anything more from a trip down memory lane?