Washington, DC, US
Capital Centrewith R.E.M.
Help! The Police! - Perfect pop for the '80s at the Capital Centre...

It's little wonder that The Police have a lock on the top of both the singles and album charts. Their buoyant and compelling rock - lithe, sensual, irresistible - hits heart, mind and feet all at once, challenging and enticing at the same moment.

The 18,000 fans who jammed the Capital Centre last night danced in place, swayed and swirled with relative abandon, sang along knowingly and exuberantly, punched the air in affirmation and all but spent themselves by night's end. They entered believing and left confirmed. The Police, who will repeat the concert tonight, are something of a throwback to the power trio concept of the late '60s, but instead of basing their sound on pyro-technical bravura, they achieve an astounding organic unity that is at once raucous and refined.

Bassist Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers - all of them bristling with self-confidence as if the business of being No. 1 is still a joy - create a seamless pulse, a dense rhythmic and melodic weave that incorporates the raw energy of new wave, the insistent lilt of reggae and Afro-pop, the expansiveness of jazz and the seductiveness of pure pop. In this context, there are few flashy flourishes but loads of tremendously rich textures. Summers is an inventive yet eclectic guitarist whose playing combines rhythmic and lead functions. His particular strengths are lush, simmering chords that jolt the hall. Sting's fluid, elastic bass lines and yearning yet forceful vocals ride vibrantly above Copeland's razor-sharp percussion.

The result is perfect pop for the '80s. Better yet, the exceptional quality of the band's latest album, Synchronicity, comes at a time when commercial and critical expectations have been most sharply focused. Make no mistake - The Police have latched onto a whole series of irresistible pulses. The throng at the Capital Centre provided a chorus to humble the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - and even sang relatively in tune on the frequent sing-alongs. What's surprising is that while many of The Police songs dip their hooks in Stings' ethereal melody lines, the lyrics are tough; the haunting and elusive edges of the music frame a search for deeper places.

Sting is obsessed with collapse - things fall apart on both the personal level and the cosmic one - and while his songs are deceptively simple in structure, they are like Russian nest dolls, with more revealed by time and investigation. The concert was a comprehensive overview of old and new material. The live version of many songs seemed to race a bit, a pleasant urgency suggested partly by the size of the venue and the charge of a live audience. One sensed the adrenalin flowing onstage, particularly from the unflaggingly energetic Sting and Copeland - the latter seemed nothing less than a hyperactive octopus, his long arms swirling and striking with precision and power.

Over the course of their 90-minute show, The Police covered most of their familiar bases, including their current No. 1 hit, 'Every Breath You Take', its spooky beauty shattering testimony to romantic obsession. Other highlights included 'Roxanne', 'Spirits in the Material World', 'Can't Stand Losing You', 'Don't Stand So Close', 'Invisible Sun', 'De do do do, De da da da', and 'King of Pain'.

The songs were expanded and bent with new energies without becoming self-consciously inflated. The three musicians laid down strong, bare bones and wrapped them with the flesh of their vision. The resulting body of work was pure, churning power, washes of sound that cleansed the soul and perked up the feet. What more could you want?

(c) The Washington Post by Richard Harrington