Providence, RI, US
Providence Civic Centerwith Re-Flex
Lack of Unity Slows Police...

Last night's cold, damp drizzle was in sharp contrast to the hot summer weather of last July when The Police played before 61,000 delirious fans at Foxborough Stadium.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't the only contrasting note to Sunday's return swing to New England. This time it was also the music, which from an

electrifying peak at the stadium fell to, at best, a pleasant, functional plateau at the Providence Civic Center.

The same intensity just wasn't there. Where the band had been on top of the world last summer with a No. 1 album and No. 1 single, they have since decided to break up for a year (to pursue individual projects) and that decision has apparently undermined their live performance.

Sunday's show was saddled with slow, ponderous moments and a disturbing lack of unity between singer Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland. Where they played like symbiotic teammates last July, they played this time like three strangers who will be glad to take some time off from each other.

Admittedly The Police have always been an erratic live band and perhaps this was just not one of their better nights, but that still didn't diminish the acute sense of anticlimax that was experienced.

The set was essentially the same as at the stadium and perhaps this was also part of the problem. The band has been touring for close to a year with this same program and fatigue was evident, leading Sting to ham it up more than usual, with especially sad results on the runaway hit 'Every Breath You Take', where he botched lines and totally missed the obsessive aura of the recorded version.

The Police, who followed an incredibly bland techno set by Re-Flex, finally came to life later on, starting with the majestic 'Invisible Sun' (a gripping song about Belfast), the chant-like 'One World' (involving the 13,000-capacity crowd in a euphoric singalong) and Sting's deeply personal 'King of Pain'. But it was just not enough to offset the disjointed ramblings of the earlygoing.

Dressed in trademark buccaneer togs with frilly red pants and a baggy yellow windbreaker, Sting filled the first half of the set with crowdbaiting hand and facial gestures, another contrast to the genuine, unselfconscious emotion he evinced at the stadium.

Compounding the artificiality was an absurd reliance on smoke bombs - using them in no less than four songs for cheap theatrical effects. One expects such tacky overkill from some arena acts, but not from The Police, who have always been above such trivia.

Undoubtedly the band was looking ahead to their solo pursuits (Summers to make another album with Robert Fripp, Sting to act the role of Pontius Pilate in ''The Last Temptation of Christ'' and Copeland to mull film score offers), but it's too bad they couldn't have left New England on a brighter note.

(c) The Boston Globe by Steve Morse