Zenyatta Mondatta

New York City, NY, US
Madison Square Gardenwith Sector 27, Jools Holland
The Police blow their cover...

Crowd warmup: (The Police's hit single, 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da'! A crash course in the science of songwriting!) Waddya mean, avant?

Intro: (Offbeat starts it. A two-bar sonic phrase, repeated; a two-bar dominant phrase, repeated: QQAA. Four times.) The avant-sneak - maybe the Beatles brought it to rock, slipping those fancy harmonies under the screams. That was fun, until musicians started to confuse ''arty'' and ''artful'', and songs got stretched way out of shape. The next bunch of avant-sneaks, like Paul Simon and Steely Dan, hid their tricks deeper inside simple forms. That was fun, until pop hacks latched onto ''sophistication''. This drove the next set of avant-sneaks - from Talking Heads to XTX to the Police - towards minimalism, as filtered down from punk, funk, and reggae along with LaMonte Young. Their mission: to hide hyper-simplicity behind seeming simplicity. And have some fun.

Verse, part one: (Four bars, four times, including an unchanging guitar lick in every bar; static harmony). The link between avants and popsters is repetition to clarify form and cue memory. The Police aren't the first to a combination, but with 'Zenyatta Mondatta' hitting the top 10 at Christmastime, followed by the quick sellout of Saturday's Madison Square Garden show, they may be the most successful. That's probably because they don't act avant. Onstage, they're speedy and clownish - bassist Sting and guitarist Andy Summers strut and bounce while drummer Stewart Copeland splinters an endless supply of sticks - and their hits are about being lonely and lovelorn, nothing obscure. They also swing like bad.

Verse, part two: (Four bars, twice, sub-dominant-dominant harmony pushes toward the tonic, but waits for the repetition.) To propel them through static harmonies, and on general principles, the Police use plenty of syncopation and nested rhythms; at this spot in 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', Summers's guitar pattern double and quadruple-times Sting's vocal. The Police may be the only power trio that knows how to second-line, an effect they can get with phrase patterns (as in 'Reggatta de Blanc's' 'Deathwish') that make Steve Reich sound hopelessly unfunky. Of course, the Police have different priorities: they're more interested in minimalism's stick-to-the-ears economy than in its trance-out potential.

Chorus: (Exactly the same as the intro, plus two-bar vocal phrases; the lyrics turn out to distrust ''eloquence'' as opposed to ''innocent... meaningless'' sounds.) Until 'Zenyatta Mondatta', the Police's lyrics were either their sneakiest move or the best they could do; most of them were about love and related teen ailments. 'Zenyatta Mondatta' just might blow their cover, though - it tries for significance. 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' (marvelous textbook minimalism, complete with augmentation a la Reich for the chorus vocal) is about a Lolita and her school teacher; 'Man In A Suitcase' carps about on-the-road depersonalisation; 'Driven To Tears' is a heartfelt reaction to seeing poverty first hand; 'Shadows In The Rain' makes the most of paranoia; 'When the World Is Running Down You Make The Best Of What's Still Around' chronicles a World War III survivor who'll while away the time watching 'The TAMI Show' and 'Deep Throat' on the VCR until his car battery conks out. Not a love song in the bunch (and surprisingly few in the Garden set), although 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' might be (mis)construed that way. The weightier subject matter doesn't quite work, though; 'Driven To Tears' comes down to the level of 'Man In A Suitcase', just one more complaint. They're right not to trust words - everything they have to say is in their music.

Second verse and chorus: (Exactly like the first except for the lyrics, which switch like the first except for the lyrics, which switch from personal to general). 'Zenyatta Mondatta's' music is more openly avant than earlier Police efforts. They're not hiding behind reggae - a perfect cover for repetition - as much, although they can't resist the occasional skank. Similarly, they've backed away from frenetic punk (too claustrophobic?) in favour of funk, and they've upped the dissonances (Summer's solo in 'Driven To Tears', and his fills in 'Shadows In The Rain') and overtly static passages ('Voices Inside My Head'). I'd guess that 'Zenyatta Mondatta's' breakthrough success in America is the result of times-release reaction to 'Reggatta de Blanc' but it may also have something to do with decreasing AOR resistance to ''reggae''. Apparently no one minds a little obvious academicism; Sting even wore his graduation gown onstage.

Bridge: (14 bars of crescendo, ending with four bars of subdominant-dominant repetition; the momentum of a guitar figure fudges through an implausible progression.) Most new wave bands, eager to display their hooks, rule out improvisation, but the Police force it on themselves. They overdub more parts on their albums than they can possibly play in concert, which means they have to run joyfully amok live. Sting's bass patterns still provide the skeletons of the songs, though he occasionally jabs a sustaining synthesizer (more static harmony), while Summers floats peculiar cloud-chords around the vocals; in 'Bring On The Night', Summers somehow changed the chord on every beat while fingerpicking single notes to accent the offbeats. The revelation is Copeland, who subdivides the beat like a loftlord unchecked. The songs are carefully, scientifically assembled so they can be torn apart every night - and the Police do it so well that they ought to make a live album.

Chorus (same as the first): Which is to say that this is a players' band.

Fade/stretch (same as verse, part one - i.e. static). Right now, too much of a players' band, a little too theoretical; they extend songs with minimal repetitions (new vocal lines) and dub-like instruments that lost the Garden audience. And when the Police get too musicianly, there'll be new avant-sneaks waiting.

(c) Voice by Jon Pareles (with thanks to Dietmar)

Police, Sector 27 at Madison Square Garden...

If pop success is measured by a sellout at Madison Square Garden, then the Police has definitely made it. It's Jan 10 show sold-out within four days, and with reduced ticket prices in effect, the audience got more than its money's worth.

The three-man band plays a spare reggae-tinged pop/rock with new wave energy. But structurally and harmonically the Police is conservative enough to appeal to AOR radio, enabling the mass rock audience to know its music and be able to sing along with the band's performance.

Though the Police did not play with the same intensity as it did more than a year ago when appearing at the Palladium here, the band made up for that by better exploiting the musicality of its compositions. And when that didn't work, the musicians won over the audience with sheer good will.

It was obvious that singer/bassist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland were thoroughly enjoying themselves playing to the large audience, Visual focus was Sting, who wearing black judicial robes, danced around his big standup bass.

With only three in the band, none of the musicians could give less than their all to the music. Especially effective was Summers, who's almost staccato bell-like playing forms the heart of the band's sound. Except once, briefly at the end, there were no extended guitar solos or featured riffs during Police's set.

Instead, for 90 minutes, there were great Police songs, ranging from the new 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' and 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' to the older 'Walking On The Moon', 'Man In A Suitcase', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', 'Message In a Bottle' and 'Roxanne'.

Sector 27, a four-man group led by Tom Robinson was admittedly nervous opening before such a large crowd, but the band's sheer musical ability won it some fans. Robinson propagandized social and political causes when he was a solo act, but with his new four-man band the politics have been turned down in favour of the music.

His new songs are commercially viable new wave with a keen intelligence behind them. While Robinson's singing and dancing during his 40-minute set seemed a bit stiff, such songs as 'Only A Matter Of Time', 'Bitterly Disappointed', 'Where Do We Go Tonight?' and 'Can't Keep Away', were endearing.

(c) Billboard by Roman Kozak

The Police sting the Big Apple...

This was a night of surprises, not the least of which was the smoke bomb some mental midget in the upper tiers lobbed in my lap when the house lights went down for the Police.

There was also ex-Squeeze keysman Jools Holland making an unannounced appearance as MC (''I'd like to thank Mr Madison for lending me his square garden'') and half time entertainment pounding out a few of his ''decompositions'' on piano.

And there was Sector 27 delivering probably the sorriest performance by an opening act to echo from the Garden rafters in many moons.

Robinson wasn't in particularly good voice, but the band was sorely lacking in stage presence. The interplay between Stevie B's crackling guitar and the Joe Burt/Derek Quinton rhythm section was lost in the acoustic expanse of the hall, and the crowd couldn't have cared less. The Kinks got a better reception when 'Lola' came blaring over the PA.

The biggest surprise of the evening was not that the Police (or ''those tall blond gods'' as Holland put it) sold out the Garden the first time in, or that they sold it out in three days, but that they pulled it off like pros. Even when they had to stop the show because Stewart Copeland's bass drum broke, Sting confidently broke into a little light banter and an impromptu version of 'The Yellow Rose Of Texas'.

''A real super-group would go off at this point,'' he cracked. ''We three arseholes just stand here.''

In America, the Police are a supergroup. There was a flash of green hair here, a pocket of black leather jacket there, but for the most part this was the same working/middle class rock crowd that came to see Kansas two years ago.

But while punk hard-liners and critics here now dismissed the Police as the latest crest of the homogenised new wave, the band simply put on an invigorating show of danceable rock'n'roll fun, nothing more and nothing less.

Sting has obviously been taking front man lessons from Bruce Springsteen and from a distance he did look something like a god, all golden blond hair, white shirt and pants, dark sun tan and grey robe - Sting of Arabia.

Copeland's hyperactive drumming had most of the crowd doing a kind of suburban skank by the show's end and Andy Summers' rippling guitar harmonics filled the arena with exotic overtones, keeping the band's bared three-piece sound from degenerating into a punk Grand Funk Railroad.

And it's hard to argue with songs like 'Message In A Bottle', 'Roxanne', and threadbare but catchy dub mantras like 'Driven To Tears' and 'The Bed's Too Big Without You'.

Chances are that the fans who first saw the Police at CBGB's two years ago didn't bother to make this show. Too bad. They missed out on a good one.

(c) Melody Maker by David Fricke

Rock: Police, English trio...

In America, the English rock trio known as the Police is generally categorized as ''new wave'', and although the term is concededly vague, in this case it is at least reasonably appropriate. Reggae rhythms, guitar playing that is orchestral rather than solooriented, loosely improvisational group interplay and non-Western influences define the Police's music and distinguish it from the older brands of rock that still command the loyalties of most American rock fans.

But the Police filled Madison Square Garden last Saturday night, and they didn't have to change their music to do it. They certainly know how to get the maximum effectiveness of catchy pop melodies, and they have cleverly parlayed their somewhat limited range of expression into a distinctive group personality; now that they have sold out the Garden and placed an album in the American top 10, some ''new wave'' partisans will probably insist that the Police were a commercial pop band all along. But that would be self-defeating.

The significance of the Police show at the Garden is that when ''new wave'' is essentially populist rather than elitist in its outlook, it can be as commercially viable as any other brand of rock. Sector 27, the English quartet led by Tom Robinson, combines soaring pop melodies with an instrumental approach that recalls the Police in its use of guitar and electronic modifiers. But the Police's guitarist, Andy Summers, has learned how to fill out the group's sound by deftly playing lead and rhythm parts at the same time, and he is aided by Stewart Copeland's inventively dense drumming and by the richness of Sting's bass sound. Sector 27 is effective in a club, but at the Garden, the band needed more fire power, or better amplification.

(c) The New York Times by Robert Palmer