Zenyatta Mondatta

Winnipeg, MB, CA
Winnipeg Arenawith XTC
The Police give rock a spiritual rebirth...

The Police are to most other rock bands what the real thing is to fool's gold.

About 6,000 fans who hollered themselves hoarse and demanded two encores would probably agree.

Technical snags got the show off to an ill-omened start. Front act XTC began 50 minutes behind schedule and played for one hour despite some of the sourest acoustics I've ever heard.

There was a 45-minute intermission, and although most of the audience suffered patiently, tempers heated up and a short-lived fight broke out. The Police didn't get on until 10:45pm, but when the band opened with its current hit, 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', the annoying delay dissipated like a puff of smoke in a wind tunnel. Although some Police songs were standouts, there wasn't a loser in the bunch. This is a band that can do a show without a low point and that can pull it off without resorting to any of the usual fluff and gimmickry most acts lean on.

Lead singer/bassist Sting (aka Gordon Sumner) and guitarist Andy Summers didn't need prefab choreography to juice, things up. When they did shiver and shake, the moves seemed to well up from the music itself. The three players in The Police spin off more energy just standing still than most performers can contrive with visual sleight of hand.

Call it bleached reggae, call it new wave, call it what you will, The Police are doing the real thing, and it feels like a spiritual rebirth of rock 'n' roll.

About the only window dressing the band used was glaring house lights set up on stage. Every now and then, the audience was bathed in light, like a massive electronic hello. Whenever this happened, the crowd burst into cheers, seeming to applaud itself as well as the band.

The Police music is uniquely structured around the bass as much as the drums and lead guitar. If anything, bass lines predominate and the tug-of-war between the three instruments gives the trio's songs their deliciously excruciating tension. Sometimes the bass takes over, only to be shadowed by intricate and often unpredicted drum moves. Then, when you least expect it, the guitar needles through with a short, stabbing lead line. Instruments clash, then come together. The drums hover, poised, leaving the listener hanging. For the space of a quick breath, the beat seems to lag. Then it catches up and overtakes bass and guitar. There's a razor-quick resolution, then the tough yet elegant arrangement picks up its contest of wills once again.

Somehow, this neo-reggae staccato sounds powerfully driving, even smooth. What it drives is Sting's compelling metallic voice, which hovers over the instrumentals like a cry from the depths of the night. And there's no escape from the fact that Sting is who you look at when you watch The Police. He alternates between stand-up and shoulder-strap bass, and it seems that, his smallest move is enough to squeeze screams out of the audience's more volatile young nubiles.

Sting's voice never really changes tone, but he is able to portray just about any emotion that can be socked into an up-tempo rocker. He pleads, whines and demands like a heartsore 14-year old on Roxanne, and lusts like veteran Mick Jagger on 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da', although he takes a pass on Jagger's cool, jaded leering.

He's strident and boastfully complaining on 'Man In A Suitcase', and he's almost giddy and hallucinogenic on 'Message In A Bottle'. And despite the fact that phasing and layered production gives the new Police album, 'Zenyatta Mondatta', a slicker and sometimes annoyingly more sophisticated flavour than the band's previous efforts, the new material sounded as raw in person as songs from the first two LP's, 'Outlandos d'Amour' and 'Reggatta de Blanc'.

The Police was like a primal pulse and cosmic thigh-rub from beginning to end. The band didn't flatter, yell or wheedle 'the audience into responding, and for that reason the crowd seemed spontaneous and sincere when it leapt to its feet during songs, when it interrupted solos with applause, when thousands of hands stretched over thousands of heads to clap along with the music.

The only times Sting asked for help were during 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You', when he invited fans to sing along. Both times, the audience gave the man what he wanted. If The Police heated up like a slowburning volcano, front band XTC glowed intermittently.

It seemed like the sound check was being run while XTC played, and during all but three of the songs the band came off like over-the-hill Beach Boys singing Elvis Costello off-key. Token attempts to fob off some 1968- style psychedelia on a movie screen backdrop failed to redeem XTC's ailing anti-music wheeze.

But XTC kept at it through 15 songs, and finally picked things up with its current single, 'Generals and Majors', and its only North American hit, 'Making Plans For Nigel'. Both songs depart from the band's usual post-industrial noise and together these tunes fuelled an encore.

(c) The Winnipeg Free Press by Glen Gore-Smith