By Mark Guarino
With his rock star credentials flashed everywhere in the world, Sting made a serious cultural gaffe when he addressed a North Side crowd, at Wrigley Field of all places, with a story of when the Police last played Comiskey Park.
The crowd booed. Sting recovered: “Sorry,” he said. “But we are back.”
It was one of just a few stumbling blocks at the Chicago stop on what is the year’s most highly anticipated and highly priced reunion tour. One of the few holdouts on the reunion circuit these past few years, The Police finally agreed late last year to hit the road, resulting in a world tour promising band standards and — if they could pull it off — band camaraderie as well.
For veterans best known for their onstage and offstage contention, the power trio appeared very agreeable, if not a little humdrum, Thursday, the first of two consecutive sold-out shows at the North Side ballpark. The 100-minute, 20-song show mainly featured songs that have since become standards, covered by everyone from rappers to country stars to reggae bands. On lesser-known songs, the trio demonstrated an unexpected interest in jamming, taking the songs where they hadn’t been before.
Thursday’s greatest revelation was the presence of Sting as a side player and not the star he became once the Police broke up in 1984. He made a point of making sure his fellow players — drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers— owned the stage too. For these moments, Sting, still one of music’s most compelling singers, left his star position and huddled with Summers just feet from Copeland’s kit. Together they taunted each other and enabled some of the show’s more thrilling moments.
The Police reinvented itself as a jam band. On “Voices Inside My Head,” Summers took the lead, pushing the song’s spacious funk grooves into double time. For “Demolition Man,” he played on and off the beat playing terse, jazzy solos, later diving into minor key excursions for “Invisible Sun.”
Copeland took refuge in a platform of percussion instruments that could fill a neighborhood drum shop. For songs from the Police’s latter era (“King of Pain,” “Walking in Your Footsteps”), he bounced between providing exotic textures on kettle drums, vibes and tiny arm of cymbals, and jumping back to his drumkit to keep time. Yes, there was a gong and it was used, but unlike everything else played, it was mostly for show.
The show veered from routine but hit many sudden peaks that made them sound like a vital band, renewed. Requisite renditions of “Everything She Does Is Magic” and “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” (for some puzzling reason, the band chose to play the sluggish version from 1986) took little risks. The 10-minute jam of “Roxanne” was unnecessary; rare has a song with so little to offer been forced to give so much.
What made this reunion crackle was when their familiarity with the songs fell by the wayside and all three players found the spark that put them together in the first place. It came during “So Lonely,” a song dating from their first album. The band turned to each other for inspiration, Sting resting his head on Summers’ shoulder as the guitarist released strong solos that stretched across Copeland’s continually tumbling rhythms. For fun, Sting later namechecked his mates in his lyrics, but the connection was evident from the start.