Now, that's more like it.
Eleven months after blowing into Las Vegas for an early appearance on their reunion tour and limping out off a lackluster performance, The Police did their substantial legacy proud last Friday night. A crowd of 11,000 — far fewer than at last June's wildly hyped, wrap-behind-the-stage sellout of 15,000 — discovered that Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland spent the past year sharpening their sound and trimming fat from their set, to the point where the trio's comeback finally felt more musical triumph than money grab.
Of course, installing Elvis Costello as support act didn't hurt. Before the bespectacled 53-year-old and his Imposters had finished second song "Pump It Up," they'd already easily overshadowed 2007's nepotistic choice of openers, the forgettable Fiction Plane, fronted by Sting's son. Costello's no-frills show might be better suited for the intimate confines of the Joint than to MGM's arena, but the onetime pub rocker made the most of his 50-minute time slot, mixing seminal cuts ("Watching the Detectives," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding"), material from new album Momofuku, a retooled arrangement of well-worn classic "Everyday I Write the Book" and — to the delight of an otherwise fairly ambivalent audience — a duet with Sting on "Alison."
Mr. Sumner sounded strange on that number, as if he'd spent a lifetime aping Costello's version in the shower and couldn't shake loose, but once his Police took the stage, the gray-bearded bassist proved to be in robust, unmistakable voice, leading the band through opener "Bring on the Night," one of three new additions to the setlist since last June (the others were "Demolition Man" and "Hole in My Life"; excised were "Synchronicity II," "Spirits in the Material World," "Truth Hits Everybody," "The Bed's Too Big Without You" and "Walking in Your Footsteps"). After the next two tunes — a take-no-prisoners dash through "Message in a Bottle" and a straightforward reading of "Walking on the Moon" — it was clear the three musicians had come to a welcome realization after their initial batch of concert dates: Newfangled reinterpretations were not what fans waited 23 years and paid $75 to $250 to hear. An odd revamp of "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and a brief detour in "Roxanne" aside, the second installment wasn't about jazzy indulgences or reconfigured sequences. By and large, the crowd got what it wanted — the chance to sing along with the Brits' biggest hits the way they sounded in the late '70s and early '80s.
Not everything came off perfectly. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" begged for piano. The aforementioned "Don't Stand So Close to Me" begged to be euthanized once and for all. And the song selection begged for a bit more variation, particularly given Copeland's boasts at last year's pre-tour press conference about how he and his mates planned to mix it up nightly.
Still, if The Police's August show in Manhattan is to be, as they insist, their final time together, they'll go back into big-band nirvana with their reputation more or less intact. At least, in the eyes of those who braved a return engagement.
The bottom line: ****