It is easy to see why they don't want to go off-duty. The Police are clearly having a ball.
Friday night, the long-running caravan that is the Police reunion tour finally made it to Milwaukee and the Marcus Amphitheater. Reviving long-dead rock titans is always a risky undertaking — anybody remember the frosty enterprise known as the 2003 Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour? That one had all the warmth of a child custody hearing.
But even after many months on the road together, Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers still appear to be having a blast. They are knocking themselves out and loving it.
Two songs into their set, Sting was already starting to sweat through his pullover. I've seen Sting often as a solo act, and I've never seen him as relaxed and engaging as he was Friday night. Although they've both gone gray and lined, Sting and Copeland appear remarkably fit. Sometimes their energy and force of personality make it easy to overlook Summers, but then he'll rip off a stunning solo, as he did on "Can't Stand Losing You," and his importance in the trio is reaffirmed.
Of course, good chemistry will only take you so far if the music can't hold a crowd. Fortunately, in their rather brief history, The Police assembled a memorable and remarkably diverse array of hits, and most of them made the cut Friday. They may have started out as a punk band with a gift for reggae rhythms, but the songwriting and the musicianship go well beyond that, embracing the best of pop and rock seasoned with jazz and world beat elements.
Themes, tempos and perspectives vary wildly. There, is for instance, the high-velocity swagger of "Demolition Man," the jubilant nonsense of "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," the taboo eroticism of "Don't Stand So Close to Me," the collective alienation of "Message in a Bottle," the tiki bar percussion of "Wrapped Around Your Finger" and the playful romanticism of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic."
They saved the best for the next-to-last encore. "Every Breath You Take" has what Greil Marcus once called the power of the "unstoppable hit." Has romantic obsession and twisted devotion ever sounded more tuneful? The best friend any band can have is a set list packed with crowd favorites, and in that department, The Police are loaded.
They are also keeping very good company. Elvis Costello and the Imposters opened.
Costello went on a few minutes early, but the more punctual members of the crowd were rewarded with perhaps one of the most intense sets Costello has ever delivered before a Milwaukee audience. He came out fast and hard, throwing knockout shots from the floor with an aggressive one-two of "Stella Hurt" and "Pump It Up." Subsequent high points included the lilting Motown soul of "Flutter and Wow" and "Alison," done as a sort of preview duet with Sting.
Costello also has himself a drummer who can thump like Sonny Liston. If you like your drummers loud and primal (which I do), Pete Thomas may be the best since Kenny Aronoff.