So a third time's the real charm, eh?
That's not entirely a fair comment, actually — or even accurate. First off, Tuesday night's first of two sold-out shows from the Police at the Hollywood Bowl — billed as the reunited Hall of Famers' last Southern California appearances before hanging up their handcuffs for good — is actually the fourth local stop since last summer's clutch of much-discussed dates not long after the group's mega-grossing first tour in almost a quarter-century began.
Secondly, the trio, though hit-and-miss just out of the starting blocks at Staples Center last June, greatly pulled it together for its Dodger Stadium gig days later, the enthusiasm of the massive audience (and perhaps the fear of being outdone by Foo Fighters) propelling Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland to pull off the sort of remarkable performance that should live long in fans' memories. So it can't be said that this once-unthinkable revival hasn't already matched overhyped anticipation.
Yet, while that may have been a more convincing instance of new-millennium Police mania, this overall calmer Bowl bash, bolstered by a superb opening turn from fellow legend Elvis Costello and his band the Imposters, clearly stands out as the most accomplished performance of those I've taken in.
Consummate pros, the Police are nonetheless also such clashing musical personalities that it's hardly surprising it would take this long for their idiosyncratic styles to once again mesh complementarily. Now, as this North American leg wraps up, their new arrangements seem like a natural outgrowth of old friends embracing fresh wrinkles on old favorites, rather than a means to mask the unavoidable loss of speed and agility of attack that comes from rockers past 50 (or 60, in Summers' case).
Not that everything was flat-out perfect, or completely desirable. New opener "Bring on the Night," like the poorly plodding take on "Don't Stand So Close to Me" that has been a low point in the set all along, suffers from sounding more like a Sting solo redo than a true marshaling of the Police's forces. (Granted, though he's rarely sung his staples so robustly in the past two decades, the now-bearded icon surely can't hit the top notes in that tune's despairing chorus anyway.)
Plus, it's hard not to wish more about the set list had changed. Only two other titles were rotated in, a hearty "Hole in My Life" and a roaring (if never exactly ripping) run through "Demolition Man," the screens framing the band awash in swirling "Ghost in the Machine" cover imagery. (On the whole, I found the visual aspect vastly superior here, amid the Bowl's glowing shell, than at either earlier stop.) With tympani enhancing its choruses, "Wrapped Around Your Finger," previously aired during this outing, was used as a percussive Copeland showcase, rather than "Walking in Your Footsteps." Otherwise, there wasn't much we hadn't encountered already; even the encore, stretching from "Roxanne" to "Next to You," was unaltered.
What had further improved, however, were the Police themselves. Stretching out even more on "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around," dynamically wending their way through "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" until the finish hit with fierce force, bringing back the might and abandon of yore on terrific versions of "Walking on the Moon" and "Can't Stand Losing You" — if they're incapable of fully summoning their younger selves, they're at least seasoned enough to fake it most of the time now. Summers, in particular, was often on fire this night, his solos, notably in the close of "So Lonely," uncommonly lyrical.
This being the last hurrah — and with only a 70-minute main set at that — it's hard to keep from thinking about how much other Police music has been left to gather more dust, starting with the non-hits from "Ghost in the Machine." That aside, it's also inarguable that this landmark trio has served its legacy well, wowing audiences merely with its presence but shutting up cynics by routinely heightening the energy level of its performances — and still adding the sort of nuances to its groundbreaking stew of rock and reggae that could only come with time.
A shame to think we may never hear anything more from them, especially now, as they go out peaking. They'll be missed — again.
Costello was also in fantastic form — this may only have been a warm-up sampler, shared between obvious classics ("Pump It Up," "Radio Radio," "Watching the Detectives") and strongly executed selections from his new album Momofuku, but few other performances he's given in the past 20 years were nearly as powerful. (And who would've guessed a soulful "Everyday I Write the Book" would be a highlight?)
The set's brevity meant this one didn't stand a chance at measuring up to, say, his last Wiltern show, behind The Delivery Man. But I'd rank this abbreviated turn with the Imposters higher than any of the times I saw him during his final Attractions outings of the '90s. For starters, the pacing of his vocals hasn't been so sharp in years, never once finding him lagging out-of-breath behind the beat during the relentless torrent of words from his most famous hits.
Plus, when he dipped (as always) into "Alison," something I would have figured unthinkable happened: Sting emerged to handle the second set of verses, harmonize on the choruses and test the mettle of his wail for a rousing finish. Turns out it's been a regular occurrence since these two legendary acts teamed up for this tour, and though I don't know why I got it in my head that Costello took a dim view of Mr. Sumner (that song from Mighty Like a Rose might have had something to do with it), it was both exciting and unnerving to see such an odd couple share a microphone.