I've never been as offended as others have by Sting. His harshest critics bring up his perceived massive ego, his wank jazz leaning solo works, and the flogged horse that is the whole tantric sex thing. I choose to see him as songwriter/lead singer/bass player of the most successful trio of the rock era.
Coming on to the stage after an all too brief set by Elvis Costello and the Imposters (more on that later) Sting and his two bandmates who made up the Police — drummer Stewart Copeland and (66 year old!) guitarist Andy Summers — hit the ground running with "Message in a Bottle" replete with all the parts that make the Police whole: Summers dense guitar work, Copeland's hard-cracking snare beats, and the cod reggae keen of Sting.
It's the brilliance of the opening song that makes the rest of the show at times frustrating. At their best, the songs that made the Police the biggest band in the world in the early '80s were nervy and edgy, but in this concert setting, too much of the bite was taken out of the songs by long solos or jazzy sing-a-longs with the audience that rendered them dull at the edges.
A song like "I Can't Stand Losing You" off their debut Outlandos d'Amour is a twitching suicide note to a girl that dumped the author, yet Sting turned it from a dark single to a Harry Belafonte-esque call and response with 3 minutes of back and forth "ooh way ooh's" that did not fit the mood of the song.
On the Lolita inspired "Don't Stand So Close to Me" they chose to do the slower, dreamier, and insipid version from the greatest hits package, and not the much superior original. When they did play it straight on songs like "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," "Wrapped Around Your Finger," or "So Lonely" (arguably their best song), the results were reminders of what a great and wholly unique band the Police can be.
I was fully prepared to make a snarky comment about the true headliner being the opener in personal favorite Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Although he was able to pull songs from more albums in his brief 45 minute set than the Police released in their career (6 for Elvis, 5 for Sting, if you are just counting proper studio releases) it didn't really seem like the proper venue or spot on the bill that would be comfortable to Costello. Playing the part of warm-up for the main event, doesn't give Costello room to explore his vast canon, instead forcing him to rush out trifling fan favorites — yes, I'm talking to you "Everyday I Write the Book." I was embarrassed, and nearly driven to violence, when some yahoo in the back yelled out to Costello to "play 'Alison' or some of the old stuff."
Of course this jackass was late to his seat so he didn't hear the frenetic version of "Pump it Up" two songs in, and Costello did play "Alison," and in the first true highlight of the night was joined by none other than Sting for the 2nd verse. There were some good moments in Costello's set. An always searing "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" included a brief jaunt into the Who's "The Kids Are Alright" and enough can't be said about the pastiche's that the criminally-underrated Steve Naive Nieve creates with any keys he gets his hands on.
But having been to a dozen previous shows of Costello's and knowing the devotion that his fanbase has to the man's rich body of work, it was a little depressing to see the guy in the Jimmy Buffet shirt yelling song requests at the Costello.
I'm sure the cash he's making on this tour will help salve that wound though.