They fought like brothers. Berated, scoffed, mocked, tormented and burned each other until the levee broke. Reading Andy Summer's One Train Later, the lesson is clear: fame destroys even the deepest of bonds between members of a band and leaves them unable to make music together peacefully for twenty five years. It just happens. I'd say that success and fame are the worst things that can happen to any band.
You can get different accounts as to the why they called it quits. Stewart Copeland was interviewed:
Q:Well, it wasn't acrimony that broke up the band?
Copeland: There was a lot of acrimony when we were in the band together, but it never came close to breaking up the group. The reason we broke up was to escape from the golden cage. Because there's all kinds of things we wanted to do and we were in a very good place in our interpersonal relations that, at that time, we decided to take a break, have a hiatus, take a sabbatical.
Sabbatical? Hell, they couldn't even play Sting's wedding without problems. All that aside, we went to see the boys in Charlotte on November 15th at the Bobcats Arena.
In short, it was a great show. The night before, Sting had the flu and had to cancel the Philly show, so we were dreading the possible news of a cancellation. It wasn't like we could call down to the front desk of the hotel and say, "Er...we need to get a refund because the whole reason we came is now gone. Hope you don't mind. Thanks."
We skipped the opening band (which included Sting's son) by being fashionably late and then joined the throbbing mob at the Enormo-Dome. That whole mass herd movement is a little disconcerting to me. Rude people rushing by you at every step, as if a concert means all rules of civility are off, with goofs bumping into you without a word of acknowledgement. If that's big city living, then I am glad to live in Podunkville. Glad to visit, but don't count on me living there. Ok, back to the story, mates.
Once we navigated the long haul down to our seats, soon the Police took the stage without any hoopla. Besides photos displayed during Invisible Sun, the whole show was minimal in terms of lighting or visual effects. The show was the musicianship and that's alright with me.
Sting, who had to cancel Philly the night before due to the flu, was in great voice. Being a huge fan and having heard him sing on numerous occasions (Live Earth being an example), I can testify to the often imperfect delivery of pitches and breaking of notes. The fifty-five year old sounded absolutely solid. It was clear that he reserved his upper register at times; often improvising new melodies to the songs. On Roxanne, during the extended jam, he did a bit of scat singing. It was really well done. The crowd shouted out their appreciation.
His bass playing was a little hard to hear because of a murky mix, but Sting's jazz roots were very clear during the freer sections. Sting is no virtuoso. You won't hear some amazing Victor Wooten fret gymnastics, but he is a master of tasteful lines, great harmonic invention and solid playing.
Most importantly, he was having a good time. Cynics among us could say the $131 million in gross from the tour so far could make any jaded performer Mr. Smiley Face, but sincerity onstage is impossible to fake. Mr. Sumner frequently encouraged the crowd to sing along, often dropping out in really unexpected places. And, my Lawd, he even dropped the F Bomb once. I laughed hard at that one. The cat was in the moment, for sure.
On the other hand, Andy Summers looked disconnected from the proceedings and more interested in his guitar than being the center of attention. The red Strat he used was a bit shallow sounding during the solos and it wasn't until he brought out the famous hybrid Telecaster that the identifiable Police sound came to life. While I have never thought of him as a virtuoso player, his parts were always executed flawlessly and his solos were not in a hurry and had nothing to prove. At times, the guitar (gulp!) was too loud. I could feel what tender cells I had left in my ears being burned away by the high frequencies. Alas, thus ist der the rock und roll.
Stewart Copeland's onstage affect is one of mental illness. He stares off into some distant point with this sort of stunned look. His playing, my friends, is another matter altogether. Simply top notch. Energetic like a twenty-something, grooving like a steam train, taking the beat to new places and then, after throwing the auxiliary percussion beaters over his head, jumps down into the kit seat and hammers the rock groove, instantly locking it into place. Perfect! Copeland undoubtly is the best technician of the group and could easily slide into Chick Corea's band without a hitch. He was a mad man and sheer joy to watch.
With musical magic, always comes friction. It's the quid pro quo of music making. It's easy to see now why these guys were so sucessful, but also how their three distinct personalities were destined to tear apart The Police machinery.
Glad to see them back together and not getting into fistfights.
At least, not on stage.