By Jim Cryns
You can identify the number of 80s bands that can currently sell out a major venue on one hand. The Rolling Stones and The Police are among first that come to mind.
The Police are and always have been a hard-hitting band with more power than three men should be able to provide. Together, they flex musical muscles greater than ensembles with twice the members.
On a steamy summer night on the shores of Lake Michigan, Sting seemed genuinely happy to be in Milwaukee. On previous tours decades (or lifetimes) ago, he appeared to have a huge chip on his shoulder and an Elvis sneer, all part of his bad-boy image. As the band released Ghost in the Machine in 1981, Sting appeared to rage against the machine as well. Last Friday he was more avuncular and seemingly approachable. And some thirty years after the band first roared onto the U.S. music scene, Sting’s voice miraculously hasn’t lost a step.
From the opening tune, Sting was into the gig, smiling, smirking, making eye contact with the front row. He was also sweating up a storm in his black pullover, black jeans and black combat boots. He grooved and swaggered with his well-worn bass flailing in his arms, sporting a rugged beard. Andy Summers sported what can only be described as a cross between Seinfeld’s puffy shirt and Jimmy Buffet Parrot-Head blouse. Stewart Copeland was just plain cool in a Police jersey and head band.
The band was tight both musically and in physical proximity, as if to give the impression (maybe to the guys themselves?) that the show was happening in a much more intimate venue. Copeland’s drum kit was quite close to the edge of the stage. Sting and Summers were right on the flanks of Copeland, rarely straying from their microphones. The Police didn’t need to jump around to entertain the crowd, their huge catalog of songs strutted ably on its own. While the production values were as impressive as one would expect, they were used to good effect rather than to upstage the music itself.
Like all good maestros of rock and roll reunion tours, Sting cajoled the crowd to sing along, and Milwaukee didn’t disappoint. The band was playful, perhaps a bit mischievous, like kids who were into the thrill of performing together – belying, at least on stage, the rampant rumors of backstage rivalries and the resurrection of decades-old bad feelings that have followed this tour. Many couples who cut their teeth on Regatta de Blanc brought their own kids this time ‘round, from five-year-olds to teenagers. And while most of the music might, in time, escape the kids’ memory and interest, they will always be able to tell their friends they saw the Police and Elvis Costello on one bill, back in the day. And very likely, that’ll always be worth something. VS