Saw The Police in concert on Saturday night at the Usana Amphitheatre outside of Salt Lake City. I’ve been a fan since way back when, and I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see them live. I almost got a chance to see them in Vegas, but that fell through, so I wrote them off. And then, suddenly, SLC gets added to the itinerary, so Mrs. Cornell and I jumped at the chance.
The Usana Amphitheatre is an odd place to see a show. It’s out in the middle of friggin’ nowhere, in the dumpiest part of town next to a Frito Lay factory. (We passed a loading dock that said “Potato Deliveries Here.”) The stage faces west, so the performers end up staring into the sun until it goes down around 8:30 or so. Elvis Costello opened the show, and everyone on stage had to wear sunglasses. I think E.C. might have done so to look cool, but I’m not sure if everyone else was going for the same motif. Only the drummer was sunglasses free, and he was squinting the whole time. A huge high-def TV screen is mounted in the back of the stage, yet it did no good during the opening act – Elvis Costello and the Imposters – because the intense glare made it impossible to see it.
It didn’t matter, though, because the opening act was rather uninteresting.
I’ve always kind of respected Elvis Costello, but never enough to actually buy anything he’s recorded. So I caught snatches of songs I recognized, but he also performed several songs from his new album, which no one in the audience recognized, either. A huge arena is not the place to be introduced to music you don’t know. Elvis Costello sings more understandably than most, but the high volume and the thumping drums that you can feel in your chest as they come throbbing through the speakers make it hard to concentrate on the subtleties of the lyrics, of which you only catch every third word or so. He played for nigh unto an hour, but it felt like two, so we definitely got our money’s worth on the Costello front. And Sting came out unannounced and sang backup on “Allison,” even taking the lead on the second verse. That was fun. I kept thinking I could see members of The Police skirting around backstage, but it turned out to be bald, sweaty roadies.
Between acts, I went and took a leak and tried to buy some ice cream, and some rude chick came and cut in front of me with such sheer brazenness that I was too taken aback to cause a scene. Then, as I ran into the arena with a waffle cone filled with pineapple sherbet, The Police started with the unmistakable opening chords to “Message in a Bottle.” Great opener, great show.
One of the things about seeing The Police live is that they had no ancillary musicians or singers – it was just Sting on bass, Andy Summers on guitar, and Stewart Copeland on percussion. That worried me, as several of their songs have distinctive keyboard riffs, notably “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” and I thought I’d be disappointed in hearing the stripped down versions. In addition, just about every song has some harmony vocals, and I wasn’t sure if Andy and Stewart were up for it.
Turns out that neither of those things mattered. Everyone was singing along to every song, so you didn’t miss any harmonies – although Andy gamely tried to add a few vocals here and there. (To my knowledge, Copeland didn’t sing at all.) I missed the keyboard stuff on “Every Little Thing,” but not much. And Stewart Copeland had a massive percussion setup that added xylophonic licks on “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “King of Pain” that made both of those songs sound approximately like the studio recordings. Stewart was really, really amazing – he was flailing like a wild man, looking inches away from a heart attack the whole time. He was more than a drummer – he was an athlete. He was also in pretty good shape, my wife pointed out. She was too busy lusting after Sting, however, who was in even better shape. Andy Summers, not so much. Of course, Summers is ten years older than the other two, and he carries his age well. But when the high-def screen got close-ups on his age-spotted, wrinkled hands, you could see he was clearly eligible for Social Security.
They didn’t play a single song I didn’t recognize, although “Voices Inside My Head” and “Driven To Tears” make for lousy arena rockers. I also didn’t quite get why “Invisible Sun” featured a slide show of poor, starving children. I mean, I got it in the abstract, but it seemed like a pretty weak “statement.” I DID , however, get it when “Roxanne” featured a lot of red lights. Because, see, she doesn’t have to put on the red light, so The Police did it for her.
The only song I really missed that they didn’t play was “Synchronicity II,” which they apparently played earlier in the tour but have now replaced with “King of Pain,” which I would have missed if it hadn’t been included. Would have liked to have heard “Canary in a Coal Mine,” too, but that wasn’t on the set list, either.
Sting seemed to be having fun, if slightly bored. He made very little attempt to tell stories or explain his songs – his patter was all “Are you ready to rock, Salt Lake City?” type stuff, which was well-received, if uninspired. He also needlessly dropped the F-bomb a couple of times, which seemed wildly inappropriate. Of course, that kept the concert at a PG-13 level. One more F and you have a hard R on your hands.
Sting seemed tired every once in awhile, and he was vocally pretty lazy. He rarely hit the high notes and often sang the harmony line instead of the melody if it was lower and easier. He would often grimace if he fumbled a note on the bass, and I couldn’t decide if he was uninterested or just relaxing and having a good time. I eventually chose “just having a good time,” because then I had a good time. And it was a great time. Lots and lots of fun.
Yet the Police are spent. There was nothing in the tour to suggest that they anticipate being a going concern in the years to come. All the merchandise – including the T-shirt I bought, which makes me a way cool kid – had pictures and logos from 30 years ago. Stewart Copeland was wearing a Ghost in the Machine shirt, Sting was sporting a large police badge, and Andy Summers, for some inexplicable reason, was wearing a South Park guitar strap. These guys are done; this was just their way of saying goodbye. Thankfully, there was nothing sentimental or mawkish about it – it was just a fun night of nostalgia, with the assurance that everyone would soon be moving on.
Everyone except us, that is. We got back to the car and discovered we had had a flat tire. We changed it to the spare, which was even flatter than the original tire, and, thankfully, plenty of good Samaritans came out of the woodwork to help us, including one with an electric tire pump. It took forever for everyone to get out of the lot anyway. Several cars tried to mount a dirt hill in the corner to escape as onlookers cheered them on. (Only the four-wheel-drive models were successful.)
Are you ready to rock, Moist Blog?!!