July 29, 2008

Police Come Back to the ‘Burgh

By Regis Behe, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 29--Before last night's concert at the Post-Gazette Pavilion in Burgettstown, it had been 25 years since the Police performed in Western Pennsylvania.

That show, at the Civic Arena, was just before the band parted ways in 1984. Enough time for nostalgia to soak in, for the songs to be passed on to successive generations.

But unlike Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen, the Police's audience -- at least at yesterday's show -- seems to be the folks who bought "Zenyatta Mondatta" and "Ghost in the Machine" on vinyl. Most of the crowd seemed to be on the plus side of 40.

The kids don't know what they're missing.

The show featured all the songs a die-hard fan could want, starting with the rousing "Message in a Bottle." But these were not note-for-note renditions. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland are more than mere rockers; each of them has the chops to stretch out the music, re-invent it inside out, as if they were disciples of Miles Davis.

Thus, "Hole in my Life,""Driven to Tears" and "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" (which benefited from Summers' wonderfully understated guitar intro) had different textures than the originals.

For the most part, the experiments worked, save for a strange, dissonant interlude that interrupted the flow of "Roxanne."

Most brilliant was Copeland's tour de force performance in "Wrapped Around my Finger," the evening's finest moment. Using an array of cymbals, kettle drums, chimes and other percussive elements, he elevated the song -- which is ordinary by Police standards -- into one of those unforgettable moments that lingers long after the final notes.

If Copeland seems to be the most passionate about the music itself, Summers is the band's artisan, adding shades of color to "Driven to Tears" or just playing the guitar hero in "Demolition Man." Broad strokes or miniatures, he provided the perfect complement to each song.

That leaves Sting, the uber-front man, charismatic, genial, still looking like he just strolled off Mt. Olympus at 56, especially with a Zeus-like beard. And that voice! He sounds as if the years have had no effect on him, even though stretching out the vocals on "Walking on the Moon" seemed a bit of braggadocio.

Still, you give the great ones an indulgence or two.

Elvis Costello opened the evening with a typically fiery set that included his gems "Pump it Up" and "(What's so Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," some very good songs from the new album "Momofuku" (especially "Stella Hurt") and his touchstone "Alison," during which Sting came out, sang the second verse and stole Costello's thunder.


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