The Police Live

From the late '70s through the early '80s, Police fans listened and learned as a trio comprising two crafty musicians and a restless former schoolteacher slowly began to rule the New Wave world. As the first disc of this rewarding and interesting post-breakup concert release indicates, it was an altogether different era. The music from this 1979 Orpheum club date, in Boston, snarls with manic dismissiveness. In those days even raw-minded rock outfits tried to construct songs that sounded new or at least different from the great, familiar sprawl of classic rock. Today's fond contentment with re-imagined Beatles and Zeppelin seemed unthinkable.

In Boston all the Police's wiry elements held forth: the choice of reggae as the conveyor of soulfulness; the jazz nostalgia that flavored Sting's Russian- and Eastern European-derived melodies; the emptied-out punk-guitar momentum carried off with near-total disregard for Chuck Berry or Boston (the group). The Police motor through songs as stunningly composed as "So Lonely," "Roxanne" and "Walking on the Moon." They also nail down brief riffs on tunes like "Bring on the Night" and "Message in a Bottle," turning them into expansive music unconcerned about anybody's rules.

By 1983, the Police had graduated from buses to limos, from the coziness of university evenings to the massive auras of Sun Belt stadiums. In Atlanta, on Disc 2, you get the fluent, cheesy synths, the spiraling and taut arrangements, the highend background singers, Andy Summers' majestically hair-sprayed guitar solos and all the rest. With confident élan, the band sails through career gems like "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" and "Don't Stand So Close to Me," as well as the anguished Synchronicity grooves. In Boston, the Police made bracing music because they bristled at the constraints of punk; in Atlanta they were taking on the limitations of pop itself.