The 2007 Grammy Awards began with 10 simple words: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Police, and we’re back.” With that, the Police launched into a four-minute rendition of “Roxanne” as millions of people around the world looked on. Two days later they held a press conference in Los Angeles to announce their reunion tour. Over a period of 15 months, they played 152 shows and grossed over $300 million, and that’s not even counting the money they pulled in from merchandising and sponsorship deals.
The Police broke up in 1984, at the absolute peak of their popularity. They reformed for a handful of Amnesty International shows in 1986, Sting’s wedding in 1992 and their 2003 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but resisted all offers to tour. More specifically, Sting resisted those offers. Drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers were extremely interested, and as the years ticked by they grew increasingly frustrated. In 2005, they played “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle” with Incubus at a Los Angeles show.
“Andy and I have been trying for years to think of a way of playing Police songs together that doesn’t stink to high heaven,” Copeland told Billboard at the time. “We like the songs, and we like playing together, but Sting don’t wanna. Of course, we can’t be called the Police unless it includes Sting, so what can we do?”
Thankfully, Copeland and Summers resisted the urge to launch some sort of crazy Sting-free Police. Just two years later, they got the surprise of a lifetime when Sting proposed a reunion tour. Sting claims the idea came to him spontaneously when he woke up one morning. “If you’d asked me a week before I made this decision,” he told Rolling Stone in 2007, “I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. I’m not doing that.’ What clinched it was thinking, ‘What would surprise people? What would surprise me?’ Surprise is everything. It certainly surprised the guys.”
Not to doubt the honesty of Sting, but the truth is almost certainly a little more complicated than that. The demand for a Police reunion had been growing for years. Sting wasn’t exactly scoring radio hits or filling arenas by 2007. The potential to ensure his great-great grandchildren would be filthy rich was probably difficult to ignore. Andy Summers was 65 in 2007. It was impossible to know if he’d be able to endure a massive tour in another few years. It was time.
Whatever actually inspired Sting to relent and reform the Police, the tour was a smashing success. They didn’t play anything resembling a new song during the entire run and tickets weren’t cheap, but few people cared. They tore through all their hits night after night, kicking things off with “Message in a Bottle” and ending two hours later with “Next to You.” They were even joined onstage one night in Paris by original Police guitarist Henry Padovani. He was in the group for about seven months in 1977, and had to watch them become the world’s biggest band from the sidelines. He’s been a very good sport about the whole thing, though.
The tour wrapped at Madison Square Garden on August 7th, 2008. The band honored great trios of the past by opening with Cream‘s “Sunshine of Your Love” and later breaking out “Purple Haze” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Before the final encore, a group of women shaved Sting’s beard backstage. When the song wrapped, they took a group bow, hugged and an actual fat lady sang. Onscreen, Porky Pig said, “That’s all, folks.”
The stuttering cartoon pig was correct. They haven’t played together since, and odds are high they never will again.