It wasn’t more than two songs into the Vancouver B.C. debut of the Police reunion tour, that Sting felt comfortable enough with his old bandmates to make a joke. “We haven’t played together in twenty-five years,” he laughed, “and I want to introduce the band.” Of course, no introduction was necessary for the most anticipated rock tour of the summer, one that reunites Sting, guitarist Andy Summers, and drummer Stewart Copeland. “Andy,” Sting said, smiling at the 64-year-old Summers, “meet Stewart.” Unlike the Police’s last tour, in 1983, where inter-band tensions abounded, this quip brought smiles from all.
They hadn’t played a full official Police concert since the Synchronicity tour, if you exclude their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, but from their opening ramped-up “Message in the Bottle” one might have imagined they never broke up. Perhaps to befit the reunion, Sting wore an ancient holey white t-shirt that he must have had since the eighties — all the better to show off his yoga-toned abs. Copeland wore a headband, while Summers was dressed in the slacks and shirts of a professional jazz musician.
And if professional musicianship was always the hallmark that made the Police a success, it was again evident as they gave new life to well-known hits, removing the reggae-lilt of “Roxanne,” and replacing it with a slowed jazzier tempo. That they felt comfortable enough to re-imagine a well-known catalog shows the confidence of seasoned veterans. While it wasn’t exactly “the Police unplugged,” the frantic punk edge of early hits like “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” was swapped for more room for Copeland’s improvisations, and Summers tasty Wes Montgomery-style guitar solos. The extended songs also gave Sting space to widen the choruses, and he turned “Roxanne” into a call-and-response with the audience that could have come straight from the Van Morrison repertoire. Sting sang “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” as if he meant it, despite the fact that his wife was obvious in the middle of the eighth row.
Most successful of all the reinterpretations was the re-imagining of “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” turned into the kind of haunted and plaintive ballad that Sting’s solo catalog is known for. The show only included hits from the Police cannon, skipping solo or new material, though the night felt more celebratory than nostalgic. The Police were always a populist band, which was exactly why fans, including Eddie Vedder and Penelope Cruz, had so coveted tickets for this tour debut. Some of the tension that propelled early Police tours — when the band was imploding internally and Copeland was writing swear words on his drums — was missing in a set that was both generous and predictable. Still, when the Police encored with “King of Pain,” “Every Breath You Take,” and a finale of “Next to You,” these familiar but resurrected hits were delivered with the kind of conviction that originally made the Police the sincere rock band you could love without guilt.