Police State

It was an event most of us thought we'd never see: The three original members of the Police, whose partnership was famously rocky even when their careers revolved around it, had kept their reunion tour together long enough for a second leg trailing from Madison Square Garden to closing night in San Antonio. Was this a put-on? Would the lead singer Sting Things Up, turning the trailblazing trio into just another vehicle for the middle-of-the-road music he makes these days?

Well, maybe just a bit. Fans who recall Sting's famous boasts about how yoga allowed him to have round-the-clock sex surely noted the endless "yoooooooooour house" in "Walking on the Moon" — what was that, tantric circular breathing?

More puzzling than how Sting did that was why. Too often during the concert, songs famous for their spare arrangements or tight execution were gummed up with flourishes that added nothing. In some cases, as when Sting repeatedly chose to conserve his voice by making a verse's high notes low, changes were understandable, but others left listeners to wonder if the musicians really understood what made their early collaborations so special.

Sure, it was fun to watch eternal dork Stewart Copeland fiddle around with the elaborate array of chimes and cymbals that rose from the floor for "Wrapped Around Your Finger." But the song sounded better halfway through, when he ditched the cute stuff and sat back down at the drums.

Yes, Andy Summers can still produce "Roxanne"'s jagged signature sound — but where the hell was he coming from on solos like the left-fielder during the otherwise great encore number "So Lonely"?

"Invisible Sun" was lethargic instead of brooding, and an emasculated "Don't Stand So Close to Me" sounded less like the original song than the dumb version they re-recorded to convince fans to buy a 1986 greatest hits comp. (And let's try to forget the embarrassingly pandering way Sting mugged for the front row on the line "you know how bad girls get.")

Happily for diehard fans, the tweaks came more often during big hits than on songs MTV never beat into the ground. For brief but thrilling moments — during passages of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" or "Can't Stand Losing You," for instance — we saw the band we adored in the early '80s, back when the Police were more likely to flame out from their own internal friction than fade into a complacent haze.

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