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STILL A POWERFUL FORCE

The Police
PNC Bank Arts Center -- Holmdel, NJ
Aug. 3, 2008

Sting.jpg

For the fourth-to-last show of The Police's lengthy reunion tour, 56-year-old Sting (above) looked his usual sculpted self in a skin-tight, long-sleeved shirt, but also sported a scruffy, gray-speckled beard that showed he is a long way from his days as a pinup and movie star.

This image could be seen as a metaphor for the band's compelling and often sizzling 100-minute performance: Nearly a quarter century after calling it quits, the trio proved to be quite muscular, powerful and relatively fit, but there was no masking the concessions age inevitably has taken on the group, especially one with such a physically demanding repertoire.

"Are you ready to sing tonight?" Sting asked the audience after the opening song, a booming and faithfully rendered "Message in a Bottle," which began with Andy Summers' guitar loudly ringing through the stately amphitheater. The overflow crowd was indeed up to the task of singing along, but the real question should have been whether the fans were ready to do so in a much lower key than some of The Police's best-known cuts were recorded in.

Sting was in remarkably sturdy voice, stretching out words and engaging in incessant "oh-yee-oh-oh" shout-outs, but he did not dare approach his high notes of old, particularly on the chorus to "Don't Stand So Close to Me." Still, that flat number was the only track that seemed to suffer in part due to the singer/bassist's now somewhat limited vocal range (there also was a conspicuously missing middle-eight part). The bulk of the performance found Sting, 65-year-old Summers and tireless drummer Stewart Copeland, 56, deftly and impressively churning out a wisely paced set that drove home reasons why The Police were arguably the world's biggest band before dissolving in the mid-1980s: the sharp power-trio chops ("Demolition Man," "Driven to Tears"), reggae-rock meldings ("Hole in My Life" and a re-worked "Roxanne") and even world music leanings, most evident on a slowed-down "Wrapped Around Your Finger," one of several songs that saw Copeland fully utilize the array of instruments enveloping him: a considerable rack of toms, plus chimes, tympanis and even a gong.

Also on "Wrapped Around Your Finger," Sting, long painted as one of rock's ultra-serious frontmen, was seemingly holding back a smirk as he delivered fairly ponderous lyrics like, "Mephistopholes is not your name." It was a welcome light moment, and perhaps another indicator of why the show, and this tour (which ends Aug. 7 in New York), came off so well: It wasn't perfect (it ended on a hiccup with "Next to You," so plodding that it lost its original punkish spark), but it was overwhelmingly impressive, frequently thrilling and, most of all, undeniably fun.

Openers Elvis Costello and the Imposters set the energetic tone even before playing a note. Electric guitar in hand, Costello led his three bandmates out from stage-left a good six minutes before their scheduled start time, let out a hearty "How ya' doin?" to the still-arriving crowd and charged into "Stella Hurt," one of several selections from his solid new disc, Momofuku.

In and around his convincing recent material, Costello delivered reminders that he, like The Police, was once a pretty big star and a darling of MTV in his own right, such as "Every Day I Write The Book" and the chugging set closer "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding."

Sting surprised the crowd by joining the 53-year-old Costello, and even taking the second verse, on a rousing version of the classic ballad "Alison," drawing roars from the audience and providing a fitting snapshot for the night: A 31-year-old song was being belted out by musicians nearly twice its age, and nobody in the building seemed one bit weary of hearing it.

-- By George Henn

THE POLICE'S AUG. 3 SET LIST

"Message in a Bottle"
"Walking on the Moon"
"Demolition Man"
"Voices Inside My Head"
"When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around"
"Don't Stand So Close to Me"
"Driven to Tears"
"Hole in My Life"
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
"Wrapped Around Your Finger"
"De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"
"Invisible Sun"
"Can't Stand Losing You"
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"Roxanne"
"King of Pain"
"So Lonely"
"Every Breath You Take"
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"Next to You"

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