Things have changed in the world of rock 'n' roll circa 2007.
After The Police played possibly the most sold-out show ever in the history of Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Wednesday night, Sting disappeared from the backstage after-party into an ante room.
“He’s probably with a groupie,” joked Trudie Styler, his hotter-than-ever wife and companion of 25 years. Styler boogied through the show from her 11th-row floor seats in a sexy black clingy Azzedine Alaia dress and very un-domestic red pumps.
“I don’t know how to break this to you,” said Stewart Copeland, the band’s drummer, fresh from two hours of the hardest skin-hitting a post-50-year-old has ever accomplished. “Your husband is in the back room with two men who are pushing and pulling him in different directions. And he’s really enjoying it.”
The two men, of course, were not groupies but doctors who were busy making sure that Sting —a physical wonder of the world at 55 years and 8 months old, eclipsed only by a nearly decade-older Mick Jagger — had survived a remarkable performance and was on track for the next one tonight in Anaheim and Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
Yes, indeed, things have changed. Sting, you see — not a regular vegetarian — is on a strict macrobiotic diet. His personal chef makes him mock tuna wraps and “crunchy” soup.
Since The Police’s wildly successful reunion tour began on May 28 in Vancouver, he’s eschewed liquor and just about everything else that rockers of a certain era might have embraced or delighted in as a reward for having 20,000 fans stand through an entire concert cheering, screaming, applauding and singing along to nearly all his lyrics by heart.
At almost 56, Sting’s most decadent pleasures are being turned into a pretzel by his yoga instructor an hour before show time and taking post-show pictures with four of his six kids (the youngest two are in school).
His eldest, Joe, opens the show to ever-increasing acclaim with his own rock group, Fiction Plane, and Sting is thrilled. That’s the prize now.
I checked in with The Police Wednesday night at the Staples Center just to see what the hell was going on since Copeland, perhaps a little naively, posted an acerbic review of the Vancouver opening show on his Web site that got worldwide attention.
It was the first negative notice ever delivered in public by the member of a rock super-group on himself and his colleagues.
But that was OK. In their heyday, Sting, Copeland and sizzling guitarist Andy Summers were famous for not getting along. They turned out to be the generational bridge between the Kinks and Oasis; witty verbiage only replaced fisticuffs because they weren’t related to each other.
And still: After weeks of rehearsing in Italy and then Vancouver, The Police’s fourth-week show is still not completely together. This, I think, is a good thing.
Rather than churn out bland replicas of established hits, the trio is very much live and unadorned, and still feeling their way through presentations of songs. The result is that they’ve retained a punk sensibility sort of by accident, just the way they came across back in 1979 when “Roxanne” hit college radio and established stations refused to play them. The friction has reignited them.
Sometimes, they are completely on the same page and really enjoying it. Certainly by the end of the show and a succession of encores with “King of Pain,” “Every Breath You Take” and their early rocker “Next to You,” the trio was in synch and pounding its way to jubilant finish.
But it takes a lot to get there. On “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” the three musicians were playing what seems like four simultaneously different versions.
“I have a whole of book of variations,” their musical director told me last night. And yet it didn’t matter. Instead of sounding canned, the song came off as urgent, and the audience sang along ebulliently word for word.
The fact is, The Police’s hits, like those of the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones before them, are such sturdy structures that they can withstand redecorating and remain standing without damage. This may be because they were so elegantly and precisely conceived with jazz, reggae and R&B inflections that allow them to be bent, twisted or inverted only to snap right back into place.
It wouldn’t work, for example, in the case of U2’s more surface renderings. With a couple of exceptions, there isn’t much room to fool around on their numbers. But The Police songs' dynamics can survive almost anything.
So in the crowd I saw Dustin Hoffman, Courteney Cox Arquette and David Arquette, Billy Crudup and shock-haired movie producer Brian Grazer, among others, simply fall into oblivious elation as Sting jumped around the stage, Copeland expertly manned numerous percussive devices and Summers riffed away on guitar lines he constantly reinvents.
Sting’s voice, far more supple than when The Police last played together in 1983, takes songs like “Invisible Sun” and “Message in a Bottle” to new heights. They soared Wednesday night. (The former was helped illustratively by photographs of African children shot by Bobby Sager, Sting’s pal who’s quietly working on helping Rwanda.)
And there were surprises. “Truth Hits Everybody,” an album track that was more or less forgotten, could easily be re-recorded as a new hit now with a very topical video to accompany it.
The lyric “Take a look at my new toy/It'll blow your head in two, oh boy” seems more relevant than ever, and the music that drives it couldn’t be more contemporary.
“Wrapped Around Your Finger,” also an album cut (you remember those “filler” tracks before iPods reduced us to singles), was elevated to majestic status thanks to Copeland’s embroideries. They were revelations that audiences should be embracing more and more with each new show.
The worst thing The Police could do now, I think, is try to polish up their act.
As they head off to Dodger Stadium, more shows across the country, MTV Unplugged in Miami (more to come on that next month) and eventually “the big time” in New York (with Aug. 1 and 3 shows at Madison Square Garden, followed by Giants Stadium), the more frisson, the better.