05 May 2008 by Published in: General musings 9 comments

To take a break from my Things I Wish I Had Known series of posts, here is a review of last night’s show. Fear not…there will be more Things tomorrow. Today, though, I want to do something completely different. Again, for those who only read this blog for the Civil War content, you will probably want to skip this post.

I’m an old New Waver. I admit it. I loved the New Wave. Some of those bands were truly great: Blondie, The Talking Heads, Joe Jackson, The Romantics, Squeeze, The Fixx, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, The Police, the Specials, Oingo Boingo, UB40, and on and on. I had a one-inch wide black leather tie. I wore black Chuck Taylor high tops. I just really liked the music. It was a lot of the soundtrack to my college years.

Last night, Elvis Costello and his new band, The Impostors, opened for The Police here. We spent a great night last night. I’d never seen Elvis live before, but had always wanted to. He played a rocking hour-long set that never stopped. It was one song leading right into another for the entire hour. He played an interesting mix of his newer material and his old classics from the days when he was an angry young man. His band was terrific–the keyboard player is one of the best I have ever heard, and he’s also got an excellent drummer. They put an interesting twist on his biggest commercial hit, “Allison (My Aim is True)”, turning it into a bluesy tune, and then they turned up the heat. They did “Watching the Detectives,” a special favorite from the old days. He did “Radio, Radio”, a song that was tremendously controversial for its time, but tame by today’s standards. The set concluded by Elvis doing his signature song, “Pump It Up” (a rocking version up the standard of the original) and closed with “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding”. The crowd was on its feet swaying and singing along, and the place was completely energized by the end of his set.

I have to say that it was worth the price of admission just to see Elvis. I’m not sure how I’ve managed not to see him live previously, but if the opportunity presents itself again, I will be sure to see him again, because it was a great set–terrific songs, really excellent musicianship, and lots of energy. He may not be an angry young man any more, but he can still play.

After whipping the crowd into a frenzy, they had to break down Elvis’ stuff, so there was about 20 minute break. It gave me a chance to check out the crowd. As has been the case with all three concerts we’ve been to this spring, there was lots of gray hair in the crowd, but there were also a lot of youngsters. The couple sitting directly behind us brought their son to the show. The boy didn’t look like he was much older than 7 or 8, and he got bored pretty quickly. I like watching crowds at events like this. It’s very entertaining.

The lights went down again, and out came The Police. This was my fifth time seeing them. I saw them in the summer of 1981, before “Ghost in the Machine” was released, and then again in February 1982, on the same tour. Then I saw them a third time in August 1983, in one of those all-day outdoor extravaganzas of rock at old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. I was 22, had just graduated from college, and was about a week from packing up to move to Pittsburgh to start grad school. It was sort of my last hurrah. As for the band, they were on top of the world at the time, with their album Synchronicity the number one record in the world for most of the year, and they headlined a fabulous show. It was 103 degrees that day, and I’ve never been so dehydrated in my life. At that end of that tour, that was the end of The Police. Sting began his solo career, and I never thought I would see them again.

Fortunately, I was wrong. Susan and I saw them in Cleveland last July early on the first leg of this tour, and then again last night. The set was different last night from what we saw in July, and the band was, if anything, even more tight than the were last summer. We saw an even better band last night.

Sting still sounds great. His unique voice is still as clear as ever, and he’s a tremendous bass player. At 64, Andy Summers is still a virtuoso guitar player, and Stewart Copeland is still a wild man on the drums. The magic is still there. These three are proof of the old cliche about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. They bring out the best (and the worst) in each other, and it creates magic on stage. Their songs, which are no less than 25 years old at this point, still stand the test of time. It’s remarkable.

I’ve always loved Sting’s lyrics. As he pointed out last night, before he had this job, as he put, he was a schoolteacher. What other rocker makes the literary allusions he makes? References to Humbert Humbert in Lolita, or referring to Scylla and Charybdis from the tale of the Sirens in The Odyssey? Or that a song about a prostitute (“Roxanne”) is actually a veiled reference to Cyrano de Bergerac? His lyrics are often poetry set to music, which has always appealed to the writer in me.

The show began with Sting seated with a mandolin, doing a quiet but powerful version of “Bring On the Night.” That quickly changed, though, and the crowd was soon on its feet, singing along, with the whole list of great songs. They did “Synchronicity II”, “Wrapped Around My Finger”, and “King of Pain” from Synchronicity, “Demolition Man”, “One World”, and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” from Ghost in the Machine, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, “When the World is Running Down”, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, and “Voices Inside Your Head” from Zenyatta Mondatta.

The best part of the show was hearing them do a lot of songs from their first two albums: “Message in a Bottle”, “Walking on the Moon”, “Can’t Stand Losing You”, “Next To You”, “Driven to Tears”, “So Lonely”, and, of course, the one that started it all, “Roxanne”, done with a bluesy, jazzy sort of an arrangement. The last encore–they came back out three times–was “Next to You,” a rocking reminder of the energy of the early days of the New Wave. The crowd knew every word to every song, and it sang along with great gusto, swaying and dancing the whole time. We were on our feet for nearly the entire show.

At the end of it all, I was left with a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I’d been handed a reprieve. I got to see The Police two more times when I never expected to have that opportunity again. For that, I am grateful. At the same time, as the lights came back up, I realized it was over, that this would be the last time that I ever saw these three men make magic together again.

But Sting’s final words echoed in my ears. After he, Stewart and Andy took a bow, he cryptically said, “We’ll see you again” before leaving the stage. What does that mean? Hope springs eternal that they will find their way into the studio and give us one more great album before going their separate ways once more, but who knows. I’m just glad I got to enjoy one last night of magic.

Scridb filter


  1. tomrod
    Mon 05th May 2008 at 12:10 pm


    I like your list! it brings back memories. I never did like the Police live though. I wish I could have seen the Talking Heads. I remember seeing Joe Jackson in NYC and the 2 gals from the B-52’s were sitting in front of me with their bee hive hair. They were funny as anything!


  2. Mon 05th May 2008 at 5:08 pm


    It was a great show and a fabulous trip down memory lane.


  3. Steve Basic
    Mon 05th May 2008 at 9:29 pm


    Have always been a big fan of Joe Jackson as well. Friend of mine at OU introduced me to his music before his big album came out that featured “Steppin’ Out”. Always loved his song “19 Forever” as well.

    No “Invisible Sun” from the Police?? Always thought that was one of their best efforts.

    Glad you both had a fine time. Trust me, it beat me watching Pittsburgh beating the Rangers in OT yesterday.

    Take Care.


  4. Mon 05th May 2008 at 10:59 pm

    One of my faves was “Canary In A Coal Mine.” Loved the beat of that one.

    Three guys who made one of the biggest sounds of my youth.


  5. tomrod
    Tue 06th May 2008 at 2:20 pm


    Joe Jackson rocks! I’ve seen him a few times. Everytime the music was a little different from a cappella, swing, new wave, jazzier and even a large band with a horn section. He is never dull but then again it’s been a while since I’ve seen Mr. Jackson.


  6. dan
    Tue 06th May 2008 at 8:14 pm

    It’s an upside down world when Elvis Costello opens for a bunch of has been pseudo reggae folks! I saw the Police in Boston years ago. Sting’s solo stuff is so unbearably bad I couldn’t bring myself to attend any Police “reunion” “show”. In addition, Mr. Sting’s lame charity is considered the worst in the state of New York not to mention their abysmal treatment of hired help.
    Message in a Bottle is a great song. Sting’s ego is just too big for any stage. Stewart Copeland is a fantastic drummer and Andy Summers is a great guitar player, but Sting, … not.

  7. Tue 06th May 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Elvis Costello is so amazing live. And I bet this amazing keyboard player was Steve Nieve (who’s been with him since the old days). And you’re right, he is fantastic. When I saw E.C. with the BSO, Steve played baby grand and was dressed in tails and lime green socks. I am pretty sure I fell in love with the man. He has some solo stuff, I believe, but I never got to hear any of it so I can’t say if it’s any good. He’s also the piano/keyboard player on the My Flame Burns Blue album, which was recorded live with the Metropole Orkest at a jazz festival. If you haven’t checked that out, you should; it’s great. And there’s a really cool version of “Watching the Detectives” on that one.

    I could go on and on, so I’m going to cease now before this completely enters the realm of fangirly.

  8. dan
    Tue 06th May 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that Elvis Costello singing Burt Bacharach is shockingly excellent.

  9. Bob Coffman
    Fri 16th May 2008 at 1:22 pm


    I saw the Cleveland show. I can’t believe it when you said they were even tighter – I was amazed how well they sounded that night.

    Steve – they did do Invisible Sun in Cleveland. I thought it was their best effort of the night.

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