Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just Take a Seat They're Always Free - no surprise no mystery.

[I promised I'd start my blog off with this review. Two years late to the day, but here it is, Paul!]

Foreword: On 'Safari'

In 2003 having not attended a single Big Day Out or UK festival I promised myself I'd focus my efforts on a Big Game Hunt, or 'Safari' of acts reaching NZ. To wit: in order of the Big Five game animals of the African safari, select five sizeable acts of significance I wanted to see before they disbanded. After some shuffling and surrogates I've seen three. The gig below was a surrogate for The Who, who did reach New Zealand in 2009, but no further south than Auckland.

The Police, WestpacTrust Stadium, Wellington 17/1/08

Message in a Bottle
Synchronicity II
Walking on the Moon
Voices Inside My Head /When The World Is Running Down
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
King Of Pain
So Lonely
Every Breath You Take

Next To You (encore)

When I was in my late teens I was a pretty big Police fan - as big as I could be with what limited resources I had in a small NZ town pre-internet. I bought all of their albums - and Sting's - scoured second hand bookshops for biographies on the members and bought the best music book of their songs I could find in an attempt to replicate the layered material that packed their five studio albums and almost posthumous Best Of. In point of fact I was a fan of the band a good while after the band had ceased to be - word was that by then they pretty much hated each other, and the name of the remade single off their greatest hits album, Don't Stand So Close To Me was a pretty apt byline for the state of things in Policeland. And for what it was worth I moved on too, having left town for Uni and discovered more local, accessible bands, or at least bands that were still making music. I didn't think the Police would reform let alone launch a world tour on the back of it. If they had, would I have gone along to a concert? Probably not.

As it turned out all of the above took place, and they even did a two-city tour of New Zealand as well. Here's Paul's entry on the Auckland gig, the second of the two, and the review.

Oh okay, here's the Stuff review of the Wellington gig. I had to go over it to remind myself of what it was like, and it pretty much ties with my impressions.
So... casting my mind back, what did I think of the gig?

Going on safari teaches you a few things about your idols, the main one being that they age, and furthermore they're never going to sound like they did twenty or so years ago on vinyl. The Police proved that - Sting's not hitting the high notes he used to, but that's par for course on long tours, and New Zealand is usually the bum end of those tours, so expectations must be tempered with that in mind on most occasions. I should say that Mr Sumner's range is still quite impressive, and the short-cuts taken are the usual ones a singer makes in a live context, allowing for breathing and the movement of being on stage and so forth. Message in a Bottle was a good and likely opener, and as Paul says, the appearance of a bewhiskered Sting singing/speaking it as an overture seemed strangely apt. The big visual kick was with second song Synchronicity II and the opening up of the stage monitors, giant LEDs that drove the song as much as the band on stage - it was a good rendition for a track that demands a fair amount of pace and energy. Things settled down a bit after that. Walking on the Moon was okay, and to be honest the familiarity of the setlist worked against my appreciation of the event; a risk you have to take if you've stuck so closely to a band's output, and as this tour was essentially a greatest hits set instead of a launchpad for new material I'd have been a fool for expecting anything else.

That said, given the breadth of songs on the list there were some surprise inclusions - Hole in my Life not a song I really loved from Zenyatta Mondatta, sounded great with its shambling bassline, as did the medley of Voices/When the World is Running Down, which given a longer, more improvised sound and jazz diversion that would have been lost on me twenty years ago, but made a bigger impression year later. The biggest impression on the night however was that of the individual band members on me. Andy Summers was aloof, existing in his own part of the stage and frankly didn't surprise - he's the quietest member of the band and the novelty for me was seeing that, despite my expectations, this guy still holds all the guitar work together single-handedly - no session or backing instrumentalists, just a virtuoso and his effects pedals. For the oldest member he had a surprising energy, and the music wouldn't have been lost without it. Sting was similarly distant, his banter slightly too rote and he didn't engage or connect with the audience. A bit of a missed opportunity, really, though the audience who'd stayed past support act Fergie were happy enough, being at least in their late twenties, but for the most part the bad side of thirty and upwards to fifties. During (I think) Walking on the Moon one portly silverback close to us got up and rocked out some air guitar by himself in the aisle - it was that kind of gig and set the mood for the evening. So with the rest of the band in their own space the star of the night was Stewart Copeland, band leader and a man clearly happy in his element behind the drums and percussion set. His skill was the revelation of the night, and I spent Wrapped Around Your Finger just watching him move about his instruments, working what was one of a couple of demonstration pieces of the night, but what a show. During So Lonely Sting seemed to acknowledge this in a set bereft of any significant band banter with the modified "All dressed up and nowhere to go/welcome to the Stewart Copeland show".

So as far as a safari went, that was my trophy - Sting disappointing, Summers cool, but Copeland, the member I'd not paid too much attention to over the years the man of the moment. he'd done the press for the NZ leg as well, so that swung things in his favour as well.

Best Song: Wrapped Around Your Finger, though I still loved singing along to Every Little Thing...
Least Best Song: Invisible Sun/King of Pain. Paul's right on the former - the slideshow didn't match, unlike the closing shots of Copeland's past tour snaps - including Wellington Harbour from 1984, hooray!

Missing in Action: Walking In Your Footsteps (inessential), Don't Stand... (baffling)

Most Missed: My favourite album is Ghost in the Machine, so something more off that would have been nice, especially something written by Summers or Copeland, so Omega Man would have been welcome, or from Regatta de Blanc Copeland's On Any Other Day. As that's rather novelty and throwaway, No Time This Time perhaps, if only to have 'stolen it back' from Anthrax.


  1. Good to finally read your thoughts on the Wellington gig. Point of correction though (from one Police fan to another) the name of their greatest hits album was not 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' but in fact 'Every Breath You Take'.

  2. D'oh - you're right. fast work there, Paul!