Thursday, May 1, 2008

Elvis Costello! And the Police.

Every concert it happens. The massive CHEZ 106 balloon-beachballs are tossed out into the audience during the intermission between the opening act and the headliner. And every concert, they are tracked down and destroyed by overzealous security guards, worried that someone might get hit in the head, resulting in static electricity-filled hair for the rest of the show. And when that show is The Police, static electricity that causes your hair to stand on end might be just enough to prevent Sting from sleeping with you after the show. Which would be an unfortunate incident worthy of litigation, and in order to nip such lawsuits in the bud, the security forces do yeoman's work in averting that possible disaster. Kudos, Scotiabank security. You have been a terrific front line of defense against our offending balloons for many shows, and we look forward to continuing this battle at the next one.

And there were a lot of women at Scotiabank Place last night who were clearly hoping Sting might pick them out of the crowd. Sometimes, when a show is boring, people-watching for the skanked out hopefuls is far more entertaining in and of itself. Thank goodness the Police show was not boring. It was certainly predictable, but not boring. Each of the band members has their own unique identity. Stewart Copeland, behind the drums, with his big glasses and goofy expression and Michael Jackson gloves, reminds me a little of that kid in high school that wore bright red rubber boots every day of the year, whose mittens were pinned to his jacket year-round, and yet who was somehow pretty cool and well-liked despite being not exactly all there. Andy Summers on the guitar is like a burnt-out but charming, shambling, running-shoe wearing cross between Ben Stein and Eric Idle. He shambles his running shoe feet up to the front of the stage for his obligatory solo. He keeps his head down, avoiding eye contact with the audience in order to better concentrate on his intricate fingerwork, and when it is done, he acknowledges the crowd with a sudden, awkward raised fist before running-shoe shambling his way back to his regular position on the left side of the stage, continuing to concentrate hard, his South Park guitar strap the only thing colourful on his person.

And Sting. Oh, Sting. With his tight pants and combat boots. From the waist down, he looks like the only aerobics instructor in the world with a subscription to Guns & Ammo. The combat boots are so huge looking on the end of those seemingly spandex-covered legs, that it forms an image so incongruous with the rest of the band...and, in point of fact the rest of the world, that it becomes tough to separate Sting the singer from Sting the bizarrely attired prima donna. And he is a prima donna. Carefully unshaven, astutely craggy looking, and cleverly attired in what appears to be the same shirt he uses to polish his car, he is every inch the rock star. I am not sure what the ragged, full-of-holes-and-stains undershirt is supposed to convey. Perhaps it is supposed to convey "I am a bad-ass man, and I just came from doing some very manly things like changing my own oil and fighting several badgers". Or maybe it indicates "I am so good at this rock star thing, and I am so unselfconscious about my own image that I am willing to appear before you tonight in the shirt that I have slept in nine days running."

But no matter. The music, of course, is what matters, and that was exactly as one would expect. The machine-like precision of Stewart Copeland's drum kit was matched only by the machine-like precision of Andy Summers' guitar, and exceeded only by the Geochron Global Time Indicator-like precision of Sting's voice. And what a voice! Still so powerful, still so clear and perfect after all these years. Of course, he does not have quite the range he did in the heyday of the Police, and some songs (Don't Stand So Close To Me, in particulr) suffer as a result of the downward key change made to accomodate the new range of Sting. But therein lies the problem with the Police show. The only truly unexpected and interesting thing about the show were the songs whose keys had changed. Because those were the only songs they did that were not virtually identical to the albums we have all heard so many times. It was like listening to those CDs, only much louder, and with a band to watch, and among 15,000 moderately excited fans.

And boy, were those fans ever moderately excited! You could see Sting peering out into the audience, confused. Isn't this a rock show? He must be thinking. Aren't I Sting? Come on, Ottawa, sing along! But Ottawa appears not to be a sing-along town. The people who decided to forego a mortgage payment in order to be on the floor for this one were singing when he wanted them to sing. They were clapping when he wanted them to clap. They were making the noise and the uproar that I'm sure Sting has come to expect when he is on stage. But the rest of the crowd seemed vageuly disinterested, applauding politely after each number, but never losing themselves in the power of the show. But the main reason was The Police themselves. It's not a show you can completely buy into. It features machine-like precision and exact replicas of songs you may have come to love, and there is a certain power to the excellent musicianship, but it is nothing like the power of a Scotiabank show like The Who or Springsteen. It's just quite nice, thank you, and I will purchase my commemorative Police license plate cover on my way out to remind myself each day that I once saw The Police Live In Concert. By the way - a Police license plate? Wouldn't that be at least a little confusing for...the police? Anyway.

At least the crowd was enjoying themselves. The regular crowd, the ticket-buying crowd. But then there are the boxes. I was sitting directly across from the coolest box. I know it was the coolest box, because it was the one from which the CHEZ balloons emanated during the intermission. It is also, I am certain, the box in which I saw, during Walking On The Moon, the hockey game appear on the TV. Ah, box people. They are a different breed. But what could they do? It wasn't John Fogerty, after all.

Speaking of John Fogerty, he and Elvis Costello have something very much in common. They are two of the only music legends in history where their most popular songs are also their best songs. Most bands would say that certain album tracks that never became hits were their best. Most music people would argue that Exile On Main Street was the best Stones album, although it produced no monster singles. But Fogerty was a hit machine, and his concert at Scotiabank smoked through those hits and was one of the best shows we have seen there. Likewise, Elvis Costello played all his hits, and we, the audience, were much the better for it. Alison, What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding, Pump It Up, Watching the Detectives...these really are his best songs. And as a result his show was terrific. Now, I will confess to being a much bigger Costello fan than I am a Police fan, but I think many who saw both would agree. Costello was the highlight of the night, and Alison and Watching The Detectives were the highlights of his set. An energetic, terrific set which had me riveted to my seat. While the Police were very good, the highlight of their set for me was when I was reminded of Stewart Copeland calling Sting a "petulant pansy" on his blog. Ha-ha, I thought. Pansy. I love that Stewart Copeland and his blog. And the mittens pinned to his jacket.

The most irritating moment of the show for me was not when my girlfriend said "hey, there's a fight!" and I searched the floor for a couple of minutes until I realized she was talking about the hockey game on the TV in the box across the way. And it was not when I saw the security guards elbowing people out of the way in order to save them and their hair from our balloons. No, it was when, from my vantage point at the side of the stage, I could see the beefy security guard giving Elvis Costello the finger-signal countdown. Ten fingers - ten minutes. Six fingers - six minutes. Two fingers - wrap this up Costello, you're done. Sting's on the way! Come on, man. This is not some local band just thrilled to be sharing the stage with the Police, it's Elvis Costello! He's not an idiot. He knows he's the opening act. So what if he goes three extra minutes? It will just be three more minutes of awesome!


  1. Oh Eric,

    Thanks for your review. You must be the president and only member of the Elvis Costello fan club - Ottawa Chapter. There was more people in the concourse during Costello than there was inside watching the show. We came in to watch Elvis and left after 10 minutes. A little slow and tedious. I suppose you really had to be a fan of his music to really enjoy his show. Therefore, it isn't quite an impartial review if you flat out state that you like Costello more than the Police.

    I admit that I didn't want to "skip my mortgage payment" for tickets to this concert, but I had a momentary lapse of financial reason, and skipped into the Bank and bought the cheapo tickets. Glad I did though. The Police as performers are strictly musicians performing their art. I disagree with you that Sting is a prima donna Rock Star. He is the author of every song played by the Police last night. He is nothing without Stewart & Andy to perform them with. There was nothing prima donna rock star about it. It was a calculated performance, I agree. Their set list rarely ever strays, so they are robotic in their performance. However, I was mindful of the fact that they will never tour again. I grew up with their music, and actually learned from it. Who the hell was this Mephistopheles "is not your name"?. I had to look it up. As a teenager, that meant the music was important to me (of course, I realize this 15-20 years after the fact).

    I digress, I do like your reviews.

  2. Eric,my man,,I too Really enjoy reading the reviews & comments,I could not afford the show last night & would of loved to see Gordon & the boyz,I REALLY enjoy watching true MUSICIANS without the dry ice & Jack-Hole explosions !!
    Back in the day,,Elvis was In,,Man,,,We would fire up the amps & Open a beer & Start off our rehersal with "Pump it Up" !
    People age..People's taste's change ,,well Sting is a great x-ample of that,,Fields of Gold...YA !,,I would of LOVED to see ELVIS last night & would of absorbed every note & word,,& what a treat it would of been to have "Dianna"Krall come out to do a #,,,as back-up to Police,,na not gonna happen,,,,& I miss the od London Times paper ,I used to get,,,The Writing was absolutely Beautiful & Humerous,,& I can compare it to your articles,,,Keep up the great Blog,,,,We are out here reading,,,some times I can't think of something "Bright" enough to come back with,,,LOL,,,,Peace,,Over & Out!
    K-Man.,,,Habs Suck !

  3. Well, while I will agree with you that Sting is not a prima donna rock star in the style of, say, Bono, which is a more condescending style, or like Bon Jovi, who works very hard at being the Sex Symbol, I still think he is a prima donna in a different way, in that every move he makes on stage seems extraordinarily calculated. Which, for me, comes off as prima donna in the sense that I got the feeling that Copeland was alloted 15 percent of the spotlight, and Summers got 15.8 percent of the spotlight, which left Sting with 69.2 percent of the spotlight, and I felt this was pre-arranged before the show began. And while I certainly respect his songwriting ability, and the musical ability of the Police as a whole, the best thing about them for me is that I will now be able to say "I saw the Police", since, as you say, they will likely not tour again. And I must say I was disappointed by the number of people milling about on the concourse while Elvis Costello played. But perhaps my feelings toward him are coloured by the fact that I am a huge fan. After all, I was apparently one of the only people who enjoyed Bob Dylan's last three shows here in Ottawa, maybe again because I am such a big fan. Thanks for the comment! Oh, and Kirk - Go Habs!