The King of Pain gets some impressive hang time in this band-approved publicity shot not from the Phone Booth show here in DC. . . . howled Sting, ageless, serene, and in perfect (if lower) voice at Verizon Center Monday night, altering the original “So Lonely” lyric (“welcome to this one man show”) to salute the Police’s prodigious guitarist. Now a determined egalitarian, he did the same for percussionist Stewart Copeland on a subsequent verse.
Retired schoolteacher Gordon Sumner’s newfound magnanimity is the major difference between the Police circa nineteen-eighty-whenever and the Police v. 2007. Having made at least three albums as a solo artist that are arguably the equal of anything he did with his old band, Sting is willing, nay, eager to cede the spotlight to his two mates, granting the 64-year-old Summers, in particular, License to Shred in way he never did during the Reagan Era.
Fortunately, Summers is not just a brilliant axe man but a disciplined minimalist, never allowing the crunchy, angular fills he contributed to “When the World Is Running Down” or “Driven to Tears” more sonic real estate than necessary to achieve maximum sweetass yield. And while Sting did what little talking there was in the 100-minute show, Summers appeared to call the shots, bringing “De Do Do, De Da Da” to a halt with a two-handed “cut” sign just as it threatened to congeal into Christopher Cross territory.
Copeland, too, was agreeably unleashed, leaping between a drum kit and a sort of cage made of seemingly every device ever designed to make a melodic sound when struck with a blunt object, tossing his sticks (or mallets) over both shoulders every time he bolted between stations. He made "Wrapped Around Your Finger" a spooky tour-de-force. His bulging eyes framed by big glasses, a headband, and a headset mic, the Alexandria native needed only a dental retainer to complete the picture of a geek done good. But you couldn’t doubt the rock. You could, however, wonder why Sting kept inviting the audience to mess with his dense polyrhythms by clapping. Less passivity with your aggression, please, Mr. Sumner!
The setlist was a rewind of their headlining Virgin Festival appearance last August, Sting’s banter included, save for a welcome pair of additions from the earlier, crankier end of their catalogue, “Hole in My Life” and “Truth Hits Everybody.” Sting introduced the latter as "a song from our second album, from 1875." King of Pain? King of self-deprecating laffs, more like!
Was it better than their enervated V-Fest set? Uh-huh. Do we say so because this one wasn’t preceded by a 10-hour stand-a-thon in skin-melting heat? Er, maybe.
A shorter version of this review appears in today's Washington Post.