The Police tour, the trio’s first such endeavor in 23 years, has not only thrust songs like “So Lonely” and “King of Pain” into our collective memory banks, but also the concept of stadium shows back into a national discourse.
Despite woes in the music industry, the Police tour is a money-maker, ranking as Ticketmaster’s No. 1 “most requested event” of the year thus far, dethroning the mighty Broadway musical “Wicked.” The Police also top the list of all concert tours, grossing an average $3.4 million per date, comfortably ahead of No. 2, Kenny Chesney’s $1.3 million, according to Pollstar, a concert industry trade magazine and Web site.
The Police reunion tour could boost the appeal of stadium touring for music fans due to advancements in sound technology, experts say, touting “quantum leaps forward in audio technology and lighting and video projections,” according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar.
We also have digital sound reproduction in the live realm today, as opposed to yesterday’s analog.
“We found the sound has greatly improved from the old stadium days,” Police drummer Stewart Copeland says from a Dallas hotel room on day two of a recent two-night stand in Texas. “The PA was better, and we have delay towers. We played Giants Stadium (in New Jersey) and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and it was the best sound we’ve had all tour. We do some arenas in some cities, but our rig for stadiums is so far beyond what we had in the old days. Actually, the stadiums sound better. (The music) is not reverberating around an arena. It’s open, drier.”
Clearly, we have come a long way from straining to hear The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1964. Or, for that matter, the Police at the Orange Bowl in 1983 on the Synchronicity Tour. Still, such advantages may be too little, too late to herald the rebirth of stadium touring in general.
When Copeland and British-born Sting and Andy Summers - the Police men - say goodbye again in March, having played North America and Europe, it may be another long stretch before you get your tunes from a 500,000-watt sound system blasted from a 20-ton steel stage that takes 11 trailers to cart around and 36 hours to assemble in each city.
“The trend has been away from stadium shows even in the best of times,” says Bongiovanni. “The average ticket price has more than doubled in the last 10 years. Artists find they can get $1 million paydays playing indoor arenas, and the overhead cost (differential) in an arena versus a stadium setup is huge. It only makes sense to do a stadium show if they can sell out, or come close to selling out, versus going to an indoor arena and doing two nights to sell 40,000 tickets.
“There are only a handful of acts capable of selling that many seats in a city,” Bongiovanni concludes.
That’s the single biggest problem facing stadiums, says Neil Jacobsen, president of Live Nation Florida, a major tour presenting company. “The business has changed radically. ... Is today’s music business capable of making stadium acts? I’d be hard-pressed to name an act in 30 years that will sell out stadiums. Radio has changed so much. The attention span is different (in this) generation. There are more options to deal with. A good band and good music will have certain staying power, but it’s up to the artists to produce that. Will the acts of today be around in 30 years? I don’t know.”
So, why can the Police do what so few can?
“When you have good material and good people to play with ... and that many people gathered together and all singing `Message in a Bottle’ and `Roxanne,’ it’s pretty darned exciting,” Copeland says.
But 40,000 voices raised in unison to, say, Rihanna’s “Umbrella” might be pretty darned cool, too. There’s something else going on here with the Police.
“It’s pent-up demand,” Bongiovanni says. “The music was enormously popular. Maybe someone always wanted to see them and never got the chance. This may be the only tour - or maybe not. That’s what causes people to demand and really pay premiums to get tickets. The average price now is $117 per ticket, face value, and that’s not telling what they sell for on the secondary market.”
Perhaps this accounts for Copeland’s demeanor this day. Casual. Carefree. You can hear it in the lanky, Virginia-born drummer’s deep voice.
Ask him how he - at 55 next week - gears up to play drums in stadiums around the world for the rhythmic-centered Police, and he cracks, “Two thousand push-ups with one hand and then turn over and do the other hand.”
Press him on comments he made at the start of the tour in Vancouver in June, when he blasted his band’s performance on his blog as “incredibly lame ... totally at sea” and likened lead singer Sting, 55, to a “petulant pansy,” for his stage moves, and you fully expect to hear of a smack-down in the dressing room of the next show or to be smacked down for bringing up what could be a sore subject.
“Fortunately, my bandmates have a good sense of humor,” Copeland says, laughing. “It’s kind of an in-joke with people who visit that site that I always give myself scathing reviews. It’s all in good fun. No vitriol. My buddies, they know me.”
Apparently, good sound is not the only advancement since the Synchronicity Tour: Sting and Co. have developed a sense of humor. After all, this once was a group of three supremely gifted men whose talents were matched only by their sizable tempers and egos and backstage fisticuffs which belied the jovial, playful videos the trio put out for “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”
The Police famously dissolved at the peak of their popularity. By 1983, after only five years and five studio albums, the Police had become the world’s biggest rock band. “Synchronicity,”: that year’s album, spent 17 weeks at No. 1 and its single, “Every Breath You Take,” a misunderstood tale of a stalker, took Grammy’s Song of the Year award. “Synchronicity” wasn’t planned to be the Police’s last body of original material, and its accompanying stadium tour shouldn’t have been the last.
But Sting’s immediate solo success, Copeland’s film and TV scoring (he did the music for “Rumble Fish,” “Wall Street,” “The Equalizer” and others), and Summers’ solo and session work began intruding. The Police reconvened in 1986 to record songs for a greatest hits album and infamously spent a reported 20 days fighting over which of two synthesizers sounded superior.
But now, the Police men - with 17 children between them, assorted wives and exes, and Summers hitting retirement age of 65 before this tour ends - have found harmony, which has been reflected in glowing reviews of the tour. No new tunes onstage or studio albums are planned.
“We’re not thinking about that much - we’re just becoming a band again,” Copeland says, adding a reunion was totally unexpected. But the restlessly creative threesome reinvented some of the old material, turning “Walking in Your Footsteps” into a fast-paced ska-tempo rocker, and slowing “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” by half.
“If we were a 10-piece band it would be much harder for the sound mixer to get it right,” Copeland says about playing painstakingly detailed, fussed-over songs on football fields.
“People have commented on how much noise three guys can make and how rich and full (it sounds.) But what about the stuff we didn’t play and the spaces of which we are so proud, all the gaps, the air in the music? We take that as seriously as the spaces we fill.”
Audiophile music in a stadium? A three-piece band playing to a potential 70,000 or so a night? It’s all part of how the Police tour differs from previous stadium extravaganzas, from Genesis (1992), Pink Floyd (1994) and U2 and the Stones.
“I think this tour is going to affect other bands playing this scale of tour,” Copeland suggests. “The constant comment we’ve been getting is, `Thank God, it’s three guys playing without a pink elephant flying through the air and not some stupid distracting things.’
“Maybe in our arrogance and our hubris we conquered the world with three guys so we can do it now with just three guys. ... People are enjoying three guys doing it.”
Enjoy it, because you may not see anything like it for another quarter-century.