Oh, the things that technology has wrought in the decades since the Police last toured. Advances in concert audio are doing wonders for Andy Summers’ guitar tone. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a guitar sound this good,” he says. He also marvels at the “completely state-of-the-art show” that he and his two bandmates put on night after night.
Then there’s the Internet, which was germinating in government computer labs back when the Police stopped touring in 1984. Summers, 64, got a sense of that medium’s power in May, after Police drummer Stewart Copeland used his personal Web site to critique the reunion run’s second show.
“Andy is in Idaho,” Copeland wrote of Summers’ musical timing. Concerning an awkwardly executed leap by singer-bassist Sting, he wrote, “The mighty Sting momentarily looks like a petulant pansy.” Copeland didn’t spare himself, calling his stick work “complete hash” and the band’s overall performance “unbelievably lame.”
The self-review set off the first - and so far only - media tizzy of the tour. Reviewers not named Copeland have given the Police of the 21st century generally high marks. The tour is drawing sizable crowds, with some fans paying well over $1,000 for prime tickets. And Summers sounds like he’s enjoying re-connecting with the band’s `70s-‘80s repertoire of reggae-powered new wave (“Roxanne”), arty arena rock (“Synchronicity II”) and crossover pop (“Every Breath You Take”).
He’s less impressed by the media environment in which Copeland’s review circulated.
“I don’t really want to talk much about it,” he says. “It was done in a hotel room on a day off in an idle moment as a piece of playfulness, possibly ill-advised.”
Summers believes Copeland’s tongue-in-cheek tone eluded most of the journalists who picked up the report. “We’re laughing about it,” he says, “(and) the media is trying to just turn it into a piece of dirt.” In Summers’ mind, the episode proves that there’s one thing technology hasn’t changed: “We all know you can’t make a joke to the press.”
His own appraisal of the performances is less irreverent than Copeland’s. “We are continuing on in good spirits and to rave reviews,” he says, adding that the goal each night is “to get in there and re-create the old magic.”
That magic “tends to happen” without strain partly because the trio wants to prove itself - “We’re males with egos and this does fuel it somewhat,” he says - and partly because “we know how to be together,” even after years of sabbatical. Summers describes the chemistry as a fourth member of the band, almost an entity that walks into the room with the “three diverse personalities.”
The Police and their chemistry parted company for a long time, of course. Sting went off to a high-flying solo career. Copeland and Summers had quieter, less celebrated postscripts. But they also caught less grief than Sting, whose seeming appetite for success in multiple media - music, film, theater and autobiography - turned him into a target of ridicule.
After 1984, the Police regrouped for only a handful of live performances, including one at Sting’s wedding. But Summers says the chemistry survived the hiatus. He guesses that the Police could have started playing tour dates this year after just a couple of days of rehearsal.
He also believes that he, Sting and Copeland are smarter and more capable as musicians today - and not bad-looking, besides. “Personally, for me, I became even more serious about guitar playing and music post-Police,” he says. “I’ve done a million shows since then. I think I have more to bring to it, and so do Sting and Stewart.”
“We’re all physically fit, the three original members,” he adds. “Everybody looks pretty good, is skinny ... and we bring some physicality to it.”
There’s a leanness to the show itself that Summers seems especially pleased with. Onstage, it’s just the trio, with no backup singers or supporting musicians. “It’s lovely,” he says of the live setup. “There’s nothing kind of baroque or rococo about our stage. It’s very stripped-down, modern. It’s almost like kind of a mini-amphitheater.”
But the amount of work that goes into the audio and the visuals, even at their most sparse, is enormous. “We’re not out there banging out three chords,” he says. “It’s a very intricate, very detailed set. What we’ve constructed is sort of a giant Swiss watch. I mean it’s rock `n’ roll kind of blasting at you, but the internal detail is sort of minute.”
If any question besides “What does Stewart think?” hovers over the tour, it might concern motive. Sting has called it an old-fashioned anniversary: 2007 marks 30 years since the band formed. But rock reunion tours take place in a different economic environment today, thanks in part to the same technology that Copeland deployed in his infamous write-up. In the age of downloads, a band’s old CDs don’t sell like they used to, and a nest egg built on the back catalog is no longer a sure thing for rock royalty. Licensing songs to commercials, TV shows and movies can be lucrative, but for a class of musician accustomed to a particular way of life, touring may provide a more dependable form of income.
Those considerations, and the absence of a new album, arguably leave the Police vulnerable to the suspicion that this reunion is strictly for profit.
Summers says that’s not the case.
“Let’s not be naive or stupid about it: None of us needs the money, OK?” he says. “We don’t have to do this for the money. It’s great to have, and you think about what (having it) it might do.” He does allow that a big payday could influence his thinking about future tours. “It could be a life change,” he says. “I might never have the desire to do this again.”
But, he says, “The main reason to do it is for the buzz.” Playing music is “a drug. It’s one of the greatest things you can do in life, and I personally feel this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m trying to be a great musician, and I think I am, and I get to show it off. ... There’s great joy in that.”
Has touring awakened any desire in the Police to record together again?
“Of course it’s something that’s there,” says Summers. “It exists as an idea, somewhere on the back burner.” Then he adds, “The sort of new-material, compositional aspect of the band is really another mindset.” He’s not sure all three members of the band will ever again get to that place at the same time.