As band’s tour comes to an end, drummer says the reunion was done for all the right reasons

[12 May 2008]

By Sean Piccoli

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT)

Has “reunion” become a dirty word in rock music? Stewart Copeland of the Police thinks not.

Weary critics might grouse about old rockers hogging the limelight, cashing out and repeating themselves for lack of fresh ideas. Nevertheless, Copeland’s once-pioneering reggae-rock trio is on the road once more after last year’s great reawakening. It’s part two of a reunion run that the Police had successfully avoided for 23 years, and it’s the latest in rock’s sometimes exhausting string of comebacks, album tours and prolonged farewells.

In an April interview, Copeland defended doing it again. And his Exhibit A was another band’s work.

“The whole purpose is to see `Dark Side of the Moon’ live and to get that emotional buzz from reliving that music,” he said by telephone, citing Roger Waters’ touring re-creation of a classic Pink Floyd album. “And in the case of the Police it’s all about `Roxanne’ and `Every Breath You Take’ and `Message in a Bottle,’ and the phases of people’s lives those songs have been a part of, which in the last 20 years has been a lot.”

It’s arguably to their credit that drummer Copeland, guitarist Andy Summers and frontman Sting have never offered any other reason for getting back together. They haven’t been coy about future plans - they’ve never said they had any. Beyond the mere fact of playing again, they have not raised hopes for a new album and have maintained they’re in no position to make one.

On May 6, they also declared an end point to this excursion, announcing that a summer concert in New York City will be, according to Sting’s official Web site, “their last ever concert.”

Three weeks before that farewell notice, Copeland talked about the reunion in terms that put clear limits on what it was meant to accomplish.

“There’s something different about a reunion,” he said, contrasting the Police in 2007-2008 to what he called “current” bands. “A reunion tour is more of a liturgy, a service and a ceremony than it is for exploring - that’s what I have (side project) Oysterhead for.”

The reasons that bands such as the Police and Pink Floyd broke up may still hold true, said Copeland, but they’re not an argument against reviving the back catalog.

“Re-creating that thing, it’s very powerful,” he said. “It’s a very valid artistic endeavor to go perform that material in the same way it’s valid that an opera singer would perform `La Traviata.’”

Copeland, 55, said that when he first sat down at the drum kit for rehearsals, it wasn’t a matter of relearning the material.

“To me, it felt like it was all there waiting to be played again,” he said. The challenge, if anything, was to help one bandmate unlearn a few things: Where Summers and Copeland retained a more fixed sense of the songs, date-stamped 1984, Sting had continued to play them in different bands, using different arrangements, for the next 20 years.

He had “evolved his concept of them,” said Copeland. “So we had a lot of struggle to accommodate the old and the new. But we took care of that in the first two months.”

The songs, as heard today onstage, sound like they did in their heyday. But Copeland said there are alterations in place - “all kinds of tiny inflections that musicians excruciate over endlessly,” he said. He guessed that most listeners wouldn’t notice these: “They’re listening for the overall effect.”

Which, by most accounts, they’re getting. Reviews for the tour have been largely positive, with the notable exception of a now-famous blog post by Copeland himself, in which he gleefully panned a less-than-stellar performance last year in Toronto.

While the Police were away, musicians and fans were learning to use the Web to reach one another. Compare that to the `70s and `80s, when, as Copeland remembered it, feedback consisted of what fans told a band at record-store appearances.

“That wasn’t an accurate representation of the zeitgeist,” he said. “For that, we had critics to lambaste us or praise us as they saw fit. Now it’s all multifarious and specific and explicit, and there’s tons of it,” he said of Internet-aided feedback. “And you can really see what a lot of people are thinking.”

Copeland also said the Internet has poked holes in the bubble that rock stars inhabit. Case in point: As interest grew in the reunion, the band added dates and extended the tour, and “inside the bubble we thought this was a great idea,” said Copeland.

Outside, on blogs and discussion boards, some Police fans who had bought tickets for the original finale were upset: They thought they were getting the authentic, last-night-of-the-tour experience, with confetti and emotional farewells, only to have the band keep picking other, later dates as the wrap. Where the Police were expecting gratitude, they got scolded.

“We would never have guessed that or intuited that without the Web,” said Copeland.

One thing Copeland’s intuition did tell him was that someday the Police would reunite. A decade ago, he was deep into a second career scoring music for film and television. But in a 1996 interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, he sounded confident that he, Sting and Summers had more to do. “I haven’t finished with them yet,” he said then.

It took another 11 years. Asked what happened to his certainty during that interval, he said, “It never faltered. What did happen is, I forgot about it. I got a new family, life, career, kids. I would say I was keen - eager, even - (to reunite) but there was nothing to be done about it so I got on with my life.”

That resolve to not look back has been an appealing part of the Police’s legend. But, having finally climbed aboard the reunion train, Copeland made no apologies for enjoying the ride.

“I’m in my 50s,’ he said, “I’m nostalgic.”

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