The Police concert didn't sell out this time. Were the few empty rows in the upper rafters of the MGM Grand Garden a signal of a grim economy? A weaker market for outrageously priced concert tickets since the first reunion stop almost a year ago?
Or did the excitement wear off? Word may have spread on how this reunion was being treated: The Police are Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers playing together again. That meant stripped-down dynamics and the intricacies of bass-drum-guitar interplay. No keyboards, horns or backup singers; Sting's had all that on his own for years.
But a good percentage of ticket-buyers were, on some level of consciousness, paying for the songs, not the three individuals. This is why tribute bands play locals casinos almost every weekend, and why they studiously copy the arrangements of the original recordings. If some Police tribute band tried to play "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" the way the real thing did Friday night -- with guitar lines subbing for the famous piano -- they would be taken out and ceremoniously thrown into The Cannery's swimming pool.
This tour makes every song from The Police canon sound the way they would if they had been written in time for the 1979 Econoline van tour of the United States. The garage band feel of the reunion tour is a valid, organic and often very cool approach. For those who have followed this ride through Sting's solo career, it’s just one more way to deconstruct and reconstruct the songs. But it also meant "Roxanne” and "Don’t Stand So Close To Me" are going to sound more familiar than "Magic" or "King of Pain," and that "Spirits in the Material World" or "Synchronicity II" aren’t even getting played at all on this swing (The MGM has a pool too, you know).
Friday's highlights included a kind of "pre-opening" acoustic version of "Bring On The Night" (before the stage lighted up with "Message In A Bottle"), Copeland's tuned percussion workout on "Wrapped Around Your Finger" and "King of Pain," and the trio's electric pre-encore closing jam of "Can’t Stand Losing You" flowing into "Regatta de Blanc." A bearded, jovial Sting kept crowd chat to a minimum, noting that in Vegas, "Everybody looks like they just had sex." The three mostly ignored any personal interaction, until Sting crossed over to Summer's side of the stage in the last few songs. That could be another reason why this reunion sagged; everyone can tell they're just doing it for the money.
At least ticket-buyers got a full-value opening act this time, Elvis Costello instead of Sting's kid. Costello is rocking in old-school form again, but got a bit of the usual opening-act treatment: blurry sound mix and an early start that already had the quartet playing its second song, "Pump It Up," before the official 8 p.m. start time printed on the ticket.
But Sting came out to help Costello sing "Alison," a cool moment that reminded the crowd they were dealing with artists of similar longevity and, at one time, equal importance. "Watching The Detectives" even reminded the crowd that "Roxanne" wasn’t the only reggae-toned pop hit of its era. But Sting was tall, tanned and broad-shouldered next to Costello, who was pale and stooped. Both singers define cool in their own way, but you know which way speaks louder in Las Vegas. And most everywhere else.