With all the hype and anxiety building around the BOk Center and announcements of coming concerts, there has so far been one thing curiously missing: the inclusion of a big name rock act. It's not that there aren't any out there touring; perhaps it's just that they're touring at the wrong time of the year.
It has been suggested that we need to bring in someone huge--perhaps someone who hasn't played Tulsa before or one of the revived and reunited monster acts from the past. While that hasn't materialized as of yet, I've done my share of driving so far this year and taken in probably three of the biggest such acts of the year: Van Halen (pre mid-tour meltdown), Bruce Springsteen and most recently, The Police with Elvis Costello.
Now, you might remember that I had my initial encounter with The Police last summer and it left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Originally billed and represented as a reunion of the band and a revisiting of their past, it fell short on a number of levels. Mostly that these staples of 80s radio had always been underpinned with touches of reggae and punk rock and in 2007 any hints of such had completely evaporated, replaced with jazz stylings and solos of the members' post-pantheon work.
Instead of coming off as a band in the true sense of the word, the whole night felt more like "Sting plays The Police" ...and, oh yeah, the backing band just happens to be a couple other guys that were originally in the band.
At that time I'd vowed that I would probably give the band another chance if the opportunity arose, however, I'd do it on my own terms and with different expectations. Last week I finally got that opportunity--and what a difference a year makes.
This time around I did do it on my own terms; instead of paying ridiculous and ghastly prices for tickets, I worked eBay and the scalpers and ended up with prime seats, instead of nosebleeds for less than half the face value (which translated to $225, $90 and $65). Right out of the gate, I was already ahead of the game. Plus I didn't have accompaniment that was distracted or would rather be elsewhere and I'd already won half the battle.
I also got an early hint that this would be a special night when Sting showed up on stage late in Elvis Costello's opening set to accompany him on "Alison," not only joining him for the chorus, but also taking over the second verse.
More importantly, however, was how much the band (and consequently, the tour) has changed over the course of the past year. The setlist has changed slightly, but so has the band's demeanor and stage presence. Perhaps appropriate to my previous experience, the band opened with "Bring on the Night," which hints more at the jazzy nuances of the refined, 21st century version of the group; but surprisingly, somewhere along the touring path, The Police learned to become a rock band again.
In 2008, a little of the polish has worn off and the band is more loose limbed, flowing more with the ebb and flow of the energy of the crowd than where the current arrangement is trying to push the music. Instead of "Sting leads The Police," it felt more like a band effort with the three rock icons playing off each other and (if appearances aren't deceiving) actually enjoying their time together.
Most importantly, however, is the vibe and tone that the music took on. Instead of relying on a laid back jazz groove, the instruments were more in your face and the playing a bit more aggressive. Most notably, Andy Summers' guitar tone was more muscular and his solos have transitioned from angular jazz scales to more aggressive, blues based growls.
This time around, there was a little less reliance on the Synchronicity album (no Synchronicity II or the self indulgent Walking in Your Footsteps) and the set was balanced more evenly with earlier material, leaving very few "hit" singles out of the mix.
At the same time, not everything was note perfect. "Walking on the Moon" saw the band stumble through a muddy transition and "Don't Stand So Close To Me" wasn't nearly as eerie and dissonant as I remember it, but that actually helped keep things feeling a bit more spontaneous and in the moment.
Perhaps the most impressive pairing of the night came at the closing of the main set, even though the two songs' strengths were in contrast to each other. "Invisible Sun" proved to be perhaps the best representation of the band America came to love--dead on to the original in sound, vibe and arrangement. In turn, "I Can't Stand Losing You" saw the band at the peak of its "rock band" energy, recapturing for a moment a bit of its early reggae swagger and featuring a decidedly aggressive guitar solo by Summers to end the main set.
As I glanced at my watch (9:54pm), the band had started into its encore set with "Roxanne" and after an inspiring main course, it ironically represented everything that was wrong with last year's show. Perhaps the only song about a prostitute to crash the American pop charts, in 2008 "Roxanne" has slowed down and stretched into a jazzy jam session and although everyone still gets ecstatic and sings along, the previously dirty little pop confection has become a bit jaded and passé. The urgency and pop hook that left stuck so insistently in our heads and had us (as well as Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours) howling "Roxanne... You don't have to turn on your red light!" has now become less significant and plaintive.
Fortunately, all was corrected with the final four songs of the night, which, perhaps appropriately altered between the bands earliest and latest singles: "So Lonely" was sandwiched between arena anthems "King of Pain" and "Every Breathe You Take" to close out the evening on a high note.
To wrap things up, Andy Summers mockingly called the band back out for a raucous rumble through "Next to You" that hearkened back to the bands start as a scrappy garage rock band with an amped up tempo, punchy vocals and aggressive solo turns.
Even though the band is looking markedly older (Sting is now sporting a graying beard, Stewart Copeland is the "silver fox" of the group and appears to be enjoying it all more than anyone, and Summers is looking -- well, just old...) they sound much younger and more inspired than they did a year ago. I find it sadly ironic, though, that just as the band has finally gotten its rock groove back, it is also wrapping up the tour and planning to put The Police to bed for good. Sure, we've all heard that before, only to see another "Farewell Tour" or two come down the road a couple years later, but for once, I don't expect that to be the case here.
Overall, I'm glad I gave the band another chance and got to see a legendary band go out on a high note. What are the chances we'll get to see that kind of history made in Tulsa? Come September, we'll find out. Don't get me wrong: I don't want a parade of old dinosaurs coming through, but it would be cool to see a few legends redeem their past in our own hometown. We can only hope...
Following a rock icon and a packed holiday weekend, it can be tough to get excited about the little shows, but somehow Tulsa seems to attract enough to keep me ready to hit the streets and we've got a few sweet morsels to keep an eye out for this week.
Thursday night, March 29, kicks off the week in style with a couple of good shows worth catching. Over at Bob's (Cain's second stage) late 90s modern rockers Local H visit Tulsa with Lions and Taylor Hollingsworth in tow for only $15. Meanwhile, The Continental features Mishka Shulaby for an evening of storytelling and gritty acoustic guitar work that merges indie rock and blues deconstructionism with stunning effect.
Friday, May 30, is the big night of the weekend with RSun holding the CD Release party for his The Rain is Incessant EP, while The Effects release their new disc And It Is at Plan B and Big Smith returns to Bob's with Travis Linville, all within a few blocks of each other.
Once you hit 18th and Boston, Mercury Lounge will be jumping with Billy Joe Winghead, Goddamned Gallows and Mosquito Bandito. Looking further south, Crush Lounge hosts Critical Bill with Primer 55, USA and 28 Grams. Keep your eyes peeled for a stealth appearance by our own PDA as well...
Saturday, May 31, takes on a different tone as Detached Promotions takes over the Crush Lounge for its four year birthday bash with metal acts Troglodyte, Submerged in Dirt, The Lost Concept and more for $10 at the door. Elsewhere, the indie rock crowd will be drawn to The Monolith for Fight Pretty, Detonate and Captions while Mercury Lounge covers the Americana angle with Jason Eady and Turnpike Troubadours.
Sunday evening sees two great shows in town. First up are hometown heroes Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, sharing the Jazz Depot stage with Annie Ellicott for refined revisiting of the new disc with a few surprises for a $10 ticket. Across the tracks at The Cain's Ballroom, unsung alt-country stalwarts The Old 97's bring their new tunes to town with Hayes Carll opening the show. Doors open at 7pm and tickets are $23.
Finally, the week wraps up with Hurt, Course of Nature and Bait at the Ballroom on Tuesday, June 3, followed on Wednesday night by The Gourds at Plan B and Ali Harter with John Moreland and Fiawna Forte at The Monolith.
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