For the first three quarters of their concert at the St. Pete Times Forum, The Police seemed locked in an extended countdown, preparing for liftoff but not quite getting there. After an initial blush of excitement spurred by the first two songs — "Message in a Bottle" and "Synchronicity II" — the trio settled into an expert, workmanlike performance that lacked inspiration and the kind of sublime chemistry that makes a rock show raise the hairs on your neck.
This is, after all, a reunion tour among men in their 50s and 60s. Perhaps it's too much to ask that the threesome play a two-hour set with the kind of burning, youthful verve that sends jolts of electricity through a large venue.
But it would've been nice.
Sting, looking improbably fit in a tight T-shirt, snug jeans and ankle boots — all in black — is not the sort to commune with his audience. Rather, he hovered godlike over the proceedings with a cool élan, a sort of benign arrogance. Aside from a couple of half-hearted jumps to end tunes that seemed quite obligatory, he didn't put out much in the way of showmanship. His voice, however, was a marvel, easily as strong as during the first Police patrol in the '70s and '80s, but even richer and more assured.
If you came to hear hits, you were well rewarded. The Police covered virtually every touchstone in their impressive repertoire ("Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Wrapped Around Your Finger," "King of Pain," "Every Breath You Take," to cite a few), although they did leave out the one song I would've chosen to hear above all the rest: "Spirits in the Material World."
The band reworked a handful of tunes ("When the World is Running Down") but performed most of them true to the originals. They embarked on a few jam segments — and let's just say it's not their long suit. Guitarist Andy Summers has always been a splendid rhythm player with an ear for punchy accents and a great knack for sonic flourishes, but as a conventional soloist he comes up lacking. Sting's handful of bass improvs were little more than effete noodling. Drummer Stewart Copeland, who spared us the extended drum solo, provided the expected propulsion and added some engaging textural workouts on a big percussion rig that at select times rose up to the stage behind his drum kit.
It was during one of these forays that the concert finally attained liftoff. Improbably, it was during "Walking In Your Footsteps" — not exactly a roof-raising tune — that the trio appeared to flip the switch and really start to have fun. When Copeland hopped from his percussion rack down to his drums and sharply cracked his snare, the show reached a new pitch.
The intensity rose during an extended version of "Can't Stand Losing You," a visceral tune from the Police's 1978 debut Outlandos d'Amour. Here the group stretched out instrumentally but with a much better connection — up to that point, they'd adhered closely to tightly scripted arrangements.
This spasm of exuberance waned when The Police delved into a drawn-out "Roxanne," further proving that the song should be put in mothballs. If you were able to read Sting's mind, odds on he was musing, "Why, why must I continue to sing this relic?"
Sting could've used a few leaping lessons from his son, Joe Sumner, who fronted the opening band Fiction Plane. Twice he got big air by launching from the top of his amplifier and landing perfectly on the downbeat. The trio turned in a solid set that showcased some promising songs but ultimately emerged as a bit too Police-like. Plus there was this nagging feeling that Sumner and his mates should be out paying dues in small venues — just like Dad and his mates did three decades ago.