Rock column, Mail on Sunday, June 3 2007

The Police
GM Place, Vancouver

The Police have reunited for their first world tour in 23 years. This isn’t a record – Cream reunited in 2005 after 36 years – but the gap feels longer than it is, perhaps because The Police’s original stint is widely believed to have ended in acrimony.

Some 1.5m tickets have been sold for the tour, generating revenues of $168m (£84m), and there’s a frisson in the crisp Pacific air as the first show approaches. It will be a story either way, whether the evening ends in hugs or glowers. The Police’s hits are staples of oldie radio and plenty of young people are here, many with their parents. Among them is Joe Sumner, singer with the support act, Fiction Plane: his father is Sting.

It can’t be easy to have a dad who’s that famous, or that fit. Sting comes bouncing out looking even more toned than usual. With his white T-shirt, black drainpipes and rippling biceps, he’s a very buff old buffer.

Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland have aged well too. They have all their hair, although Copeland has gone grey, got glasses, and is wearing the inadvisably close-fitting top of the mid-life cyclist. Everybody is trim: the only inch of flab in the whole band is Summers’ double chin. At 64, he has earned it.

They start with Message In A Bottle, an instant thrill. They’ve been rehearsing for two months and it shows: they’re as tight as Sting’s trousers. Copeland is a powerhouse at the drumkit, while Sting and Summers ooze relaxed concentration, like sportsmen who are trying hard not to try too hard.

They end with a synchronised jump and the crowd goes wild. In mid-ovation, Sting takes a discreet swig from a mug – ‘something herby,’ his publicist reckons. The jump is straight from The Police’s post-punk roots; the tea shows how far they have travelled since. The whole gig is rather like that, mixing the punchy pop-reggae of the hits with the sophisticated noodling that came to dominate their albums.

After a second track, the propulsive Synchronicity II, Sting says he’d like to introduce the band: ‘Andy, this is Stewart.’ It’s a clever way to deal with the passing decades. Later they shower each other with praise: ‘on drums, the incredible Mr Stewart Copeland’; ‘on vocals, the amazing Sting’. Even their compliments are competitive.

‘We’ve got all these famous songs,’ Summers had told the local paper, ominously, ‘but we look at them like new pieces of material… We spent the last two months fiddling around until we felt it was good.’ The fans, who have paid over £100, may have felt it was good enough already, but reuniting is one thing and reproducing records is another. It would be unfair to expect every little thing they do to be just as it was.

The results are mixed. Don’t Stand So Close To Me is slowed down and thrown away, Walking On The Moon is more ambient and less angular, Truth Hits Everybody is drearily rocky, and Every Little Thing She Does combines a fizzing energy with some intricate decorative work from Copeland, now standing at something resembling the musical-instrument stall in a souk.

The songs that work best are mostly the simpler ones – De Do Do Do, cheesy but nice, and So Lonely, glum but cheery. Roxanne could be simple too, but after a riotous welcome and a strong start, it drifts off into the land of noodle and loses momentum.

Sting sings better than he ever did in 1978, and The Police’s sound comes through un-dated, perhaps because it was so quirky in the first place. The anachronisms in the lyrics – ‘my LP records’, ‘an Armalite’ – just add to the charm.

The staging is stylishly minimal, with strong close-ups on the big screen to convey Copeland’s eye-bulging delight, Summers’ studious virtuosity and Sting’s hammy face-pulling. It’s not easy to dance with a bass guitar, but he tries it briefly and manages an endearing silliness.

All that’s missing is an emotional punch to match the opening. It finally comes when they play Every Breath You Take, with its debonair menace and perfect rounded melody. The evening ends in hugs.