MUSiC: The Police, Live, 1980 (Rockpalast, Essen)

Rather amazingly, this is the same year as the previous Police gig, also recorded for the German Rockpalast TV show, as covered in my last post. But The Police are evolving, rapidly ascending the heights of Pop Olympus. They come onstage to a backing of Voices Inside My Head*, from their follow up to Regatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta.

Sting wears a Regatta de Blanc T-shirt, and plays an upright stick bass. Summers looks smarter, in a snazzy striped ‘sports jacket’ and white T-shirt. Stewart Copeland is striped and very sporty, and now has a more plush drum throne, with back support! The venue is waaay bigger. Hamburg was a medium sized theatre, Essen looks like a stadium.

Sting on ‘bull fiddle’.

After Don’t Stand So Close To Me, from their new album, Zenyatta Mondatta, and Walking On The Moon, from Regatta de Blanc, Sting swaps back to his normal electric bass, and they kind of go punk Bo-Diddley, on Deathwish. They’re definitely looking and sounding that much more like pop stars. And it’s the same year as the previous neo-punk-jazz onslaught!

Copeland still drives the band with the same ferocious energy. They still jam out a lot, but it feels slightly more restrained. At least at first. They’re still playing one or two non-album oddities, like Fall Out, and Sting is adding synth touches via what might be a Moog, and what look like Taurus pedals.

Man In A Suitcase is the next live workout for a number from Zenyatta, their latest release that they were touring to promote at this time. Whilst this still has some of the upbeat energy of their earlier era, it’s also more brightly melodic.

When they get to Bring On The Night the change from the previous performance seems more pronounced. This time it’s not quite as manic nor intense. I think this is partly due to the scale of the venue; the sound is more diffuse in a bigger space. But the performance also differs, being more restrained, less wild. It’s interesting to see how they work at building the tension under Andy’s guitar solo, in a way that differs massively from the album version.

They go into the double-time frenzy, as they did previously, on the Hamburg gig, but it works a little less well. This is partly due to the muddy wash of delay on Copeland’s kit, and partly, again, because it’s made more woolly and diffuse by the sheer scale of the venue. I’ve always preferred theatres and smaller venues to stadiums, for gigs. Stadium concerts are more about money than music, as far as I’m concerned.

Things come into a sharper focus again for De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (memorably desscribed by Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge as their ‘nonsense anthem’!). The newer, slicker, more pop Police sound and style are coming to the fore now. It’s still intense, but smoother and decidedly less spiky. Any punky rough edges are gradually being worn away.

Sting’s bass once again is noticeable at times for the very approximate tuning. It being live things are a bit more forgiving. In the studio they’d never have let such sloppiness pass.

The Truth Hits Everybody is a track from debut, Outlandos d’Amour, and a brief and energised nod to their roots. After which the upright bass comes out for another Zenyatta track, the spooky and much more mellow and moody Shadows In The Rain (which is apparently about hard drug use!). This song would be totally reworked for Sting’s solo debut, Dream of the Blue Turtles. But here it presages the type of soundscapes that would eventually come to dominate The Police’s final album, Synchronicity (Tea In The Sahara, Walking In Your Footsteps, King of Pain, etc).

When The World Is Running Down was and still is a favourite of mine from Zenyatta. The weird juxtaposition of rather joyful music with the maudlin post-apocalyptic ruminations of the lyrics are, well… unusual! Sting gets a bit funky at one point in the jam section/guitar solo, playing a high register lick on the bass, and supplying the low-register via his pedals.

The Bed’s Too Big, rather like Bring On The Night, suffers a little, to my ears, from the translation into a much bigger venue. I think the band’s performance is very similar to earlier in the year, in the main. But the larger space soaks up and dissipates the intensity. I think if you were at the gigs, these numbers may well have retained their magic, or even intensified it, with the extended jam or improv sections. These are two of my definite favourites in their album versions.

Driven To Tears is a monster track on Zenyatta, partly cause it’s a great song, but also because Copeland’s drumming gives it an added edge. Here the most striking thing about it might be the sudden appearance of overtly socially-conscious lyrics from Sting. It’s not the first instance of this, just the most overt and strident. The trio give it a real powerhouse workout on stage.

The Police then neatly segue into, and play their way out, on a string of what, by then, were the hits that had turned them, and were continuing to turn them, into mega-stars: Message In a Bottle, Roxanne, Can’t Stand Losing You (with a bit of Regatta de Blanc by way of intro), before closing with a spirited medley of Next To You/So Lonely.

The contrast in the two concerts of the same year is quite striking. In Hamburg they’re a slightly punky band, excited at their ascent, and blasting their music through the more intimate venue with astonishing power. By the time they arrive in Essen they’re fully fledged pop stars, and the big ‘production’ in a huge venue, whilst superb, and undoubtedly more ‘mature’, also loses a whisker in the intensity stakes. This is partly due to the evolution of their songs and overall sound, and partly the scale of the gig.

This DVD contains both concerts.

Both concerts are excellent, and they are (or were?) available together on a combined DVD package (see accompanying pics). Hearing these concerts sends me back to the original albums. What a band! These two terrific films capture The Police scaling the heights.

PS – Thanks to a pal, who gave us tickets to see The Police when he couldn’t go – thanks buddy! – Teresa and I saw them during their 2007 reunion tour. It was a good gig. But the old intensity wasn’t quite there. Andy Summers in particular was showing his age (and of course he has passed away now). And it was in a bigger venue than I like. We were actually behind the main stage, and quite high up.

* The background intro version sounds like a synth n drum machine demo? It’s certainly not the studio/band version, which benefits from a terrific drum performance from Copeland.

The rear of the DVD combo, with track listing.

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