Outlandos d'Amour

Los Angeles, CA, US
Santa Monica Civic
Police Concert: No Punk Brutality...

The Police, who wowed L.A. audiences in March with six electrifying performances at the Whiskey returned Thursday for a sold-out show at the Santa Monica Civic and made the transition to the larger venue with relative ease.

There were however, a few hitches. A cloudy sound system obscured most of the new-wave trios lyrics - one of its strong suits - and its penchant for stretching taut, high-powered tunes into extended reggae-flavoured jams grew wearisome over the course of the hour-long, well received set.

Despite the drawbacks this is one hot hand. The focal point on-stage is lead vocalist Sting whose peroxided, spiky haircut no doubt accounts for the British band's being branded punk. Their sound, however, is actually far too melodic for that pigeonhole.

Sting's lush, jazz-inflected vocals take odd twists and turns that bring him closer to Harry Belafonte than to Johnny Rotten. Wearing his customary faded khaki jump-suit - which strangely only enhances his aristocratic mien - Sting punctuated his vocal forays with frenzied leaps ala Pete Townsend. Their sound has a decidedly unpunk elegance, but that tag is on target as regards the Police's themes, which lean toward tough, street-wise ruminations on love, death and loneliness.

Thursday's set, which consisted primarily of songs from their excellent debut album, 'Outlandos d'Amour', was highlighted by 'Born in the '50s', a soaring anthem with all the earmarks of a 'My Generation' classic, and by the quietly beautiful 'Message in a Bottle'. The Police are unique in their tactic of transforming punk songs into lengthy jams, with Sting's vocal improvisations doing what Clapton's guitar did in the '60s.

It's admirable that they attempt to give concert audiences more than a jukebox replay of their record, but plugging the same variation into every song rendered the material flat and predictable. I also could have done without the belaboured audience participation sequences - I really don't care to hear my neighbour sing Police's songs.

Nit-picking aside, the Police is one of the few new-wave acts that hold any real hope of winning a mainstream following. There were relatively few flagrant punks in Thursday's crowd, which left seemingly satisfied with the Police's simple and intelligent music.

(c) The Los Angeles Times by Kristina McKenna