Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stalker Songs and Pseudo-Hippies

Just before 10:30 Saturday night, as a yellow moon rose over the horizon in the east, Andy Summers stood alone onstage at the Usana Amphitheater and beckoned his bandmates out for one more encore. Finally, as the cheering and clapping persisted, Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland emerged to send us off into the night with "Next to You", one of their very first numbers as The Police, from thirty years ago.

Granted, it was a bit strange to listen to 90 minutes worth of romantic angst from a guy who could probably woo any woman on the planet inside of sixty seconds, but that's just part of the charm of The Police. Aside from all those cool reggae beats and repetitive choruses, you had simple songs about pent-up romantic frustration, and we can always relate to that.

I was too young to get into The Police when they made their initial run to glory. Unlike most of my favorite bands, who had either broken up or had one key member die of a drug overdose long before I was born, The Police were around and in their prime during my youth, even if I only knew Sting as that guy with the funny hair who wore the inflatable speedo in "Dune". It wasn't until I had gone through my initial Beatles phase that I went back and began to discover some of the music that was playing on the radio while I was playing with my GI Joe's. The Police were another one of those bands I never thought I'd get to see, but like with Simon and Garfunkel, life surprises you sometimes. Ever since the Red Sox won the series, all bets are off, I guess.

The opening act Saturday night was Elvis Costello, a contemporary of Sting and Co. who had the unfortunate role of starting his set with the sun in his face while several thousand concertgoers were still wandering around getting their first beers. Maybe he wanted to get it over with, or maybe he's just a really cool guy, but in a dramatic reversal of every concert I've ever been to, Costello walked on stage five minutes EARLY and kicked off a 45-minute set that featured all his big hits like, "Radio, Radio", "Walking the Detectives", and "What's So Funny (About Love and Understanding)". Either way, my appreciation for the 1970's Buddy Holly look-a-like was bumped up a notch.

About a half hour after Costello wrapped up, Stewart Copeland ran out on stage wearing white gloves and a huge vintage 80's headband and started pounding on his 6-foot gong like a junior high band student. Then Sting and Summers emerged, and the band whipped into "Message in a Bottle". The whole concert, including encores, only lasted about an hour and a half, but that was more than enough time to squeeze in the greatest hits lineup of a band that was only together for about six years. They covered the big ones like "Roxanne" and "Every Breath You Take" (the coolest song ever about stalking someone) with all the requisite energy and stage lighting. I was also happy that they chose to avoid doing a lot of post-Police solo material from the Sting camp. Unlike many of my peers, I prefer the energy of speedo-era Sting to the guy that started hanging around with Elton John and Princess Di.

But that's just me.

This was also my first visit to Usana, which was a refreshing change from Energy Solutions Arena. The sound wasn't immaculate or anything, but it was more than sufficient to remind me of why I love songs like "Can't Stand Losing You" and "Don't Stand So Close To Me", and the venue itself is a very cool place to see a show. I saw The Who in Houston several years ago in a similar amphitheater, and the crowds of people packed onto grass give the events a kind of Woodstock feel, only with about 500,000 fewer people.

Then again, I don't think a lot of the hippies at Woodstock tucked their tye-dye T-shirts into Docker shorts, and they certainly didn't blow a lot of money wasting their time on $5 beers. The cute brunette on the row in front of me did look a little hippie-ish, but even she was wearing a CamelBak, so there you go.

For several months now I have been hearing about how rotten the traffic is at Usana, mostly because there is really only one road in and out of the venue, and partly because any time you get more than five Utah drivers in one spot you have utter chaos. But even though I probably wasted about four dollars worth of gas idling my way across the fifty yards I needed to get out of the parking lot, the total travel time wasn't so bad overall. Which is good, because I'm heading out there again to see Joe Cocker and the Steve Miller Band next week.

Yep, overall Sting, Stewart and Andy turned in a fine performance, and they even remembered to shout out the name of the right city every once in a while. With all the crap we put up with from NBA free agents, it's nice to have some rock and rollers come and make us Utahn's feel cool every once in a while. Plus I was reminded that Sting used to be a school teacher, which is another thing I have in common with him besides raw sex appeal.

Now if only I were a better bass player...