The Police with Elvis Costello at Allstate Arena
Saturday, May 10, 2008, Rosemont, Illinois
Twenty five years ago, Sting unleashed a cynical lyrical torrent on unsuspecting suburbanites everywhere with “Synchronicity II,” one family’s tale of mind numbing banality in the manicured hinterlands. The location is purposely unidentified because that’s the point of suburbia-it’s not ANYwhere at all—it’s neither the city nor the county, it’s neither cosmopolitan nor is it pastoral, it’s neither hip nor square. It simply IS.
Another suburban family morning
Grandmother screaming at the wall
We have to shout above the din of our Rice Crispies
We can’t hear anything at all
Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration
But we know all her suicides are fake
Daddy only stares into the distance
There’s only so much more that he can take
Many miles away
Something crawls from the slime
At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake
Another industrial ugly morning
The factory belches filth into the sky
He walks unhindered through the picket lines today
He doesn’t think to wonder why
The secretaries pout and preen like
cheap tarts in a red light street
But all he ever thinks to do is watch
And every single meeting with his so-called superior
Is a humiliating kick in the crotch
Many miles away
Something crawls to the surface
Of a dark Scottish loch
Another working day has ended
Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race
Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance
He knows that something somewhere has to break
He sees the family home now looming in his headlights
The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache
Many miles away
There’s a shadow on the door
Of a cottage on the shore
Of a dark Scottish lake
Many miles away, many miles away
So it was with great irony that 14,000 pudgies packed into the Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago for the reunion tour that was never supposed to happen, until the confluence of time, fan affluence, nostalgia, and the entrance of mega promoters fronting mega cash for dream tours conspired to pull Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland together again in the very same arena (according to Sting) where the Police played their last official tour stop together a quarter century earlier. Yes, even Sting bows to a so-called superior, Lucre be his name!
What’s worse for an aging rocker than facing your own mortality is facing your own impending lameness. A two hour set of songs that dominated the charts of your youth paired with the paunch and unfortunate wardrobes of middle aged New Wavers and pop tarts can send the most steadfast among us headlong into a mid-life crisis. A friend of mine noted that aging hippies can actually pull off the look. It’s a style that ages, if not gracefully, then at least with dignity. The look of an aging New Waver? Not so much. The pegged jeans and cropped jacket don’t sit as well on a well-fed frame as they do on that of a wiry speed freak.
I realize that this all comes off as horribly judgmental and elitist; that I am holding in judgment some folks who just wanted to have a nice night out and see a band that reminds them of their youth. I realize that and will tell you that like all forms of judgment and bullying, I am projecting. My disdain for chubby, uncool American suburbanites is a form of self loathing. I see in them the possibility of my own middle-agedom, and I don’t like what I see.
Adding insult to injury is the specter of Sting and Stewart Copeland, who are such rare specimens of graceful aging that it quite simply boggles the mind. We (and by we I mean ALL OF US) make a lot of hay at Sting’s expense. His interest in yoga and the titillating stories of multi-orgasmic tantric sex is ripe ground for cynical derision. That you’re still having sex with your wife all these years later is probably a point of contention for most of your fanbase. That you BOTH look fantastic while doing it all those hours is just beyond our ability to take seriously. Look at our sitcoms, man. The formula is AT BEST fat guy with a hot wife. That’s our fantasy and like good porn, it’s within our realm of possibility. And so there was Sting and Stewart Copeland mocking us in their physical splendor (this is how you could look) and poor old Andy Summers representing reality (this is how you do look). Of course, Andy Summers is making bank on tour with the Police while the rest of us are working in banks.
But what about the show, you ask? I guess it was good. I don’t know. By some stroke of karma I was fated to watch the show alone back by the flickering lights and low hum of the sound booth. The group of tickets I acquired was not seated together and as it was just three of us there, I opted for the lone gunman seat. As an existential experience e, it was the right move. I was able to let my thoughts form without influence from others or the distraction of who would make the next beer run. As a simple rock show, it was a weird sort of bust.
Allstate Arena, like most any venue its size and age, fucking sucks for seeing music. While my view was unobstructed, I was far enough away that when Sting made a cameo during opener Elvis Costello’s set to duet on “Alison” I thought it was Bruce Willis lumbering up in a trilby hat and black vest. I mean, it’s not too early for a (re-) Return of Bruno, is it?
The sound was what we’ve all come to expect from these venues: cavernous. Save for some high notes belted out by Sting and the occasional trill of notes from Andy Summers, the place was dominated by bass and drums. That’s fine of you’re digging on some dancehall beats, not so much when it’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger.”
To be fair, it appears as though the Police put on a fine show. I mean, it LOOKED like a good show, but I don’t know. Those venues have an uncanny ability to gather thousands of people together and then remove them entirely from the event. I didn’t feel a thing and that’s a key criteria for how I judge most musical events.
After two hours of the Hits with the occasional deep cut thrown in for the dudes who once pulled shifts at their college radio stations, the Police walked off the stage and we all filed into the lobby to argue with our wives over the acceptable amount of money one can spend at the merch booth. Thirty five dollars for ONE t-shirt is fine, two hundred and ten dollars for a t-shirt, baseball cap, vintage poster, program, and blinking lapel pin is apparently a bit much.
As my two friends and I stumbled into the parking lot and back to my Volvo we were played out to the sound of hundreds of car stereos blasting out “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” as if we might be able to conjure the Police out for one more encore out there in the parking lot. At least we had a soundtrack for the hour and a half wait to exit the Allstate Arena.
“Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes…”
Previously: Boxing Bob Dylan” (2001).