On August 7, I saw the final show of The Police in Madison Square Garden. The B52s opened for them and were very good, except I can’t help regretting that the opener wasn’t Elvis Costello (who played the Philadelphia show).

The Police delivered a surprise opening number: a musically mediocre but energetic cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and followed up with an upbeat “Message in a Bottle” in tribute to their namesake, the actual police (several members of whom joined them on stage — go NYPD!),

After that, it was a giddy little going away party, with hardly a dull moment. As a friend of mine pointed out, this is one band that probably couldn’t put together a disappointing set list if it tried. Isn’t that the truth? There are bands whose music moves more deeply or provokes thought more radically, but The Police grabs you with a disarming whimsy and unfailing originality in almost every song (i.e, concert-friendly).  Some artists (usually my favorites) are achingly — or shockingly — insightful. The Police was always hilariously insightful, sometimes about seemingly trivial things, but really, there is no less artistic merit in that.

Refreshingly, The Police don’t seem to take themselves too seriously either (yes, yes, I know about the giant, clashing egos; life is full of contradictions, get over it). Jokes and antics abounded. During “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” when Sting’s daughters came on stage and danced (in an utterly informal, teenage-kid sort of way) he quipped “among us, we have about 21 kids.” Introducing “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” he said he had been a teacher before his life went off course! The weirdest episode came right before the (unexpectedly long) encore set, when the overhead screen showed Sting getting pampered with a shave and a manicure (during which Stewart appeared briefly to plant a big smackeroo on Sting’s mouth!) and at the very end, they had Porky Pig say “that’s all folks!”

Musically, Summers and Copeland were in pretty decent form, so was Sting, although he sounded just a tad winded at times. What I didn’t like was that he allowed the audience to sing way too many chorus measures on their own ( as in without his help). Was he catching a breath???They did noticeably mellower versions of many of the songs. Which is the opposite of what most bands tend to do, especially when keeping things otherwise lighthearted. Must be Sting’s inner smooth-jazz-crooner! Another bit of experiment was their cover of Purple Haze, which was not too bad (I took a video but can’t share because blogspot seems to think I don’t own the copyright). Here’s someone else’s video of “So Lonely” (with links to a couple of other performances of the evening).

By the way, Stewart and Andy are definitely showing the ravages of time. I mean, I love them, I really do, but they look — there’s no other way to say this — OLD!! At first I thought the stubbly-faced Sting was looking a little weathered as well, until the end, in an encore segment best described as the “coda” when he came out clean shaven and shirtless, looking yummier than ever! Well, maybe not EVER (I mean do you REMEMBER young Sting?), but wow! Even if the performance sucked it would have been worth it just to see THAT!

But it didn’t suck. It rocked. And, to top it all off, the proceeds went to one of my favorite institutions, public television!

Worth every penny!