Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 27, 2009)
Back in 2007, we found lots of big-name reunions, many of which seemed improbable prior to that year. 2007 brought back a David Lee Roth-led Van Halen, a one-off show from Led Zeppelin, and the most popular version of Genesis. The most starting return – and the most successful tour – came from the Police. (A Led Zep tour would’ve been off the charts, but that didn’t occur.)
For all intents and purposes, the Police died in 1984 when the Synchronicity tour ended. Oh, the band played a few concerts as part of 1986’s “Conspiracy of Hope” tour to benefit Amnesty International, and they managed some abortive studio sessions that year as well. These produced an alternate version of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and that was it. The Police – briefly the world’s most popular band – went the way of the do-do.
And it looked like it’d stay that way. The three members – singer/bassist Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers – never much cared for each other, and Sting’s success as a solo artist meant he had little incentive to reunite. Summers and Copeland revealed an interest in a reborn Police over the years, but Sting stood in the way.
Why did Sting change his mind? He claims he did this because he wanted to take the path least expected by his fans, which is true; few expected the band to ever reunite. Cynics might opine that the state of Sting’s solo career played the biggest role, though. Sting hadn’t done too well with anything since 1999’s Brand New Day and needed something to boost his public profile. What better than a Police reunion?
Whatever the behind the scenes reason may be, the reunited Police did very well. In fact, the tour sold so nicely that it threatened never to end. The Police went on the road in the summer of 2007 and didn’t finish until their August 2008 finale at Madison Square Garden – their fifth concert at that hallowed venue.
Though I don’t count myself as a fanatical Police follower, I went to quite a few shows on this tour. I took in four during the summer 2007 leg, another four in the fall, and then the final four in summer 2008. I never intended to see the Police 12 times, but the spread-out schedule sucked me in and led me to probably twice as many concerts as I would’ve expected.
And I enjoyed them for the most part. On the negative side, the shows tended to be awfully predictable given the nature of the production. When I see a heavily choreographed production like a Madonna concert, I expect the same songs every night, and that’s fine with me. Sure, a little more variety would be nice; indeed, Madonna added an “audience request” segment to her 2008 show. Nonetheless, given the complex nature of a Madonna concert, it’s perfectly reasonable for the setlist to remain static.
With a three-piece band like the Police, though, there’s no reason the band couldn’t – and shouldn’t - shake up the set from night to night, especially when they played two shows in so many cities. Granted, the Police don’t have the deepest catalog in the world; they called it quits after five albums, so it’s not like they have the same depth of available tunes as someone like Springsteen.
Still, that’s no excuse. Bands with less rich catalogs still change things up from night to night, and Police should’ve done the same.
While the lack of musical variety disappointed me, I couldn’t complain about the quality of the performances. Overall, the Police sounded good. No, Sting didn’t sing all of the songs in the original register, but I think too many people focus on that subject too much. Sting’s vocals still worked just fine; I don’t feel they lost anything due to the lowered keys.
Musically, the Police could be hit or miss from night to night, but they usually provided solid performances. Happily, the official tour DVD explored here found them on a very good night. Certifiable comes from two December 2007 concerts at the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The show offers the same set I saw every night during the 2007 tours, with tunes from each of the band’s five albums.
From 1978’s Outlandos D’Amour, we locate “Hole in My Life”, “Truth Hits Everybody”, “Can’t Stand Losing You”, “Next to You”, “So Lonely” and “Roxanne”. 1979’s Regatta de Blanc provides “Message in a Bottle”, “Walking on the Moon” and the title tune, while 1980’s Zenyatta Mondatta includes “Voices Inside My Head”, “When the World Is Running Down”, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”, “Driven to Tears”, and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”.
Off of 1981’s Ghost in the Machine, we only get two tracks: “Invisible Sun” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. Finally, 1983’s smash hit Synchronicity offers “Synchronicity II”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, “Walking In Your Footsteps”, “King of Pain” and “Every Breath You Take”.
Across the 12 Police concerts I saw, each member of the Police had a chance to shine. Some nights Sting fared the best, while others saw Stewart at the top of his game. If forced to pick a reunion tour MVP, though, I’d go with Andy. No one ever looked at the Police as a strong guitar band; while Summers gave the material a distinctive sound and has his moments, they weren’t an act that likely inspired teens to learn the guitar.
Summers did a lot to remedy that with his reunion performances, and that side of the shows comes to the fore in Certifiable. Andy gets the spotlight a lot of the time and makes the most of it. He throws out some really great work here and actively improves some songs that never did a lot for me. For instance, “Walking In Your Footsteps” seemed like a bit of a throwaway on Synchronicity, but its rendering here gives it a real kick in the behind. Andy conjures a devilish solo that proves wholly enchanting. He makes some odd choices for his “King of Pain” solo, but otherwise his playing really soars.
Sting and Copeland also play just fine. Indeed, Certifiable shows the band at the top of their reunion game. As I mentioned earlier, I saw quite a few ups and downs across my 12 shows, especially during the tour-ending 2008 concerts. They really seemed tired and ready to quit by that point, so mistakes abounded.
Certifiable finds the band at just the right point in the tour. By the time they got to Argentina, they’d been on the road long enough to have worked out various kinks, but they weren’t fed up with things at that point. This means they crank into higher gear much of the time, a factor likely emboldened by a typically manic South American audience. Sting has a major following in that part of the world, so the massive stadium crowd helps bolster the band’s energy level.
How does the concert translate visually to the TV screen? Acceptably well, though not in a spectacular manner. Director Jim Gable treats the material in a somewhat haphazard way. He presents the performance in a generally coherent manner, which isn’t difficult to do given the show’s simplicity; with only three musicians, it’s not hard to stay focused.
And that makes things easy for Gable, but I think he makes the show a little too busy. No, he doesn’t indulge in a dizzying series of quick-cuts, and he keeps visual gimmicks to a bare minimum. I just feel like there’s not much fluidity to the presentation; it often feels like something editing on the fly rather than a program cut together at a later time.
Nonetheless, I’ll take Gable’s work over the hyperactive editing and idiotic gimmicks endorsed by too many directors. Certifiable never becomes a fascinating concert presentation, but it delivers a reasonably effective view of the event. It also shines musically, so this is a worthwhile release.
By the way, be sure to stick with the program through the end credits. We find interview footage with the Police in which they discuss a dicey situation that occurred during a 1980 visit to Argentina. It’s a good story despite some silly embellishment from Copeland.