Usually it's the other way around. If a Hall of Fame band hits town with dates at both arenas and stadiums, the stadium show is typically the less impressive one. The smaller the venue, logic dictates, the more revelatory the experience should be.
Such logic doesn't apply to the Police, a band whose sound and career has been built on not doing things the usual way.
In a remarkable finish to their SoCal stand, the reunited trio - Sting, Any Summers and Stewart Copeland - went from just OK Wednesday at Staples Center to flat-out great Saturday at Dodger Stadium. They played the same songs in the same order at both gigs - no add-ons at the Big Bash, 'Spirits in the Material World' and 'Murder by Numbers' and anything else they may have rehearsed apparently having fallen off their radar.
Yet the difference between shows was night and day.
Sting, who had difficulty not cracking when he'd strain for notes Wednesday night, here couldn't have been in better voice; at one point, as 'Can't Stand Losing You' shifted into a stretch from 'Regatta de Blanc', he toyed with the melody, reaching for wilder heights and nailing every one. Summers, so muddy and clunky at Staples, here avoided most of his atonal detours and restored some of his fleet, flanged style. Copeland, a paradigm of power drumming, was less than fluid when this run began - but at Dodger Stadium he was dynamically riveting, adding buoyancy to songs that demand a driving feel.
What accounts for such a quick turnaround? Crowd size, I think. Never underestimate what sort of effect 55,000 people can have on a band, especially one that hasn't performed for such large audiences in almost a quarter-century.
Of the Police's three recent shows, this always looked to be the one that mattered most - the others were concerts, but this was an event, made even more special thanks to the addition of Foo Fighters as second opening act. (The first, lamentably lousy and generic Fiction Plane, seems to have scored this gig through nepotism, not talent, as the trio is fronted by Sting's bassist-vocalist son, Joe Sumner.)
If you were smart and made a day of it - arrived early, avoided traffic headaches, endured or ignored Fiction Plane but made sure to be in your seat before Dave Grohl and the Fighters came on - you likely got caught up in the excitement of it all. And the heavily bearded Foo Fighters certainly rose to the occasion by tearing through an hour-long set with precision force. Hits instantly gave way to more hits - 'Generator' and 'Stacked Actors' were the only selections here radio hadn't already seared into public consciousness.
Grohl in particular seemed to be having the time of his life, this being his first appearance at Dodger Stadium. During 'Actors', he darted from the enormous stage and raced to find a spot closer to second base, where he climbed atop equipment trunks and kept on rocking, before returning to the microphone and leading a first solo, then full band version of 'Everlong'.
The Police didn't indulge in such antics; that was never their style. Nor have they ramped up their show for stadiums; it's just a larger version of the minimally visual arena program. Unlike sprawls from the Stones or Green Day, where multilevel constructions leave room for the unexpected, the Police's return is just so - everything in its right place, no monkey business. Besides, signs on the way in indicated this one was being filmed - another possible explanation for the spike in quality.
But I still say it's interacting with such a massive throng of people that propelled them to this peak performance. The Police have always been a band that thrived on energy, whether from within its fractious framework or from the sing-along call of hordes of fans. Here, they seemed to feed on both, blowing past awkward cues or botched solos with mightiness, feeding off the roar of the crowd and delivering fiercely, especially in the first half of the set, up through a biting 'Driven to Tears'.
Not everything was perfect after that, mind you. 'Truth Hits Everybody' still drags things down, and whereas the moodier bits ('The Bed's Too Big Without You', 'Invisible Sun') were standouts at Staples, here they were choppy, their delicate passages dissipating in the night air.
Yet whereas missteps at Staples were glaringly evident, here they were quickly swept away, replaced by one rousing chorus after another. It was a near-perfect way to end this once-unthinkable series of Police shows - soaring on high notes and human electricity.
© The Orange County Register by Ben Wener