fandom, music

The Year of Living Copelandey, part 2

So one day the Wife tells me that The Police are planning a reunion tour, that she’s always been a gosh-darned enormous fan of Stewart Copeland, having loved his work within the group when she was a kid (and I was twenty), and that it’d be cool if we could see them perform sometime during what promises to be something more than the customary geezers-announce-hell-freezes-over-while-we-pay-for-the-grandkids’-trust-funds reunion tour. 

If her durable ardor had been something I’d been told about before, I’d certainly buried it within my impression of some of Wife’s other childhood musical preferences… the likes of many of which just make me snicker. <cough> Guns ‘N’ Roses <cough> 

But there’s certainly nothing wrong with The Police as far as I’m concerned. “Synchronicity” was one of the first CDs I ever bought (years before Napster’s peer-to-peer presence changed the landscape for such purchasing decisions), and their 1985 remake of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” was one of my very last pop vinyl purchases. But that’s the extent of my ownership of anything Police-related as far as I can remember. 


She points me at a choppy Youtoob post of the tour announcement, and several interesting things occur to me as I watch the boys perform a handful of their damnably durable songs. 

First, the gig (recorded off an MTV broadcast) is taking place within a relatively small, intimate space. Something I’ve rarely had the pleasure of hearing a band of this stature perform within. 

whisky2Second, the drummer (someone I can’t remember having seen very much of) is being a bit of a jerk, heckling the Almighty Sting while they play. I give the man points for throwing darts at the stuffy hot-air balloon I’ve been hearing on tepid rock radio for years. I also have occasion to remember that this amusingly rude fellow has done lots of soundtrack work, which I respect. 

Third, they seem very unrehearsed in front of that Whisky crowd, but I’m not suffering for it. They sound very good actually. It will be months before I see their brief, energetic appearance at the Grammys, which took place the night before. But right at the moment, I’m seeing something I find impressive: a decades-old band that doesn’t require my indulgence to tolerate while they jam.

A few days later, I acquire the audio from the tour announcement broadcast and then realize how good they actually sound, having a new reason to focus upon the skills being displayed. It’s because these new versions of the songs are working very well for me indeed. It’s as though I’m listening to them for the first time, which is very good. I play the tracks over and over again for days into weeks, the way I do when I’ve found music that resonates. 

whisky3Throughout the four tracks, Stewart Copeland does things I don’t remember ever having heard a rock drummer do. He’s unpredictable yet precise, doing things with syncopation and ghod-knows-what-else that somehow add up to much more than the caveman-pounding-on-skins that a lot of rock music coasts along with. It’s as though Charlie Parker had been reborn and somehow translated his saxophone bebop into an amazing percussive mesh that, at times, sounds as though there’s more than one guy sitting at the kit. Proper jazz aficionados will no doubt have more accurate analogies in mind. 

It gets better when Wife steers me to speeches Copeland has given at a screening of his documentary, “Everyone Stares,” a filmed account assembled from his own home movies of the band’s original tour, and at a conference for Mac OS X. He talks about audio and video editing technology like any true creative who has found newly enabling joy in nerd-dom. He is very entertaining, and spot-on about the profound abilities that cheap desktop computers have made available to everyone. I look forward to seeing the movie. 

“Everyone Stares” is a vigorous kick from start to finish. It reminds me a little of a more-chaotic, less-studious companion to D.A. Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back.” Hilarity and irony, wonderfully assembled in a manner which attempts to convey the dizzying experience of having been there, within the bubble of a suddenly-famous rock band. 

And the DVD’s menu music goes a step further, featuring Copeland’s own remixes of several Police standards, which he calls “The Derangements.” Wife sees to it that I am provided with audio of these new/old tunes. Once again, I play the tracks over and over again for days into weeks. 

Okay, I’m sold. I’m a fan, god damn it. I want to see this guy perform in person. What am I, twenty again?


10 thoughts on “The Year of Living Copelandey, part 2

  1. forsythe1 says:

    A well thought out essay on the magic of Mr. Copeland and the boys. The club gig was a rare thing: a rock group reuniting and aging gracefully. The reason in my mind is simple: before all else, they were musicians who flew in under the notice of the punk/new wave radar. Your description of Copeland is not really far from the mark. He embodies the best tradition of Jazz: Dynamics. The ability to flail away in time is a crucial element of rock but when you have what percussionist
    Neal Peart refers to as a “tool box” of techniques to employ, things can get interesting, or they can get really ponderous. Copeland has in most cases achieved the former.
    This reunion is rare because it holds the promise of something interesting to follow.
    Sting has had his pick of the litter when it comes to drummers: Omar Hakim. Manu Katche, Josh Freese and Vinnie Colaiuta. Not a slouch in the bunch. World class percussionists one and all, and they all have done some fabulous work with him.
    Seriously, just stellar, mind blowing stuff. I still think Sting is best propelled though, but that madman drummer, Stewart Copeland, who would piss off his front man by speeding the tempo on a whim. Excellent work, Moe.

  2. moeskido says:

    Thanks, F. I’ll take issue with your use of the word “whim” to describe what Copeland does, however. Uppermost in his artistic friction with Sting seems to be (as more knowledgeable fans have explained it to me) the difference between Sting’s compulsion to precisely chart every moment, and Stewart’s instinct to play in the moment.

    I know which I’d rather hear.

  3. forsythe1 says:

    Currently, I would agree with your assessment of what motivates Copeland. “Back in the day” however..? Based on recollections from all members of the band, I get the distinct impression that it was a way to piss off major domo Sting, or at the very least take him down a few pegs. Much of that can be attributed to adrenaline and youth. I myself, while playing in a covers band, drove the song ‘Blue Collar Man” into a punk/proto-metal car crash. It happens. (One of the few times I enjoyed playing the song…) Your other comment is interesting: Why is “charting” a moment a compulsion and “playing in the moment” an instinct? Aren’t both traits an artistic decision in some sense as well?

  4. moeskido says:

    I’m being a bit facetious, but I’m also coloring my descriptions of these two guys based upon what little I’ve learned about them over the past year or so. To reduce them to simplistic caricature, Stewart is comfortable with improvisation, Sting is not.

    The tour’s arrangements didn’t benefit greatly from the kind of musician Sting has become over the past twenty years, and it took most of that tour for them to shake out many of the problems I believe arose from this. You used the word “ponderous” to describe Peart. I feel similarly about much of Sting’s solo stuff.

  5. forsythe1 says:

    It wasn’t my intent to label Peart as ponderous, though I guess by his nature of thinking things out quite extensively, it could be apt. (Methodical would be a kinder description, perhaps. I’m a fan of a large body of his work. The man recognizes talent and adapts it to his own style. “Signals’ was a direct response in my view to exactly what the Police were doing as a three piece…another topic to be sure, but relevant as it underscores just what an influence Copeland has had on the world of percussion.) Just the same, your observation about Sting’s discomfort with improv is kind of ironic, given his love of Jazz and surrounding himself with such wonderful masters at improvisation. Sting’s solo work is a mixed bag for me…At moments brilliant in it’s execution, at other times just too darned clever for it’s own good. Which leads to why I was excited about this reunion: it places Sting in an uncomfortable position. I would hope that a type of benign tension will results in agreater product. More than anything, I’m hoping they collaborate on new material, to see what that yields. They still possess the skills to play and that for me makes it more interesting than the standard reunion fare. Plus, Copeland plays the hell out of the drums. Bless that bugger with his octobans, splash cymbals and manic side sticking…
    My response kind of focused on Sting. I guess it is all about him after all.
    Seriously, I enjoyed the hell out of this blog post as evidenced by my long winded responses.

  6. moeskido says:

    Glad to see you here, F. There are at least a couple more segments of this series of impressions on their way.

    And there is no shortage of stories about tension, benign and otherwise, that occurred during this tour. You won’t see much of it in the tour’s official DVD release, however. Someone was too uncomfortable with that much public candor.

  7. Pingback: The best nonbirthday present ever, part 2. « Moeskido

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