Costello/ The Police
May 27, 2008
When the bill of Elvis
Costello and the Imposters opening up for The Police was announced
at the Hollywood Bowl, it was a no-brainer that we had to attend.
Not that I'm a huge, huge fan of either--I have maybe five Elvis
Costello records in my collection (out of, what, 30? He's made
a lot) and none from The Police--but, still, what a great bill.
Two great artists from around the same time and around the same
place, neither really punks with a capital P but both kind of
related to English punk rock…fellow travelers, if you will.
Also, two of the most accomplished bands still going that I've
never managed to see in one place at the same time; and what a
place--the Hollywood Bowl. It's an amazing venue. In the middle
of the city, really, but you'd never know that once you're seated
in the middle of it. Imagine if Blossom Music Center was located
at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, and that's as close as I can explain
it to an Ohioan.
You know when you're
aware of the Bowl's proximity to urban Los Angeles? When you are
in traffic trying to get there. We thought we had gotten hip after
all these years, parking the car on Highland right as soon as
rush hour ended and we could legally do so, then going to the
shuttle lot to avoid the stack parking and the $20 it costs for
the privilege of not being able to leave for an hour after the
event is over. But while we understood that this was one of the
bigger events that the Bowl is going to have this season, we underestimated
the equal importance of the fact that it was also one of the first
shows they are doing in 2008. Traffic control was not together
at all. In August, it might have gone off relatively smoothly,
but not so in May. So, even though we got to the shuttle lot at
7:00 for a 7:30 show, the line was around the block. We were bummed.
We were at least as jazzed about seeing Elvis as the Police and,
especially given the crawl that traffic was at once we did board
a bus, it looked like we might miss his set altogether.
An angel appeared in
the form of an independent bus operator. She was an Aussie, and
she worked not for the county transportation agency, but for a
private firm that offers tours of the stars' homes and operates
out of the same lot. "Where are you all going," she
asked, "To see 'Indiana Jones?'," playing at the nearby
Chinese Theatre. "No," I replied, "We're going
to see The Police and Elvis Costello." "Oh, are they
at the Bowl tonight?" she replied. "Yes," I said.
Then, on a whim: "Do you want to take us?" She paused,
looked at the long line--though we were no longer at the absolute
back of it, it was not because we had made any progress toward
the front, but that more hapless souls had filed in behind us.
"Sure," she said, "Come on." All of us within
earshot scampered aboard, and I think she did pretty well for
tips that night.
Even so, we got there
well into Costello's set after fording through molasses slow traffic
and the overwhelmed entrance staff at the theater. While it was
a bummer to miss most of Elvis's set, it was kind of sweet in
that right when we sat down he started into "Watching The
Detectives," which sounded great. Then, just as we had really
gotten settled in, the next song was "Alison." Sting
came out to sing a verse and harmonize the chorus, what a treat.
Then, the band closed set with "(What's So Funny ' bout)
Peace, Love and Understanding." Following Sting's lead, I
half expected to see Bill Murray, but no such luck. Elvis sounded
good and his keyboard player was fantastic. He played some really
crazy stuff, especially on "Detectives." The only bummer,
those were the only three songs we caught. But, if you're only
going to catch three songs, it might as well be the three you
would've been waiting for the whole time anyway. If we were so
inclined, this could have been a negative on the night but, hey…how
great is that, you sit down and those are the three songs you
hear? And all the while knowing another great band is just around
About twenty-five minutes
later The Police came on. Coming into the gig, I kind of questioned
the billing. After all, Elvis is so much more prolific and I feel
kind of closer to his songs than to the headliners. Sure, The
Police sold more records, but as artists they seem pretty equal.
I still think that's true, really, but all I can say is that by
the time they were done playing "Message In A Bottle,"
the second song in the set, I got it. Whatever arguments you want
to make for Mr. Costello as the better songwriter…and you
can make some compelling ones…The Police delivered the power
of an amazing rock and roll band.
To me, The Police on
record tend to get a little too arty. I think most of what they
did was pretty valid, but at times they can sound a little pretentious.
Live, though, with just the three guys without the studio trappings?
It sounded really good. They had nice, tight and slightly playful
arrangements of their hits…for a band with such a small
catalog they have a shocking amount of hits…and I think
the limitations of playing on stage really brought out what was
good about them as players and also their soundness in terms of
Sting, to me, has had
a relentlessly dull solo career in the last two decades, but being
reunited with his old band seemed to light a fire under his playing.
Andy Summers was fantastic; as one who dabbles in lead guitar
from time to time myself, I enjoyed the arc of his solos. There
was this thing he would do, his lead on "Demolition Man"
being the best example, where he would play some fairly complicated,
jazz-influenced runs and then, mid-way through, toss out some
cliché hard rock licks for the crowd like red meat before
beasts, and then resume playing what he seemed to really wanted
to play in the first place. I just loved that, I thought it was
great. And Stewart Copeland was amazing as well. He didn't get
any particular features during the set, but was consistently impressive
The Police were great.
Elvis was great, at least as far as I could tell. The Bowl was
bit of a mess, hard to get in and out of and too crowded to purchase
concessions at. But the view and sound was incredible. It's going
to be a good summer, I can tell already.