Our Top 5 Picksby Ted Kaneby John Bennettby Cory Tressler Travel SectionRecipes and MoreBack Issues

Elvis Costello/ The Police
Hollywood Bowl
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 the bend.

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 songwriting.

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 nonetheless.

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.