When you take your kids to a rock concert, it's a good idea to bring cookies. Because kids don't understand about opening acts. So while you are grooving to, say, the aged-in-wood tones of Elvis Costello and the Imposters and remembering that British boyfriend who made all those tapes for you in the late '80s, they are wondering who in the heck this guy in the glasses is and when, exactly, the Police are going to show up.
During "Alison," as it turned out. Or at least Sting made an appearance, giving the song a heading-toward-the-end-of-the-set oomph, and in my kids' eyes, a little credibility. Which was a good thing, because I was running out of cookies.
For a multigenerational pop concert experience, it's hard to beat the Police at the Hollywood Bowl, where they played Tuesday to clear cool skies and a sold-out, sing-along, dancing-in-the-aisles crowd (a second performance was scheduled Wednesday). After the boys came on, the cookies were forgotten because we were all too busy dancing in our seats, screaming out lyrics to "Message in a Bottle" and "Can't Stand Losing You" and wondering what they would play next.
Proof positive that three middle-aged guys can still bring down the house, which I can't help but believe is a valuable lesson for my children and certainly very reassuring to me. Besides a little smoke and some computer-generated images, including a children-of-the-world clip behind "Invisible Sun," it was all about the music -- no dancers, no light show, just the musicians and their instruments and all those fabulous songs.
With their images projected on huge screens behind and flanking the band, the Bowl audience got to see the reunited trio up close and personal, down to the ropy muscles in drummer Stewart Copeland's arms and the wedding ring on guitarist Andy Summers' nimble left hand. Lean and lithe, with his Sunday-morning bed hair and that double-dare-you twinkle in his eye, Sting seemingly has bent the years to his will, although with a gray beard, he looks more and more like what he would have been if he had never picked up a guitar -- the sexiest teacher you ever had.
For almost two hours, the hits kept coming, some more modified than others, to accommodate the mellowing years or perhaps just to give Sting's upper register a rest. "Don't Stand So Close to Me" played positively mournful, which was a bit disappointing, but then, as I explained to the kids, that was one of the fun things about concerts -- you got to see the musicians tinkering with their own work.
For their part, Danny, 10, and Fiona, 8, were thrilled just to see Sting and Summers playing real guitars (as opposed to Guitar Hero), watch Copeland fling his sticks away after practically every song -- imagine! A grown-up throwing things -- and hear 18,000 people sing along with the songs we listen to in the car every day.
Just as the Police led the pop world into the land of New Wave, so are they the perfect band to introduce today's tweens to music beyond Radio Disney. It's not that I don't appreciate the song stylings of Hannah Montana, the cast of "High School Musical" or the various brothers (Jonas, Naked), it's just that if I have to listen to "Fabulous" or "Girls Night Out" one more time I will lose what's left of my mind. Meanwhile, my son somehow discovered heavy metal, so while I was helping him download "Back in Black" onto his iPod, I decided steps had to be taken.
Into the CD player went Bruce, Bob, the Who, the Beatles -- but it was the Police that took hold, a surprising and hopeful sign. Sting's lyrics are poetic, literate and, though I cringe to say it -- I honestly don't think swear words are the most corruptive influence facing our children these days -- profanity-free.
Yes, Danny's favorite song is "Roxanne." But frankly he doesn't understand the implications of the "red light"; he is just reacting to a great song that moves him in a way that he can't put into words. Which always has been the power and purpose of music, to give us a way to explore the boggy topography of emotion and mood, the moments of exhilaration and longing that we cannot quite name.
Children especially love music because it doesn't ask anything of them, doesn't badger them to "use their words" or explain their behavior. Quite the opposite; it gives them, and us, a shared vocabulary for feelings that often don't make much sense in the enforced orderliness of every day.
So I bounced my daughter on my knees while we sang "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and banged shoulders with my son on "Message in a Bottle." An hour and a half in, Sting said good night, and I thought Fiona was going to cry. "That's all?" she said. So I handed over my cellphone and my Blackberry, explaining that if they wanted to hear more, they were going to have to scream for it. When else do kids get parental permission to scream?
Back the band came, and we all roared through another half hour that included "Roxanne," "King of Pain" and "Every Breath You Take."
Being a mom, I began hustling them out a bit early (we missed a second encore of "Next to You") but with 18,000 people in the place, I didn't want to risk losing anyone or standing in a huge line for the shuttle.
Because by that point, all the cookies were gone.