The Police: The Synchronicity Concert Review
By all accounts they didn’t like each other, which means little except that you don’t need to be best pals to make a viable band. The Police arrived at the tail-end of punk, a time when instrumental prowess wasn’t in fashion. For The Police certainly could play: drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers had solid jazz-rock resumés, with Curved Air and Soft Machine respectively. Sting was an unknown, but had had a wide experience as a bassist in Newcastle’s jazz scene.
For half a dozen years and five studio albums, the mix worked. Although they used the same lineup (guitar, bass, drums) as any power trio, what they played had as much to do with reggae as it did with rock. Instead of the guitar cranking out riffs and solos while drums and bass pounded out a backbeat, with The Police more often than not the rhythm section took the lead role, with Summers’s guitar adding colour to the sound. Over time though Sting began to dominate, in songwriting as well as on stage. If at times there’s a sense of cleverness for its own sake (references to Nabokov, for example) and the songs on Synchronicity don’t get much deeper than “Look – coincidences!”, the music generally carries it along. Considering the dire state of the singles charts then, let alone now, a little ambition was certainly welcome. And anyone who can include the phrase “Scylla and Charybdis” in a song lyric has to have something going for them.
The Sychronicity Concert finds them live at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1983. Unlike other bands who augmented their basic lineup with extra musicians, there’s just the three of them plus three backing vocalists (Tessa Niles, Dolette McDonald, Michelle Cobbs). Directing this video were pop stars whose career overlapped those of their subjects: Godley and Crème, formerly one half of 10CC before setting out on their own. They do a generally professional job, though are unable to resist some arty flourishes and flashy editing tricks, such as slow motion or a repeated effect where they draw a white line round someone in the audience and then remove everything else from the shot. “Every Breath You Take” is filmed in black and blown-out white. Anyone susceptible to strobe lighting should beware.Chapter 15, “Spirits in the Material World”.
Walking in Your Footsteps
Message in a Bottle
Walking on the Moon
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Hole in My Life
King of Pain
Tea in the Sahara
O My God
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
Every Breath You Take
Can’t Stand Losing You
Spirits in the Material World
The Synchronicity Concert
was originally released on video, in both VHS and (gasp!) Betamax. It now arrives on DVD with all the enhancements you’d expect: chapter search, improved sound quality, extras. The disc is NTSC format and is encoded for Regions 2,3,4,5 and 6. It has eighteen chapter stops.
Shot on (presumably NTSC) video before the widescreen era, the transfer is in a ratio of 4:3. The picture quality does show some signs of the material’s age, though: while close-ups are generally sharp, wider shots do show some softness, particularly noticeable when the cameras are moving through the audience. Skin tones tend towards the orange, though that may well be an effect of the stage lighting.
There are three soundtrack options, Dolby Digital 2.0 (analogue Dolby Surround) track that presumably replicates the one on the video and 5.1 remixes in Dolby Digital and DTS. Given that the concert was professionally recorded on multitrack equipment, the 5.1 tracks are the ones of choice. I would give the DTS the nod as to me the Dolby Digital 5.1 track has the bass mixed too high.
The extras begin with four extra tracks: “Synchronicity II” (4:50), “Roxanne” (5:59), “Invisible Sun” (4:42) and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” (3:40), with a “play all” option. Each track has a choice of four angles. One is tight on Sting, another on Summers, then there’s a wide and long shot of the entire stage, while the fourth is a different angle on the front stage.
The next extra is an interview (6:36) with the band at the final concert of their Synchronicity Tour, in Melbourne in February 1984, announced at the time as the last concert for at least two years. An offscreen interviewer speaks to Copeland, Summers and Sting in turn. Copeland is cagey about some forthcoming solo projects – which presumably included the soundtrack to Rumble Fish. Summers talks of getting away from the monster they’d created and the need for some time off, while Sting mentions a “great movie” he’s doing - Dune, by any chance? Finally, there’s the trailer for the original video release (3:20).
Sting has continued to record and act, with mixed results. Some of it works, some of it simply demonstrates that the road from Young Turk to Boring Old Fart is a short and well-travelled one. The other two-thirds of the band have faded from the public eye. But like other fine bands before and after them, it’s probably fair to say that they were greater than the sum of their parts, and it is this part of their career by which they will finally be judged. Even if they couldn’t stand each other any more, at least they called it a day before they went into decline. Despite some obtrusive and rather dated gimmickry, The Synchronicity Concert captures them at their best.