What does a white female “ghetto rap” artist, and former L.A. gang member, have in common with one of the largest rock acts of the 1980’s? Possibly very little, judging by the muted response “Fergie” received at last nights concert featuring The Police at Wellington’s Stadium.
Fergie did however impress with the sheer physicality and energy of her performance, but it was a little incongruous in such hallowed company. My young son was suitably awed by the acompanying gaggle of hip-hop dancers as they gyrated their way across the stage like newborn mosquito larvae. But that wasn’t what most of the crowd had paid 200 bucks a ticket to see. That’s a little unfair though. Like The Police thirty years before her, Fergie has cleverly managed to bridge the artistic gap between urban, ethnic musical counter-culture and white middle class pop. And through her onstage rap dialogue we are reminded why skinny white guys are driven to join rock bands. “Whatcha gonna do with that shirt full of breast”? Answer – “Gonna make you work for it, work for it!” Like I needed reminding.
I predicted that the main act would open with “Message in a Bottle” and they did not disappoint. That song was their first real chart hit in the U.K. Like much of their material, it deals with loneliness and alienation in an impersonal world and struck a chord during the grim Thatcherite era. Having already played a massive 82 gigs on this tour alone, it was not surprising that a bearded Sting was sounding a wee bit flat, his voice cracking badly at one point. Andy did little more than shuffle about the stage, but for a guy the same age as my Dad, he remains one of the world’s most talented and lyrical exponents of the lead electric guitar. Stewart stole the show by demonstrating his adeptness with all things percussive, in particular during an extended mix of “Wrapped Around Your Finger”.
Indeed, how fortunate for us devoted fans that these three skinny white guys got together three decades ago and released their first single “Roxanne” – for that is ostensibly the reason for this reunion tour. The real reason lies in the demographics of their audience, the majority of whom are dinky post-boomers with wads of disposable income. Almost all of last night’s crowd were couples in their 30s and 40s. That represents a marketing opportunity too good to miss; especially now that music sales are rapidly commoditising. The money is now in the concerts and merchandise – not the album sales.
This point is obviously completely lost on the Westpac Stadium management who book the catering stand concessions. Hot dogs, pies, doughnuts and Export Gold might work for the footy crowd but not for this audience. Where were the curries, kebabs and Heineken hidden? A lot of us went hungry in protest. Notwithstanding that minor disappointment it was a great night out under a velvety starlit sky. We were “Walking on the Moon” as we retraced our steps homeward around the illuminated bridges and boardwalks of Wellington’s gorgeous waterfront.