NEW YORK -- Sting marked the end of the year-and-a-half-long Police reunion tour Thursday night by shaving off his tour beard before the marveling eyes of a sold-out house at Madison Square Garden. I think that's what was going on anyway.
After an hour of vintage hits, the bassist and his accumulation of salt-and-pepper facial scrub left the stage -- along with bandmates Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, of course -- to await the traditional audience demand for an encore. After a few minutes, the big video screen above the stage blinked back on, and we saw Sting, now fetchingly bare-chested, stretched out in a backstage makeup chair while two women with electric clippers set about buzzing off the famous beard. Out front, the crowd watched in something like wonder. You could feel their hopes rise after the women reduced the foliage to a modest stubble and snicked off their trimmers; and you could feel them subside again when one of the amateur barbers slopped a large handful of shaving cream onto Sting's face and the process continued, this time with razors. I thought to myself, "People will pay to see anything."
The whole ritual took less time than one might have feared, although more than one would have preferred, and when it was over, the band returned and played for another half hour. After 150 shows, they were in top form. (I would personally pay money to watch Copeland geniusing around on drums in an otherwise empty room.) The 18,000-some people on hand -- who stayed on their feet through the whole concert -- loved it loudly.
There was one other unusual moment. It had come earlier, when, in the middle of a song, three girls stepped out onto the side of the stage and began shimmying with abandon. These were not the sort of dancers one usually sees disporting themselves behind singers who aren't actually singing. No, these were clearly civilians. And when they were joined by two boys entering from the other side of the stage, it became clear that they were all offspring of the stars. It was very sweet. When the song ended and the kids scampered away, Sting stepped to the mike and said, "Between us we must have 21 children." Then he said -- and this was the unusual part -- "We've been on tour for 30 years." I don't know what anyone else made of this, but I wondered to myself, "What, uh, does he mean by that?"