Andy Summers sinks his small, rumpled frame into a tattered backstage couch. His face wears the sallow gray of sickbed and night patrol, and a vein throbs a blue sentry over his right eye. Seated, Stewart Copeland squints determinedly into a Stephen King horror story -- a wasted attempt to stare down the wall of noise around him; one leg waves a tired surrender over the chair arm. Sting, meanwhile, is in an anteroom, testing the flexibility of the twice-sewn stitches in his right hand.
Ah. The glamorous life of the international supergroup.
Somebody has to do it, of course, and if Saturday's packed Capital Centre wasn't testimony enough to a job well done, the chart successes and platinum albums the Police have been raking in should attest to the group's mettle. Reggae is their beat, but elements of rock and jazz have nabbed the Police their biggest chunk of territory. Internationally sophisticated and provincially poppish at once, the sound has kept their fourth album, "Ghost in the Machine," in the top 10 for nine weeks, while last year's "Zenyatta Mondatta" finished eighth on the chart.
Having "conquered the world," as Sting likes to put it, the trio embarked on a sold-out American tour the night before, the better to "become more integrated in the general field of rock," according to Summers. The tour will end "sometime in March, but we'll probably go on for a while after that." The November-December European leg of the tour did not go particularly well. Bassist/vocalist Sting, completing the filming of his latest movie, "Brimstone and Treacle," was required to leap through a window, slashing his hand in the process. The star stoic nevertheless played a concert that evening, bandages and all. As the bass lines to "Don't Stand So Close to Me" snapped out, so did his stitches, and understudy Danny Quatrochi had to take over duties the next night.
"Fourteen thousand people were waiting. What could he do?" explains guitarist Summers, who himself made the second concert "with 10 minutes to spare," having been rushed to the hospital the previous day suffering from a kidney stone. Add to all this a late flight here and there, and freezing weather everywhere.
Yet the British group is aware of the standing-room-only Capital Centre audience that has braved the cold to see them. "We have to count ourselves as very fortunate," says Summers. "It took us a while to become a large-scale success in America as well as in other parts of the world, but we have done it, and it's something we can be proud of.
"In America, to be a success, you have to recognize that there is a huge machine and wheels that have to be set in motion," he continues. "So you have to talk to a lot of people that you normally wouldn't come into contact with, do jobs that are very necessary, all the little cogs that make the wheels go 'round so your record can happen. That's the way it works in America. But that's no excuse to make non-interesting music or do a half-hearted performance." Their ability to make the big wheel turn, coupled with manager Miles Copeland's business savvy, has won them smart royalty deals with A&M, as well as criticism from some rock watchdogs who view their world-conquering relentlessness with a jaundiced eye.
"The press is very cynical in general, don't you think?" shrugs Summers. "We happen to have a good label and a good manager -- Stewart's brother -- and a lot of circumstances have come together and made the package work.
"It's very true that we have a certain amount of control over what we do, which is fairly rare. Of course, the ultimate control would be to say that we're not going to make an album, but it doesn't work that way. But we've certainly tried never to compromise ourselves musically or to do what we felt wasn't right or good musically."
Sting, dressed in tight leather pants, walks in and bellows for the three-piece Chops Band to have their mugshots taken with the Police.
"Get your a---- in here!"
"We found 'em in New York, and they're great," Sting says. "I taught 'em everything they know . . ." This is a joking reference to Sting's modestly soulful sax riffing on "Ghost in the Machine."
"It's a fair comment to say that there's a little more of a rhythm and blues feel on the new album," admits Summers. "We never said, 'Okay, let's make this a more soul-oriented album,' but on some of the tracks there's definitely that sort of James Brown edge to it."
Summers bristles at the frequent accusation that the Police dislike touring America. "We never STOPPED touring America. This is our eighth American tour! I don't understand what makes people say that. It's like when we do Germany, someone always comes up and says, 'Why don't you ever tour Germany?'
"At the same time, we all have outside interests, just to keep our perspective, if nothing else," he adds. "Sting's got his acting, and I'm a fairly serious photographer. I have some exhibitions now in Dublin, and I've just recorded an album with King Crimson's Robert Fripp, which will be out in the spring.
"But the group takes so much time, it can be very claustrophobic. It's strange, because everyone thinks they'd love to be in this position, but when you're actually here, it changes perspective. You don't want to do it.
"I'm familiar with Sting's quotation about wanting to dissolve the band after three or four albums. But we haven't even peaked yet. And you must remember that when you've done a million tours, a million interviews, you say things . . ."
Sting finally coaxes a grudging Copeland away from his book and the three assume, as if by reflex, the triangle formation familiar to millions of record buyers. The photographer blasts a few shots, then faces the three square-set jaws before him.
"Try to look more lively. More lively!" he urges enthusiastically.
Sting, for once, looks quizzically at his Police partners. "He wants us -- Live!" Miles Copeland, standing in the doorway, surveys the scene with a sardonic chuckle. "But . . . they're DEAD," he murmurs. And they all laugh.