The Police Play the Ontario Theater on Columbia Road

The Police live in 1979
The Police live in 1979

I had heard that Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland (aka, The Police) had played in Adams Morgan and wanted to do a little research into that. Unfortunately, they weren’t a huge band when they played here in 1979, so there was very little on their arrival here. After all, they had only been around for a little over two years.

They played the Ontario Theater on Columbia Rd. NW on October 8th, 1979 — the same place that U2 played in 1981 — and there was a short review of the show in the Washington Post the following day.

The shrill sound of police whistles careened off the walls of the Ontario Theater last night. Crowds of people flung themselves into the aisles. Spotlight sliced through the darkness as a murderous barrage of sound thundered from the stage.

The Police had arrived!

The Police, in this case, were an English-American rock trio that has emerged from the new wave of punk scene. Like many of their counterparts, they draw much of their power and substance from the crunching power chords and raucous rhythmic assaults of mid-’60s musical styles. But this group adds a melodic flair and urbane lyrics that are an intelligent twist to current rock.

Their show blended bright vocal harmonies with savage musical onslaughts in a dazzling display of exuberant energy. Andy Summers’ guitar and Stewart Copeland’s drums slashed out at the crowd while Sting added thumping bass lines, creating a powerful yet chunky sound. The addition of swirling, electronic chords and quirky reggae beats on some of the numbers gives the group a sense of style that evades many new wave musicians.

The Police gave a truly arresting performance.

Not a bad review. Thus far, the reviews I come across of legendary rock acts have been hit or miss. Were any of you at this show?

Check out this video of The Police live in 1979. They’re playing a West German TV show called Musikladen.

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  • Lisa Duperier

    So glad you posted this. During college at Georgetown, I was working part-time for Miles Copeland, as a research assistant at the Wardman Towers. Mr. Copeland was held up in a meeting, and asked me to let his son in — with some friends, and wlecome them until he arrived. Soooo, in walks 3 guys, Stewart Copeland, some guy named Sting, etc. I was a clueless, but friendly, gal from Beaumont, Texas and chatted them up with questions like — “oh, you’re in the music business, that’s a hard life, difficult to break through? The Police? Are you able to make any money?” They kept smiling broadly, and said, “Yes, we’ve had some success.” Later I learned they were happy to have a chat with someone who clearly had never heard of the Police, and had no idea why they were in DC. I have now lived in Adams Morgan for many years on Columbia Rd and you’ve just reminded me of meeting the Police. Now I know why they were here in 1979!! THANKS!! (My only regret is “no picture!”

    • This is really cool Lisa. Thanks for sharing.

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  • recently an audio recording of this concert began circulating among fans:

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  • Tearanew

    Another historical fact about the Ontario Theater: Barbara Streisand came to the Ontario for the Washington premiere of “Funny Girl” circa 1968. There were lots of limos and media present. I lived about 2 blocks away and had no clue what the fuss was all about. I knew it was a movie theater because I had been their previously to see Mary Poppins and later The Sound of Music. Nowadays the location serves as shopping venue for loosely organized vendors. The neighborhood has picked up since that time but still remains a dodgy place at night.

    • Jose Luis Rodriguez

      Boy, you should’ve seen the opening nights for The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia and Sand Pebbles….sky lights, bagpipes, military bands, music, red carpet treatment…I lived only one block away at 1650 Columbia Rd (my dad’s barber shop at ground level and our apartment on the upper floor — now a yoga school of sorts). Use to be that you had to make your reservations weeks in advance to see movies at the Ontario.

  • Anna

    Was the photo above taken at the Ontario?

  • Lee B

    I was at the Ontario Theater show in 1979. If I recall correctly, The Cramps opened for them. The theater was not close to being sold out.