Coldplay's continuing mission to become the world's biggest rock band could use a little work. Near the end of its triumphant sold-out concert at the HP Pavilion on Friday, after leading the audience through 90 exhilarating minutes of wide-screen guitar solos, chest-pounding tribal rhythms and tear-wrenching choruses, the British quartet reached for its secret weapon. As the chiming chords of "Lovers in Japan" started up, there was a sense that we were in for a full-on spectacle involving topless trapeze artists and dogs with jetpacks. Instead the arena air abruptly filled with ... butterfly-shaped confetti.
In any case, Friday's show wasn't about the spectacle, which was minimal; it was about the music, which absolutely wasn't.
By imagining the way U2 would sound if it ever decided to become an Arcade Fire tribute act, Coldplay has made its most dynamic and universally praised album since the release of its 2000 debut, "Parachutes." Produced by Brian Eno (U2), Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire) and Rik Simpson, the preposterously titled "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends," the group's fourth studio recording, is multilayered, muscular and melodic, an album that has pushed the band out of its sleepy piano-ballad comfort zone.
The group appeared in 19th century military garb inspired by the album's cover artwork, a painting by Eugène Delacroix depicting French revolutionaries. The tattered jackets seemed to have a transformative effect, especially on poofy-haired singer Chris Martin, who soaked through his shirt even before the pounding opener, "Violet Hill," was over and continued to fall over himself, racing between instruments and lurching about on one leg throughout the rest of the evening. He put in as much effort as Justin Timberlake and at least 15 backup dancers combined.
The other band members - guitarist Johnny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion - seemed energized by the material as well, not only making new tracks like "Yes," "Chinese Sleep Chant" and "Lost!" loom larger than life, but by bringing renewed vigor to old favorites such as "Clocks" and "Politik."
They stripped back Coldplay's first and biggest hit, "Yellow," letting the audience do most of the work over a simple arrangement. Then Martin announced, "I don't like playing this end of the building, let's change it." So the whole band ran up to the nosebleed section in the back of the arena and finished its set surrounded by ecstatic fans with an acoustic version of "The Hardest Part" and "Death Will Never Conquer," a folky B-side that featured Champion on vocals.
Martin was eager to play up his role as the bumbling guy who pushes when a door is clearly marked with a sign that says "pull," pretending to forget song lyrics and profusely thanking the audience for coming out. He need not have bothered. Despite the Hannah Montana butterflies, by the time his band soared through the encore with a particularly rousing version of "Fix You," it seems safe to say that Coldplay's mission is nearly accomplished.
July 18, 2008
Review by Alan Mayer & Robin McCall
Photos by Christopher Victorio
As part of a tour to promote their newest album, Coldplay’s Viva La Vida concert Friday night the HP Pavilion did exactly what it was supposed to do. The band performed all but one of the songs from the new album, along with several gems from previous albums.
Frontman Chris Martin is a consummate performer who knows just how to walk the line between modesty and self-assuredness. He had the audience in the palms of his hands all night. Looking at times like the scarecrow from the “Wizard of Oz” and at other times like Mick Jagger on happy pills, he hopped and skipped and emoted and blushed his way into our hearts and minds.
All four members of the band--Martin on vocals, keyboards and occasional guitar, drummer Will Champion, bassist Guy Berryman, and guitarist Jonny Buckland are virtuosos. Their vocal harmonies were studio-perfect on every song. By the look of things, Martin and his bandmates were at the top of their game, having great fun and enjoying the energy from the enthusiastic crowd.
One note on the opening act: They didn’t announce who they were at the end, when the place was full and people were paying attention. To the band: Marketing 101 requires a quick plug on exiting. Shame on Coldplay for not thanking them, either.
The audience was very much part of the experience. Very enthusiastic, most were on their feet from the beginning. Row by row they performed “the wave” while waiting for Coldplay to assemble, and once it did, the songs were greeted with loud lusty applause. The audience was heavily but not overwhelmingly female. Many couples were on dates. After all, it was Friday night, as Martin quipped several times during the evening, thanking us for “risking our Friday night on an aging rock band.”
“There’s all sorts of good TV and strip clubs you could be spending your time on,” he said.
Coldplay has a reputation for appealing to the ladies; however we think that the new album, “Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends” being a bit more aggressive and energetic compared to their previous outings, may be responsible for their increasing popularity among the male rock audience. (Personally, Alan was not a Coldplay fan going in, but he is definitely one now.)
The setting was another essential element of the concert. The stage was laid out in a “U” shape with ramps on either side of the main stage, so band members could move “into” the audience, which they did on many occasions. Also, as Martin played several different keyboard and piano setups throughout the evening, the pianos were easily moved on tracks as needed. The guitars and bass were all wireless, which also facilitated the band’s interaction with the audience. Some of the best moments of the concert could not have been done with a conventional stage setup.
The “Viva La Vida” album cover artwork was used as a backdrop for most of the night. It showed the French Revolution painting “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix. Even more attractive to the eye were the video projection globes hanging from the ceiling. A contemporary response to the old-fashioned mirror ball, they were lovely to look at and high-tech enough for this sophisticated Silicon Valley crowd. The balls projected a live video feed of the action on stage, including close-ups, the light show and sometimes other media. Eventually all six globes descended, and during the last two songs, the painting backdrop was replaced by full-scale video with painterly effects. The size of the screen dominated to the point where you might not look at the real band member almost in front of you; it was a good choice by Coldplay to save the full screen for the end.
Regarding the sound, HP Pavilion is a big old barn (or Shark Tank if you will) but excellent engineering blended the sound well and used the acoustics of the place, such as it is. The facility itself has everything a fan could want. We ate dinner beforehand but we could have just as well had a hot dog during the opening act, like everyone else did.
The band took the stage at about 9 p.m. They opened with the ethereal instrumental “Life in Technicolor.” From behind sheer black curtains, with their backs turned from the audience and locking into each other like a garage band improvising, they seemed more intent on each other than the audience. But as the intensity of the song picked up, they came alive, the curtains drew back, and they embraced the audience as if letting us in on their little secret jam session.
This segued nicely into the opening strains of “Violet Hill,” a powerful anthem and radio hit from the new album, which rocked the house and set the tone for most of what was to come. The mix from where we were “stage right” was pretty good and the song sounded every bit as good as the album version.
“Clocks” was next and this got the audience going. The band employed a slightly different feel than the version we are all familiar with, showing the band’s growth as well as sensitivity to their new audience. KFOG fans may recall the fireworks version of “Clocks” during the 2003 KaBoom! While no concert could compete with that, the song holds up and it’s good to know the band still enjoys playing it.
They followed up with “In My Place,” “Viva la Vida,” “42,” “Yes,” “The Scientist,” and “Chinese Sleep Chant.” Chris Martin seemed to float on the crowd’s energy as he moved around the stage. Light on his feet and self-effacing, at times he almost seemed embarrassed by his obligatory rock-star-god persona. However, that didn’t keep him from hamming it up and thoroughly enjoying the crowd. Like Mick Jagger, he knows how to have fun even with songs he must now have done a hundred times.
The hit and title song from the new album, “Viva la Vida” was a definite crowd pleaser. In a nice bit of show biz, Will Champion grabbed a marching drum and joined the other three on the edge of the stage. The audience sang along and you could see on the faces of the band how much they enjoyed hearing it.
Going back to “Rush of Blood to the Head," the oldie “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” was definitely not moldy. All four band members moved to the end of one of the ramps, where a microphone tree and an electronic drum pad popped out. They performed the song standing close together with Champion playing the drum pad, the others on guitars and bass. It was great to see and hear the four singing and harmonizing together so intimately.
At this point, they returned to the X&Y album for “Square One.” Ceiling projection balls started to multiply here and spin. After a rough segue they emerged in another great song from the X&Y release entitled “Speed of Sound.” This one featured a very cool piano theme reminiscent of “Clocks,” but a quicker tempo. It was another audience favorite.
An exquisite “Strawberry Swing,” then a sunshiny “Yellow” followed, then a less-than-perfect but still entertaining “Lost.” It was too loud and certainly not their best effort of the night. Toward the end, Martin admitted, “Shit! I got lost,” to the crowd’s amusement.
As if to make up for that, they came roaring back with “Death Will Never Conquer.” Sexy, spine-tingling, and aggressive, no one can say Coldplay was a wimp on this one.
At this point the guys exclaimed, “We are tired of playing on this end of the hall” and headed toward the back, where they reassembled in a small corner with microphones and a couple of acoustic guitars. After commenting that Will’s guitar wasn’t working, they launched into a soulful version of “The Hardest Part” from the X&Y album. Even though we were not familiar with this song, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Champion then sang “Death Will Never Conquer,” a new song available for free download at the band’s website.
Coldplay thanked the crowd, disappeared, and eventually reappeared on the first stage for an unforgettable “Fix You. ” This was our favorite and we were thrilled it was the first encore. Buckland’s guitar solo was so intense and beautiful; the very emotion of trying to save someone, especially from themselves.
Coldplay topped that with “Lovers in Japan.” The backdrop “movie” was one of those 60’s type mishmashes of various Japanese images, including cherry trees, geishas, Emperor Hirohito, and Hiroshima, but also lots of lovers kissing. A fluttery surprise from the ceiling ended the song beautifully. We won’t tell you what the surprise was, in case you catch the concert elsewhere.
For the final encore, Coldplay appropriately ended the evening with “Death and All His Friends.” A rockin’ good time was had by all. Viva la Coldplay.