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[Review 30 March] Coldplay doesn't miss a beat in larger venue


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Like the other 1,099 fans who were lucky enough to see Coldplay at Metro last spring, shortly before the release of the band's album "X & Y," I was pretty sure Thursday's show at the United Center, the first of a sold-out two-night stand, wouldn't come close to matching the excitement of that much more intimate gig.


How could it? That would be like saying you preferred watching Michael Jordan on TV to playing a game of one-on-one with him.


Nevertheless -- and the fragility of many of the band's arrangements and self-consciously arty rips from vintage Pink Floyd and krautrock aside -- Coldplay's music has always been designed for the stadiums. And in many regards, it thrives there.


Like its oft-cited heroes U2, Coldplay has made the leap to the enormodomes a mere three albums into what is certain to be a long and lucrative career. But Chris Martin and his bandmates have replaced Bono and Co.'s bombast and we-can-change-the-world braggadocio with a far humbler and much less tiresome knack for regal, almost symphonic melodies.


Coldplay's songs are arena-rock anthems simply because so many people find them so irresistibly beautiful and catchy.


Indeed, it was hard to deny the power of either the spectacle or the music as giant yellow balloons filled with golden confetti fell from the rafters during "Yellow," shooting stars zoomed behind the band and around the arena as it hammered its way through "Speed of Sound" and some 20,000 fans lent their voices to the choruses of the rousing "Clocks."


But for all of that mass communal ecstasy, there was no denying that Coldplay had made some unfortunate compromises and lost some of its charms in order to command such a gigantic venue. (No one expects the band only to play shows the size of Metro, but it did just fine at the 9,500-capacity UIC Pavilion on earlier jaunts.)


At the United Center, fans endured an insufferable 50-minute delay Thursday between the end of opener Richard Ashcroft's set the beginning of the headliners'. After that wait and an endless string of opening fanfares, including the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," Jesus himself would have seemed anti-climactic by the time Coldplay finally appeared.


The group played a mere 17 tunes during its set, though it seemed anything but short, as every other song was stretched out with an extended ending or a jam that went nowhere. Through it all, there was plenty of statuesque posing by all of the musicians amid great clouds of fog and symbolic beacons of light -- though singer Martin did undercut the melodrama somewhat with his goofy and gangly dancing and his unassuming stage patter.


Coldplay is clearly at a crossroads: With luck, it will learn to tame the excesses of its United Center show, emphasize the positives and compromises by finding a place somewhere between the clubs and the stadiums. But it could go the other way, too, and another "Rattle and Hum" is just too awful to contemplate.


As for Ashcroft, he's another of Coldplay's heroes, and the group backed him on "Bitter Sweet Symphony" at last year's Live 8 concert. But even taking into account his excuses that he was suffering from bronchitis, he'd just stepped off the plane from London and he'd gotten only two hours' sleep in the last two days, the former leader of the Verve performed a set that was simply dire and dreadful.


Though he's touring in support of his third solo album, "Keys to the World," Ashcroft pretty much admitted that he knew the only song anyone wanted to hear is the one he called "a classic" (though it's hardly that, and the best bits were sampled from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra's recording of the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time"). Unfortunately, his rendition of "Bittersweet Symphony" crashed amid his cackling vocals and a jammed-out arrangement, and he spent as much time babbling egotistically through the rest of his set as he did performing.


Source: http://www.suntimes.com

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