To the question at hand: is Coldplay cool? Cool enough, that is, for a discerning, punk-bred, 45-collecting, uncomfortable-shoes-wearing music blog reader such as you?
Well, if you’re reading this review at all, most likely you already love Coldplay and you’re just waiting for me to (a) report on awesomeness of band and give the setlist so you can feel affirmed, or (b) dis Coldplay for being loved by squares so that you can eviscerate me in the comments, report The Pitch, Kansas City.
But on the chance that you are a certified hip dude who thinks that Coldplay is the Target of major bands, let’s look at a few attributes of the band. First of all, these guys are British. Next, they have guitars -- lots of them -- plus lasers and glowing orbs and waterfalls of butterfly confetti when they play live in enormous, sold-out arenas. Feeling like a chump yet? No? Alright, one of them – the good-looking one – is married to a famous, beautiful actress, and they have a child named for fruit. The other members of the band are fruit – two grapefruits and a pummelo, to be precise.
They dress like extras from Les Miserables. They’re wildly successful and play songs that boom in your miserable skull for years. Get the picture, hipster douche? They’re cooler than you. On to the show.
The first words out of Chris Martin’s mouth, and people were singing along. It was a new song, “Violet Hill,” but never mind that; people were prepared.
(White people, of course. Many of them hot and svelte. In fact, one of these hot-svelte people asked me and the people around me before the show began, “Do you smell Plato?” “Plato?” people asked. “Yeah, Plato – everyone’s been saying they smell it!” I leaned over and asked, “Plato or Play-Doh?” “That’s it!” he said.)
As the band rolled through a set weighted on the Viva la Vida side (not surprising, as it’s their richest, most musically sophisticated one ever) and peppered with songs from X&Y (three years ago) and A Rush of Blood to the Head (SIX years ago) with maybe just a sprinkle of Parachutes (like, 30 years ago), the stage setup moved from simple and livingroomlike to A Space Odyssey. At first, the only screen being fed by the two closed-circuit video cams down front was on a tiny antique TV on a pedestal. The backdrop was the Renaissance battle scene from the cover of the album: goddess with tits out, Frenchmen with muskets. Then, the big orbs descended from the ceiling, flashing marble patterns that eventually became images fed from the cameras. Later, a giant screen came down, showing chopped and screwed images from the stage.
Musically, the sound was BIG. Way bigger than four guys with one instrument and microphone apiece. How's that? Backing tracks, that's how. For all of Chris Martin’s wide-eyed, sweating-on-piano, knees-bent-running-about charisma and his switching between piano and craftpainted guitars, live, Coldplay’s music tends to plod along, dependent on the musical prowess of three-fifths of its members (Martin, drummer Will Champion, the aforementioned backing tracks) and is all but weighed down by the other two-fifths: the guitarist and bassist, a.k.a. two dudes who should be absolutely thrilled to flash their chops and strut around before crowds of thousands but who look and play, most of the time, like cranky old fudders stuck playing at a fairground on the off season in Blackpool.
In short, I was shocked to learn that Coldplay doesn’t do bona fide live versions of its songs.
Johnny Buckland, guitarist, did have his moments, most notably when he and Martin wound up on the stage-left platform that jutted a dozen rows in the audience during “Clocks,” playing off each other like toy soldiers reenacting the French invasion of Russia. But let's stop a minute: When critics compare Coldplay with U2, they seem to overlook the fact that Buckland and the Edge have only a rhythmic-echo sensibility and a chorus pedal or two in common. Buckland is the diet, caffeine-free Edge. (Likewise, for those who insist on comparing Coldplay to Radiohead, God is in the guitars.) He even flubbed up one of his only spotlight moments, the jig-like riff from “Strawberry Swing,” which, oddly, occasioned one of the only smiles he and Martin shared the whole show.
And what’s with the frownies? Even when the four dismounted the stage and wound their way high, high into the crowd to do two remote acoustic numbers – “Scientist” and the delightful, Champion-sung “Death Will Never Conquer” – all three except for Martin looked like schoolchildren forced to learn recorder (only in this case, it was guitar, mandolin and resonator guitar; why not, like, just one guitar and four guys singing and having fun?)
Maybe they’ve been on tour too long. Or maybe they just had an off night.
In the end though, as a whole, they ended up sounding fine and putting on a good show. They’re Coldplay after all. Cool as hell.
Life in Technicolor
In My Place
Glass of Water (unreleased)
Speed of Sound
Cemeteries of London
Chinese Sleep Chant
God Put a Smile Upon Your Face
Green Eyes (solo Martin)
Postcards from Far Away (piano solo)
Viva La Vida
The Scientist (acoustical jam)
Death Will Never Conquer (Will Champion, drummer, sings)
Lovers in Japan
Death and All His Friends
Personal Bias: I like guitarists who can make it howl and move.
Random Detail: Coldplay has sold somewhere around 40 million albums since forming in 1998. Oh, wait, that's not random at all.
By the Way: I came down with a cold right in the middle of this show. For real.
Picture source: http://backtorockville.typepad.com
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