Coldplay's previous two albums were hyped as experimental and challenging, yet beneath the odd tweak the results were more of the same: soaring anthems full of ardent but vaguely directed emotions, phrased by English ex-public schoolboys torn between high romanticism and reserve, writes the Financial Times today.
However, the quartet's desire to mix it up finally paid off at Friday's triumphant Wembley Stadium show, the first of two nights at the 70,000-capacity venue. Not only did Chris Martin and co play a blistering set, but they also had as support acts the magnificently unlikely pairing of Britain's most popular girl group Girls Aloud and the world's most successful rapper Jay-Z. "Not bad for four posh boys from Devon," as Martin dryly remarked.
First up were the five non-posh young women of Girls Aloud, sporting bright mini-dresses, high heels, hair extensions and glowing tans, like Top Shop Cleopatras.
It was bold of Coldplay to invite them to play, but bolder still for them to accept. They looked exposed on the large stage, with only a flimsy retinue of male dancers in zoot suits and pink shoes for company, yet their ultra-catchy songs and guileless stage chat ("We're going to inject some life back into this bad boy!") proved irresistible. As Cheryl Cole sang "Are you watching me, baby?" during "The Promise", she flashed a grin showing perfect white teeth, dazzling even in the vast venue.
Jay-Z was a marginally less bizarre choice - Martin was a guest vocalist on one of the rapper's albums - yet he presented a formidable challenge as a warm-up act. His new album The Blueprint 3 is his 11th to reach the top of the US charts, surpassing Elvis Presley's record: only The Beatles have had more US number one albums. Coldplay set themselves a hard task following him.
Although The Blueprint 3 isn't one of the 39-year-old's finest moments, he remains a knockout live performer. The new album was filleted for its best three tracks; the rest of his hour-long set was made up of old hits such as "99 Problems" and "Hard Knock Life", rapped with masterful élan by Jay-Z and played with thumping power by a live band. It was pitched for a rock audience. Jay-Z, headliner at last year's Glastonbury, is employing the skills he learnt as a drug dealer in Brooklyn in the 1980s to take rap to new audiences. Give them a taste, get them hooked.
Undaunted by the occasion, Coldplay opened with a muscular version of "Life in Technicolor" from their latest album Viva la Vida . Jonny Buckland's guitar playing had a bite often lacking on record, while Martin dashed around the stage like a puppyish Jagger. His singing was forceful, with less emphasis on the falsetto than in the past.
His lyrics are full of hand-wringing questions ("How long must you wait for it?"), but at Wembley they performed in the positive spirit of men who knew the answer. "Glass of Water" was driven by another torrential guitar routine from Buckland. "Cemeteries of London" was powered by uncompromising drumming from Will Champion.
Earnest sentiments were leavened by wit, as when a video of X Factor Scrooge Simon Cowell groaning "This is a complete and utter nightmare" appeared as the crowd sang along to "Yellow". It was a mistake to invite the comic actor Simon Pegg to join them on a cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", as if fulfilling some private joke hatched in the green room, but the glitch was fleeting. This was a confident, expressive show by a stadium band on top of their game. Not bad indeed for "the four posh boys from Devon".
Review by: Financial Times. The latest discussion on both of the Wembley concerts is at the Coldplay forum here.
Photos of Coldplay at Wembley stadium, London, UK (19th September 2009):
Pictures by busybeeburns
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