Musicians fortunate enough to perform in arenas sometimes act as if they've done their audience a favor simply by showing up. Not Coldplay. On Tuesday night in a nearly full New Orleans Arena, Coldplay went well beyond the call of duty. The musicians were not, for instance, required to march to the rear of the building and deliver an unabashed unplugged set in the middle of section 109, writes The Times-Picayune.
Vocalist Chris Martin did not need to alter the lyrics of "Fix You," or quasi-freestyle, to match the concert's setting ("sitting in the place where the Hornets play...I don't know if you know what it means/when you know the musical history of New Orleans"). And Coldplay certainly was under no obligation to distribute free copies of "LeftRightLeftRightLeft," a nine-song live CD recorded earlier on the tour, to attendees as they exited. But they did all this, and more.
Dressed up in "Les Miserables" chic to match the cover of their current "Viva la Vida" CD, the quartet arrived on stage twirling sparklers. A similarly playful mood prevailed, despite frequent lyrical pathos. Representatives of Oxfam, an international anti-poverty organization championed by Martin, roamed concourses, but the singer refrained from proselytizing.
Instead, he was exceedingly likable as the band's sole source of charisma. He needled "Jonny Boy" Buckland for the guitarist's alleged reluctance to perform in public ("you chose the wrong profession"). He orchestrated the "first, as far as we know" New Orleans cell phone wave. He literally bent over backwards, touching his skull to the floor. He fought off beach ball-size yellow balloons during "Yellow." He pantomimed taking hits to the body, collapsed in a heap, then sprang to life and arrived back at a microphone on cue.
Taking turns on acoustic guitar and keyboards, he also contributed to a sonic profile that was as crisp as I've ever heard in the unforgiving arena. Behind Martin, drummer Will Champion was particularly aggressive, boosting "Clocks" with extra strikes on his floor tom. Buckland and bassist Guy Berryman were content to render their required parts with precision; Buckland, the anti-guitar hero, churned out chiming notes and riffs. All four bunched up at the tip of a stage runway for a techno-beat "God Put A Smile Upon Your Face." Martin's bandmates left him alone at a piano for the "Phil Collins segment of the show," which he likened to "just before Justin Timberlake left NSync and he had a suspicion that he wanted to go on his own."
With that, Martin conjured a lovely "The Hardest Part," his voice easily scaling the necessary heights. Following the instrumental "Postcards From Far Away," the band rejoined him for the rousing "Viva la Vida" title track. The aforementioned acoustic interlude in the back bleachers spanned the early ballad "Green Eyes" -- with Champion and Buckland on acoustic guitars and Berryman on mandolin -- and "I'm a Believer," the Neil Diamond-penned Monkees hit. Champion also sang "Death Will Never Conquer."
The strobe lights of the driving "Politik" made for a jarring, post-acoustic transition. Thousands of fluorescent paper butterflies erupted from confetti cannons during "Lovers in Japan." "Death and All His Friends" wrapped up the main set, followed by an encore of "The Scientist" and "Life In Technicolor II."
The career arcs of most arena acts follow a predictable course from that first, ungainly rush of fame to cashing in on recitals of old hits on the nostalgia circuit. Coldplay occupies the sweet spot in between, where experience intersects with still-vibrant creative energies. Tuesday's well-rounded, confident and compelling show is the result. Scottish quintet Snow Patrol, the middle act on Tuesday's bill, served up precise, meaty versions of mid-tempo fare that, in temperament and tone, approximates Keane, Death Cab for Cutie and Coldplay. The natural ache in Gary Lightbody's voice illuminated the bittersweet "Run," which he dedicated to New Orleans.
Lightbody and company embraced their assigned role: To warm up the crowd for Coldplay. "You're about to be blown the hell away, I promise you that," Lightbody said. It was no false promise.
Coldplay at the New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA (10 June 2009):
Pictures from the Times-Picayune