Coldplay: Not Much Heat, Plenty Of Warmth
By David Malitz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
A few years ago, it became socially acceptable -- even mandatory -- to bash Coldplay. There were plenty of reasons, everything from the band's shameless, simplified aping of Radiohead and U2 (the most aped bands around) to frontman Chris Martin's ubiquitousness as part of a celebrity couple (see: Paltrow, Gwyneth), complete with absurd baby name. A review in this paper labeled the band's output as music for "medium-level dull people." The phenomenon peaked when one of the most popular comedies of recent years, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," famously ended its string of "You know how I know you're gay?" remarks with one character telling another, "You like Coldplay."
But the only Coldplay bashing at the sold-out Verizon Center on Sunday night was when band member Will Champion attacked a giant drum with an oversize mallet during "Viva la Vida." The fans were truly, madly in love. They ecstatically clapped in time from the first notes of "Violet Hill." They tenderly sang along with Martin, often with more sincerity than the singer himself. And they took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. So many pictures that Flickr might crash. One fan was even seen snapping away while the stage was cloaked in darkness. (The best description of a Coldplay crowd is this: Think of "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," the 1986 documentary of pre-show partying at a Judas Priest concert. The exact opposite would be "Coldplay Metro Car.")
The photography overload was understandable, though. Coldplay designed a nice visual feast for this tour, the main component being six giant spheres that descended from the rafters to show live video of the band from all angles. Of course, the perfectly scruffy Martin -- dressed in his by-now-standard 19th-century European battlefield jacket -- was the focus of most lenses, especially when he made his way out to the sides of the horseshoe-shaped stage.
As for the music, it was less a feast and more semi-filling hors d'oeuvres. There were scant surprises in the band's brand of anthemic arena rock, but that's part of Coldplay's comfortable appeal. "Yellow" still soared, thanks to Johnny Buckland's chiming guitar and Martin's trembling falsetto. "Lost" and "Lovers in Japan," both from the new album, "Viva la Vida," found the right mix of surge and sentimentality. The same could not be said for tedious piano ballads "Fix You" and "42." Another in that line, "The Hardest Part," was abandoned by Martin just after it started. "That's enough of that," he said, with knowing self-deprecation.
The main takeaway from the show was that Coldplay is no longer a band suffering from an identity crisis. Instead of following in the footsteps of its heroes and trying to pass itself off as the world's most important or biggest band, Coldplay seems content being a less adventurous but equally loved -- if not equally revered -- act. For all his sad-puppy-dog lyrics, Martin was an extremely playful frontman, hopping, prancing and skipping across the stage, thrusting his left arm into the air, goofy grin on his face.
When tens of thousands of pieces of paper came flooding from the rafters during the encore, it served as a perfect assessment of the band's current state. Coldplay is a band that will shower its fans with brightly colored, butterfly-shaped confetti while singing, "But I have no doubt / One day the sun will come out." And the band -- and especially its fans -- is just fine with that.