Coldplay has always had its Edge -- a rather derivative guitarist by the name of Jon Buckland, who could pull a decent salary in a U2 tribute band if this Coldplay thing ever unravels. (Which, by the way, is looking increasingly unlikely. Alas, you can't stop Coldplay; you can only hope to disdain them.)
So now, the safest and, perhaps, most polarizing big band in rock is looking for some edge: When Coldplay frontman Chris Martin spotted a cellophane-wrapped bouquet of roses on the Nissan Pavilion stage late Friday night, just as the band was starting into the encore song "Swallowed in the Sea," he demanded that the prerecorded backing track be stopped.
"Who the hell is giving us flowers?" Martin said. "We're a rock band. We want drugs and women!"
The spurt of indignation was a joke, natch. For one thing, Coldplay exists in a sliver of the rock universe known as the drug-free zone, with the British quartet said to stipulate that any member who uses coke automatically gets the boot. And, of course, Martin is married to the luminous Gwyneth Paltrow -- rather happily so, according to the celebrity press corps, even if Gwinnie possibly, maybe, apparently passed on Friday's concert: A spokeswoman for the promoter said in the wee hours after the show that the all-knowing production manager didn't spot the actress or baby Apple at the venue and hadn't heard of any sightings from the crew, either. (Maybe Ms. Paltrow-Martin bailed for fear that she'd get stuck in the inevitable wretched traffic jam on Interstate 66.)
Anyway, in the calculus of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, Coldplay does not compute. The band specializes in lush, dreamy, mostly mid-tempo anthems centered on Martin's sensitive-guy-with-a-broken-heart lyrics and fragile vocals that can come across as affected and overwrought -- particularly in Friday's live versions of "White Shadows" (from the band's most recent album, "X&Y") and "Clocks," the hit on Coldplay's sophomore CD, 2002's Grammy-winning "A Rush of Blood to the Head." (To his credit, Martin had the good sense to exercise vocal restraint on a gorgeous cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire.")
Coldplay is often compared with U2, mostly for the bands' shared penchant for crescendoing rock anthems that ride ringing, echoing guitar riffs (which U2's axman, the Edge, pretty much trademarked while Buckland and the other Coldplay lads were still on the playground). There have been Radiohead and Travis comparisons, too. And, as with just about every Brit pop band, there's a heavy and obvious Beatles influence -- to the point that Coldplay has lifted entire riffs from the "Abbey Road" catalogue.
Whatever. Upon further review, a better data point is the Dave Matthews band, minus the fiddle solos.
As a vocalist, Martin -- who showed enough promise early on that he was considered the probable heir to the late Jeff Buckley's king-of-crestfallen-singers-with-soaring-voices throne -- has come to sound like an over-emotive version of the Birkenstock rocker Matthews. The singers have the same high register, and both have come to serve basically the same audience -- one that does not include indie hipsters who recoil at Martin's immodesty and hyper-pretension, as well as the strikingly familiar, middle-of-the-road quality of his band's music. Particularly on the new "X&Y." Coldplay and the Dave Matthews band generally appeal to medium-level dull people. They both create music to be played in new cars. Whereas true artists make music to be played in old cars.
Not that there's anything wrong with that: The new-car crowd forms quite a caravan, as "X&Y" is among the year's best-selling albums, and Friday's show was packed with fans who screamed at just about every move Martin made. Particularly when he whirling-dervished across the stage or channeled Joe Cocker by jerking, convulsing and rocking back and forth on a stool as he pounded out undeniably pretty but decidedly not rocking piano riffs on melancholy songs such as "The Scientist." Or when, during the second encore song, "In My Place," he sprinted to the middle of the venue, where he warbled at the fans on the sprawling lawn.
They warbled right back, sounding rough around the edges as they drowned Martin in fan-love.