Coldplay is sort of a Nickelback for cool kids. Over the past decade, the chart-friendly U.K. quartet has inspired ridicule at about the same rate it has record sales. The Web site Yahoo Answers, an Encyclopedia Britannica in our social media age, even has an entry titled: “Why do people hate Coldplay so much?”
Yahoo’s “voters’ choice” for “best answer”: “Its [sic] boring.” Another possible and similarly syntaxed explanation for all the Coldplay animus could be “Because Ive never seen it.”
In any case, nobody who saw Coldplay on Sunday at the sold-out Verizon Center came away bored.
Plainly, Coldplay’s current tour takes arena rock production to new levels. As vocalist Chris Martin and his band mates kicked into the set opener, “Hurts Like Heaven,” the LEDs on thousands of wristbands, called Xylobands, that were given away at the entrances were activated simultaneously by remote control, instantly transforming the huge sports arena into a psychedelicatessen of moving, multicolored lights. (The U.K. media reported a few months ago that Coldplay is an owner of the company that manufactures the accessories.) Lasers shot from the stage to the roof and back.
The next tune, “In My Place,” featured not one but two massive confetti blizzards, with day-glo-colored paper cutouts of animals and stars filling the arena. Shortly thereafter came “Lovers in Japan,” during which fans were treated to a balloon drop worthy of a political convention and another confetti blizzard.
The first 15 minutes of the performance were bombastic and breathless enough to leave an under-prepped Coldplay concertgoer wondering: Have I died and gone to a U2 show? Yet the band kept up the pace for nearly two hours.
The show did have moments where the Nickelbackish backlash that Coldplay has incurred made sense. Martin called a timeout in the middle of “Yellow,” the song that got the whole Coldplay juggernaut going back in 2000, and told the band to start over, saying he’d messed up a line; reviews show he used the same see-this-show-isn’t-scripted! shtick during a performance at England’s Glastonbury Festival. But, of course, it’s all scripted. During “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” Martin fell to his knees to sing the line “I’m on my knees!” He smashed his guitar to end “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face,” and within seconds the screens throughout the arena showed a replay of the poor instrument hitting the stage, evidence that the smashing was premeditated. (Then again, Jimi Hendrix had matches and a can of lighter fluid at the ready at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, so the most famous guitar combustion in rock history wasn’t exactly spontaneous, either.)
The music occasionally seemed no match for the theatricality. But how many tunes by anybody can compete with a rainbow-lit confetti blizzard amid balloon droppings? And, besides: Oh, what a wonderful time everybody had. On the soccer-anthemesque pop song “Viva La Vida,” the crowd provided utterly glorious “whoa-oh-ohhh-oh-oh’s” over which Martin sang his pop smash about a guy who ruled the world. The wristbands lit up again for “Charlie Brown,” and some couples danced and sweated in the aisles while the rest of the crowd pogoed to the beat.
When it seemed like the show couldn’t get huger, Martin jumped into the recent super smash “Paradise,” and, well, it got huger. Sure, “Paradise” sounds a lot like other people’s pop — Beyonce’s “Halo,” particularly. But any melody that can get 20,000 people screaming together in key — and this one did just that on this night — is worth borrowing. “Speed of Sound” and the incredibly U2-esque “Clocks” kept up the gigantitude during the encore.
The band was loving it, too. Martin spent some of his last moments on stage performing some sort of free-form dance, kicking up leftover confetti and twirling his arms toward the upper decks of an arena filled yet again with those blinking lights. Should Martin ever actually get to rule the world like the fellow he sang about earlier in the set, there’s no way that will be as much fun as ruling a band as big as his is right now.
Coldplay performs again Monday at the Verizon Center.
McKenna is a freelance writer.