Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Rush of Blood to the Head: Coldplay at Nissan Pavilion, 9.30.05

I had absolutely no expectations for this show—after all, I bought my first Coldplay CD only three months ago. It’s not like I can quote each song chapter and verse.
We had cheap seats on the lawn (thanks to the band dropping prices as a benefit for Live8), and I wasn’t even in a hurry to get to the venue and run to the front. I just wanted to take it easy and enjoy the show as it unfolded.
Well, despite my relative apathy, Coldplay managed to win me over.
Playing live is the make-or-break moment for any band. Putting out a record is nice, but if you can’t take that music out on the road and play it right in front of me, I won’t have much use for you. But playing before a packed field (lead singer Chris Martin seemed a little overwhelmed by what must have been a near-capacity crowd), Coldplay took possession of the scene for 95 solid minutes of entertainment.
I was surprised to find goosebumps pop up when the band actually hit the stage (after nearly an hour after openers Rilo Kiley—that’s way too long of a wait) and ripped into “Square One,” the uptempo rocker that also leads off Coldplay’s latest album, “X&Y.” The band has a rather intricate light show that more often than not makes the band itself almost invisible; it’s a nice way of taking the spotlight off the men themselves and put the focus on the music.
After the opener, Coldplay unveiled a power trio of “Politik,” “Yellow” and “Speed of Sound,” keeping the zealous crowd up. This band may never have imagined it would be playing such a large venue, but these three songs alone proved the group has that certain “big” vibe necessary to capture an audience of that size.
Unfortunately, Coldplay’s “wall of sound” style also requires a lot of help on stage. I’m pretty sure there was more coming out of the speakers than met the eye; at one point, Martin’s voice was warbling repetitiously toward the end of a song and he actually talked over the music—two Martin voices at the same time. At another spot he actually said, “Stop the tape.” Not a good thing. But, to be fair, it wouldn’t be the first time a band needed a little extra help to pull off its live show (U2 essentially had a pit crew during the ZooTV tour, adding little bells and whistles where necessary, while Green Day and Nirvana both have recruited extra musicians for the road that technically aren’t “in the band”). There’s no doubt Coldplay is actually playing live, but with all the added techno-wizardry incorporated into the show, that doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity—they play essentially the same exact show every night.
So if a concert is going to be this carefully orchestrated, it at least better be good, and this one certainly was. Even though 95 minutes seems a little on the short side for a band with already such a deep catalog of hits, Coldplay seemed to give its full attention to each number—the band didn’t just blow through any of its offerings, making the overall show feel longer than it actually was. There was also an excellent ebb and flow to the whole thing—building and lessening intensity gradually from song to song with no jarring transitions.
Martin proved to be an excellent frontman in concert. It’s hard to capture a large audience sitting at a piano, but somehow he managed it. And when not playing the keys, he spent much of his time twirling about the stage, at one point running up an aisle of the pavilion to the soundboard to finish “In My Place.” (On a side note, I was also pleasantly surprised that Martin’s nasal voice held up well live; I was worried he wouldn’t be able to consistently hit notes that require such precision in the studio, but I noticed no glaring errors the entire night.) One of my favorite portions of the show, however, was his intro to “Everything’s Not Lost,” a quiet piece that he said didn’t go over too well the last time Coldplay played in D.C.—at the 2000 HFStival. Martin mentioned how nobody at that show wanted to particularly hear his band play—they were more excited about headliners Limp Bizkit, apparently. It seems strange, he said, to five years later have everybody cheering for it. It was a witty little barb that I appreciated—sort of a thank you to those who appreciate his music and, at the same time, a screw you to any of the posers that happened to be at that HFStival five years ago and now all of the sudden “love” Coldplay. Martin even improvised an entire first verse to the song about this experience, including a shot at Limp Bizkit. Pretty cool.
A great version of “The Scientist” then led into a mini-acoustic set of three songs, including a nice cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Coldplay started to lose people a little during this stretch, I think, but, once again, the band had a plan. After three quiet numbers, they ripped into what is certainly the showcase of the evening: “Clocks.” Sure, maybe it’s cliché, but this is my favorite Coldplay song and it did not disappoint in person (the light show is mesmerizing). This led into “Talk,” one of the best songs off “X&Y,” to close the main set on a manic high. During the climax off this song, Martin asked everyone to get their cameras ready and then told them to “shoot” at the same time the band’s lights went crazy with strobes; sure it’s a little forced, but it came off to a nice effect.
Martin opened the encore with the quietly beautiful “Swallowed by the Sea” before kicking into two more stone-cold faves, “In My Place” and “Fix You,” to finish the show, the latter building to an epic close that fittingly sent the crowd out on a high.
There’s something about Coldplay that doesn’t quite reach me—a few too many chinks in the armor that I know will prevent this band from cracking my top five (this was the last show of the U.S. tour and yet no surprises?). But last night, they simply got it done. There’s a certain gravitas to their music that allows the band to spread its wings across such a huge venue and not be overwhelmed, and that’s saying something. In a seemingly rare instance these days, at least this band actually lived up to the hype.

Nissan Pavilion, Bristow Virginia
Square One
Speed of Sound
God Put a Smile on Your Face
White Shadows
Everything’s Not Lost
The Scientist
Til Kingdom Come
Ring of Fire
Green Eyes

Swallowed in the Sea
In My Place
Fix You

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