The Beacon Theatre, New York, 5/17/05
John Mayer has a column in Esquire (and yes, I do have a point). In it, he muses on the merits of his fave musicians and pop culture ephemera. Who knew the kid could write?
Anyway, sitting here at the start of the night, impatiently awaiting the appearance of the next great hope to come from the Radiohead gene pool across the pond, one of Mayer's musings came to mind. To paraphrase Mayer, Coldplay are brilliant. (Yes, John, we know. And we're impressed that you have the good taste to mention it.) But, he points out, Chris Martin has a lot riding on this album. How, Mayer wonders, can the king of all things introspective, plaintive and lonely possibly have anything to say now that he's so happily -- and publicly -- situated in marital and patriarchal bliss? What could the crowned prince of intellectualized insecurity possibly have for us to relate to and identify with now? I find I'm of the same mind as Mayer. For Pete's sake, Chris Martin is married to an Oscar winning actress; an American icon as famous for her physical beauty as for her talent and terrible taste in baby names. Woe art thou, Chris Martin. Whoa indeed. (*insert sighing sound here*) And with such tremendous international success with their previous album, the follow up could be a make it or break it release.
Little did I know that Coldplay had a lot riding on this show, too. A private concert held by AOL Music Live at New York's Beacon Theatre, it will be America's introduction to their new material when it streams to millions online at AOLMusic.com. The audience is largely label types, with just a few lucky Coldplay lovers who had the good fortune to win tickets to the show. I think the question on the label people's lips may have been the same as Mayer's. After 3 years away, will their investment stillbe relevant to the ticket- and cd-buying public?
So, when they first appeared on stage earlier this evening, the sense of expectation in the air must have been palpable to Chris & Co. But to us Average Joes on the main floor, we just couldn't believe how darned lucky we are to have scored seats! In my case, I've missed all previous trips stateside, so this has been my big chance to make up for being late to the Coldplay party. And here they are on the stage of the Beacon, thanking the crowd "for coming to see us after three years of being gone!"
Coldplay are serving up their trademark sound, creating sonic landscapes with each song. It has been the kind of show where I find myself closing my eyes, lost in the music. And man, do I love it when that happens.
Chris Martin is a dynamic frontman. He's definitely the focal point, the star of the show without having an "I'm the star of the show" attitude. No strutting or peacockery from Martin. He earns the crowd's rapt attention, through pure talent, sincerity and understated charisma. When he raises his hands to the sky, howling, there are no Bono-esque messianic tendencies or "I'm on TV" posturing. It's just what he does when he's in the moment. When he bends low over the piano, it's almost as if he feels he can get closer to the music that way. And though Chris is undeniably a frontman, you can tell by the way he interacts with his bandmates that he considers himself one member of a band. It's not just The Chris Martin show, which makes me respect him all the more.
As a whole, the band is a cohesive unit with all their chops honed. Though this show is among the first they've played this go-round, they're in sync and tight. Rusty they are not.
They start us off with a moody tune, presumably off the new album, setting the tone for the evening -- one which they would find themselves battling at times. Enthralled, we listened attentively, eager to hear something new but familiar. Perhaps the band was looking for a more feverish response. If so, they should have opened with a howling crowd-pleaser.
Meanwhile, starting as it did, the crowd listened enrapt, hungrily drinking up the first notes we've ever heard from X&Y. But maybe Chris couldn't feel that vibe from the stage. Perhaps he confused enrapt attention with losing our attention. He seemed concerned we might be... dare I say it... bored?! Nothing could have been farther from the truth! Alas, from his between-song patter, it seemed he got off on the wrong foot, under a mistaken impression:
"We have the feeling like we're doing terribly badly. With all these cameras, we feel like we're on 'The Apprentice.' But we're not on 'The Apprentice!' We're f%$#ing Coldplay! So we're going to forget the cameras and give the best show of our lives!"
Believe me, we screamed, we applauded, we swayed, we swooned. Perhaps the label types in the balconies weren't quite as boisterous. Maybe they brought the collective effect down for the band. If that's the case, it's a darned shame. I wish Chris could have gotten the audience-eye-view of Gwyneth dancing around proudly, and my fellow fans waxing rhapsodic about how much "Coldplay RULES!"
As a live band, Coldplay isn't about showboating or spotlighting any one person's virtuosity with long solos or rants. They're about creating a sound, an atmosphere, an ambience, a mood, an environment. They could play with an elaborate light show or in the pitch black around a candle, and they would still sound as if they're playing just for themselves, working out their demons. Or playing just for you, giving you something to identify with and relate to.
Make no mistake. For any fans of Parachutes or A Rush of Blood to the Head, there has been plenty to sing along and swing along to. With their expert manipulation of dynamics, swelling into crashing crescendos or lulling with playful pianissimo, we have been transported to Coldplay's planet. And it's a nice place to visit. It might be grand to buy a house and try living there awhile.
As if to address John Mayer's question head-on and any doubting Thomas in the audience, Martin sings, "What if you should decide that you don't want me there by your side." Yes folks, Chris still has that touching insecurity we crave that makes him accessible. He's still mortal and we can still identify with him, despite his fame and good fortune. Think about it -- would you feel 100% secure with golden goddess Gwyneth as a wife? I imagine anyone would probably be preoccupied, dreading the day that she wakes up wondering why she's with them, too.
There have been so many quintessential Coldplay moments tonight. But there's one that really sticks out. As the crowd crows along, singing, "I was lost, oh yeah," Martin beats his heart as if to remind us to sing from the heart, or that we're touching his heart. And when he asks us, "Is anyone going to come see us again? We'll be so much better, I promise," there wasn't a voice in the room that didn't roar.
The bottom line? Coldplay is amazing live. I guess an off night for them is equivalent to the best gig most bands will ever play.
-- Ames Friedman
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