Review: Coldplay goes big at the Hollywood Bowl
At the start of “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” the last song Coldplay performed at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night, the band flicked on halos of lasers, cued a four-on-the-floor drum beat and sang about how it wanted to “turn the music up, I got my records on / I shut the world outside until the lights come on.”
For an act that crankier critics accuse of playing middlebrow post-indie-rock for Apple adverts, this was awfully ravey. The London quartet, one of the biggest bands to emerge in the 2000s, is certainly grounded in earnest guitar-and-piano emoting (with the good taste and huge budgets that afford Brian Eno as a producer).
But that move implies that it sees the rise of dance-music culture as a stakes-raising challenge (or maybe a threat to its livelihood). Tuesday’s show, the first of a three-night Bowl stand this week, proved why Coldplay is the last stadium-sized rock band left standing in contemporary pop -- a feat perhaps unrepeatable for future rockers in a laptop era.
Perhaps the one thing that sticks in craws about Coldplay is that its four sweet-tempered goofballs, who simultaneously want to play the most flagrantly moving rock music conceivable. Gawky dudes like singer Chris Martin, a “Colbert Report” fan who rolls around on stage floors mocking his own falsetto, can't possibly be serious when he calls a song “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” right?
Well, the music had better make us believe it. And that, more than celebrity marriages (Martin’s other half is Gwyneth Paltrow) or bucktoothed love ballads, is why the band is so enormous.
At the Bowl show, drummer Will Champion and pedal-slinging guitarist Jonny Buckland gave necessary ballast to Martin's skilled but sometimes overeager songwriting. Newer tracks such as “Don't Let It Break Your Heart” (from the band's latest, inscrutably titled “Mylo Xyloto”) and older hits such as “Clocks” got their pulse-quickening rush from the classic virtues of all great rock bands: stay simple, but sound huge.
For all the ribbing about Martin’s dreamboat whispers and the anthemic hokum in Coldplay's lyrics (how does one “ignite your bones,” anyhow?), its arrangements are always tasteful and surprisingly minimal. Even on the orchestra-sampling “Viva La Vida,” the band never had to use a snare drum to seal the deal.
But the other thing that gets lost about Coldplay is that it’s also really good at being loud. “Charlie Brown,” stripped of its pitch-shifted samples, went straight for arena-ecstasy riffage. Even obvious pandering, such as the gang chorus of “Paradise,” worked because, well, these guys get paid insane sums of money for coming up with pleasure-center hits like that.
The band succumbed a little too often to the siren song of mid-tempo, though. Even when it dices up plodding tunes such as “Princess of China” with Rihanna video cameos and electronic patter, it still validates accusations of being cloying. But even at the band's most hateable -- the aforementioned bone-igniting ballad “Fix You” -- it's so skilled at sincerity that it would take a Jesuit-like level of self-control to not feel something.
At the encore, when Coldplay cued the audience's wrist-mounted light-blipping devices on “Teardrop,” Martin & Co. clearly planned for the song to hit like a nightclub destroyer. But when Martin sang about his records and keeping the world outside, there was a hint of Brian Wilson's teenage mooniness in the mix.
Any act that can do both of those things -- pair palms-out sentimentality with rigorous rocker craft -- will probably remain the world's last big band for a very long time.
-- August Brown
Photo: Chris Martin of Coldplay performs onstage at the Hollywood Bowl on May 1, 2012, in Hollywood. Credit: Mark Davis/WireImage