When: Wednesday, July 23
Where: The United Center, Chicago
As a concert-minded songwriter, one of Chris Martin’s best moves was to name his biggest hits after colors — or colours, as he might say. Just ask the 11,000 strong at last night’s Coldplay show, who over the course of the night heard hits of a vivid trajectory: the early highlight was “Violet Hill,” sans the thirty seconds of white noise that precedes it on new disc Viva La Vida; the ultimate peak was a singalong version of “Yellow,” the sole concert cut from debut disc Parachutes; and the show ended with an acoustic take on “Green Eyes” from the excellent Rush of Blood to the Head LP. Even if you don’t particularly care for these tunes, they sure make sense in the midst of a lights show — which sure makes sense to do in an arena. Coldplay’s entire set, in fact, could be summed up as songs that made sense.
The four-piece Londoner ensemble, of course, is making more than a few cents off their latest album: Viva has sold 5 million copies in a month, and the accompanying tour is selling so well that bigger cities — Chicago included — are being treated to two nights of performance. I caught Coldplay’s second Windy City set, which Chris Martin promised was better than the first. And after two encores, two album-length takes on new single “Lost!” and two full hours of music, I can’t call him a liar.
Essentially, Coldplay excels at being recognizable. Their concert was the first where I knew every single song, even the deep cuts from the new disc — “Death And All His Friends”; a rollicking, pitch-perfect “42” — and the old ones cloaked in electronica and drum machine reverb — “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face,” from Rush of Blood. Outside of that, two songs tested unfamiliar waters: a traditional folk tune sung by drummer Will Champion and a two-minute take on “The Dubliners,” a new ditty that approximates an Irish drinking tune. The set was otherwise infectious, from a rousing rendition of “In My Place” (with crowd-sung “yeah”s) to a laser-assisted romp through the concert stock of “Clocks” (improvised harmonies included). And the decision to only play singles from X & Y — that’s the wide-eyed balladry of “Fix You” and the contemplative piano pop of “Speed of Sound” — was a wise one, as too much mediocrity would have chipped away the artistic armor of Coldplay’s new material.
That said, two brand new songs provided the night’s lowlights. The first was “Yes,” which was overly-reliant on synchronized stereo strings and plagued by Chris Martin’s ultimately-too-weak lower register. Then came the aforementioned double-take on “Lost!,” whose central organ riff was overwhelmed by an attempt to accurately approximate the song’s jungle-thump beat. (The band played two takes because they’re filming concert footage for the song’s upcoming promo video, but one good rendition in lieu of two formulaic attempts — both dependent on Martin’s anti-rock-god flagellantism — would have been better.)
Blunders aside, however, the show was an exercise in slightly exceeding expectations — which is more than enough from a band who tires of playing their material well after you tire of hearing it. Throughout the set, six giant orbs projected images of the band members high above the stage, and an arching video screen flashed images congruent to their simultaneous song: Bush clips during a soulful and more-relevant-by-the-day “Politik”; Eastern imagery throughout “Lovers in Japan”; even psychadelic fruit displays on “Strawberry Swing.” Then there was Chris, as self-deprecating as ever, who despite fame and fortune seems convinced he could lose it all as quickly as it came. But that’s the science of Coldplay, the science outlined in the lyrics of “Lost!”: “You might be a big fish…[but] along may come a bigger one.” The band’s just big fish for now, but that’ll do for a sea of people on a given night in Chicago.