Like the other 1,099 fans
who were lucky enough to see Coldplay at Metro last spring, shortly before
the release of the band's album "X & Y," I was pretty sure Thursday's show
at the United Center, the first of a sold-out two-night stand, wouldn't come
close to matching the excitement of that much more intimate gig.
How could it? That would be
like saying you preferred watching Michael Jordan on TV to playing a game of
one-on-one with him.
Nevertheless -- and the
fragility of many of the band's arrangements and self-consciously arty rips
from vintage Pink Floyd and krautrock aside -- Coldplay's music has always
been designed for the stadiums. And in many regards, it thrives there.
Like its oft-cited
heroes U2, Coldplay has made the leap to the enormodomes a mere three albums
into what is certain to be a long and lucrative career. But Chris Martin and
his bandmates have replaced Bono and Co.'s bombast and
we-can-change-the-world braggadocio with a far humbler and much less
tiresome knack for regal, almost symphonic melodies.
Coldplay's songs are
arena-rock anthems simply because so many people find them so irresistibly
beautiful and catchy.
Indeed, it was hard to
deny the power of either the spectacle or the music as giant yellow balloons
filled with golden confetti fell from the rafters during "Yellow," shooting
stars zoomed behind the band and around the arena as it hammered its way
through "Speed of Sound" and some 20,000 fans lent their voices to the
choruses of the rousing "Clocks."
But for all of that mass
communal ecstasy, there was no denying that Coldplay had made some
unfortunate compromises and lost some of its charms in order to command such
a gigantic venue. (No one expects the band only to play shows the size of
Metro, but it did just fine at the 9,500-capacity UIC Pavilion on earlier
At the United Center,
fans endured an insufferable 50-minute delay Thursday between the end of
opener Richard Ashcroft's set the beginning of the headliners'. After that
wait and an endless string of opening fanfares, including the Beatles'
"Tomorrow Never Knows," Jesus himself would have seemed anti-climactic by
the time Coldplay finally appeared.
The group played a mere
17 tunes during its set, though it seemed anything but short, as every other
song was stretched out with an extended ending or a jam that went nowhere.
Through it all, there was plenty of statuesque posing by all of the
musicians amid great clouds of fog and symbolic beacons of light -- though
singer Martin did undercut the melodrama somewhat with his goofy and gangly
dancing and his unassuming stage patter.
Coldplay is clearly at a
crossroads: With luck, it will learn to tame the excesses of its United
Center show, emphasize the positives and compromises by finding a place
somewhere between the clubs and the stadiums. But it could go the other way,
too, and another "Rattle and Hum" is just too awful to contemplate.
As for Ashcroft, he's
another of Coldplay's heroes, and the group backed him on "Bitter Sweet
Symphony" at last year's Live 8 concert. But even taking into account his
excuses that he was suffering from bronchitis, he'd just stepped off the
plane from London and he'd gotten only two hours' sleep in the last two
days, the former leader of the Verve performed a set that was simply dire
Though he's touring in
support of his third solo album, "Keys to the World," Ashcroft pretty much
admitted that he knew the only song anyone wanted to hear is the one he
called "a classic" (though it's hardly that, and the best bits were sampled
from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra's recording of the Rolling Stones' "The
Last Time"). Unfortunately, his rendition of "Bittersweet Symphony" crashed
amid his cackling vocals and a jammed-out arrangement, and he spent as much
time babbling egotistically through the rest of his set as he did