Size of UIC Pavilion puts a chill on Coldplay performance


June 11, 2003


The critical consensus over Coldplay is divided: Some see the platinum-selling British pop band as the poor man's U2 (circa the early days of grand gestures and hollow chest-thumping), while others have it nailed as Radiohead-Lite (all over-emoting and wispy, ethereal ambience).

Neither view is entirely fair. Taken via the short bursts of hit singles such as its 2000 breakthrough "Yellow" or recent chart-toppers "Clocks" and "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," the quartet distinguishes itself with its indelible melodies, its heartfelt lyrics and Chris Martin's soulful, soaring voice (which is no doubt a major source of the attraction for current girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow).

But while the group rings out amid the clutter and clang of modern-rock radio, it failed to make much of an impact onstage at a sold-out UIC Pavilion Monday night.

Part of the problem is that the band has grown too popular too fast, and it really isn't ready for the arenas yet. It kept the stage set simple, performing under four video screens that flashed images of the musicians and created a mood via swirling psychedelic lights and a lone green laser that must have been purchased used from Genesis circa 1977.

Unfortunately, the band members' stage presence wasn't big enough to make up the difference in filling such a large space. Martin spoke only sporadically, and he couldn't be understood when he did.

And when he wasn't tethered to his acoustic guitar or doing his Schroeder imitation at his black upright piano, his bouncing-on-one-foot-while-reaching-for-the-sky dancing was just plain goofy.

Coldplay's sound is based on a simple formula that pairs the unrelenting 4/4 pounding of drummer Will Champion with the interplay between Jon Buckland's Edge-like single-note guitar lines and Martin's insistent piano and acoustic strumming (plus, of course, those nimble vocal gymnastics).

The group opened strong, with a pounding version of "Politik," the timely protest song that it played on the Grammys. (Adding to the Radiohead connection, it also celebrated leftist political activism by trumpeting a fair-trade group on the video screens and in booths throughout the lobby.)

But while its string of hits stood out--inspiring several crowd sing-alongs--at least half of Coldplay's 90-minute set sounded repetitious and indistinct.

It was also disappointing to see the band relying on taped acoustic guitar and piano (or an unseen roadie playing those instruments) during several of its best numbers, including the rousing hits "Yellow" and "In My Place."

Any band with songs this strong can't be dismissed as a serious contender. But Coldplay needs to polish its act and learn to better project its passions if it wants to continue playing the enormodomes.

Adding aggravation to the night was the fact that the group didn't take the stage until nearly 2-1/2 hours after the advertised starting time. And underwhelming openers Eisley (a cookie-cutter female-fronted pop band from Tyler, Texas) and Ron Sexsmith (the over-rated Canadian singer-songwriter) had even less cause to perform on such a large stage than the headliners did.