Saturday, May 16, 2009

Music review: Coldplay sluggish at first, then gets some edge

Chris Martin, left, and Jonny Buckland of Coldplay
in concert Friday night at the Cruzan Amphitheatre.
(Photo by Tom Craig)

By Thom Smith

WEST PALM BEACH -- "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about," Oscar Wilde wrote back in 1891.

Fast forward to 2009, and another product of the British Isles is in the midst of a publicity firestorm, generated by a trio of accusations of theft. Not of a car or a diamond stickpin or a lover, but rather of an idea.

And at Friday’s Viva la Vida tour launch at Cruzan Amphitheatre, Coldplay’s charismatic frontman, Chris Martin, made the most of it, taking public shots at guitarist Joe Satriani from the stage. The crowd of fans, estimated at more than 17,000, roared in support.

Undoubtedly, the legal machinations should be interesting, as Satriani’s charge is one of three calling foul play on Coldplay over the same song, Viva la Vida. The licks, Satriani says, are his, and a YouTube comparison suggests he has a point. But Satriani also has to defend his claim against Creaky Boards, a Brooklyn band, which performs the ironically titled The Songs I Didn’t Write, and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, who hears phrases from his 1973 Foreigner Suite in Coldplay’s hit.

Copycats come and go, but so do original artists, and most of what Coldplay does is original. The question, however, is how long the music will last.

Stevens/Islam’s Wild World still gets airplay 39 years later, and only time will tell if that will be said of Clocks or Yellow. Both arrived early in the set, the latter accompanied by giant yellow balloons carrying tiny yellow paper bits that flew everywhere when the bubble was burst. (Hello, air traffic control: that clutter on your radar screens was not a swarm of locusts.)

In reprise, Martin urged a mass audition for American Idol 2010, but the fans' rendition of the lines Look at the stars, Look how they shine for you needed some work. Even Paula would have sent them home.

Some suggest Coldplay may be a modern version of Genesis, which showed great promise in the late '70s, but never reached its full potential in part because its stars came and went. So when will Chris Martin go solo? He has the voice; he plays guitar fairly well and only missed a couple of notes on the piano; he has the looks; he has the nerve.

But the first half of the show was filled with songs of similar style and tempo. Just when it threatened to become the modern equivalent of a 10cc gig, Coldplay left the main stage for a smaller temporary stage in the second tier and the pace quickened.

Back to the main stage, the band seemed to catch fire with the skiffle-ish DWNC and a song they knew they didn’t write, the Monkees' I’m a Believer, and everyone in the crowd was converted. Similarly, Politik had more drive, more edge, especially at the lines Give me strength, reserve control/Give me heart and give me soul/Give me time, give us a kiss.

Perhaps Martin was singing to someone special. Like maybe his wife, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who was not backstage but downfront center among the masses. Their publicists have said in the past that she doesn’t go to Chris’ shows, and he doesn’t hang around her movie sets. But Palm Beach is different, because Gwyneth’s grandmother lives here. (She and the two kids and “Uncle Bob” Paltrow reportedly spent the afternoon at The Beach Club.)

Back on stage, Lovers in Japan crescendoed with confetti cannons spewing delicate paper and Mylar butterflies across the arena (wait’ll they get that cleanup bill). A sweat-soaked Martin may have summed it up in the first encore, The Scientist, when he sang “Nobody said it was easy."

Or, as he sang in Life in Technicolor: Gravity release me/And don’t ever hold me down/Now my feet won’t touch the ground. And that proved a fitting sentiment to a successful first night on the road.

Thom Smith is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

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