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Coldplay Turns the Audience Into the Light Show

It's been a ferocious month for great music all over Santa Cruz and a bit beyond. Visually, Coldplay took the prize.

You've got to love a band like Coldplay that gives back. I'm not talking about music here, because no one can top Bruce Springsteen, who gave three solid hours of big band playing at the San Jose Arena Tuesday night (attended by many Santa Cruz fans.)

But visually, Coldplay took the prize with a gimmick I'd never seen at a rock show before.

Every person entering what fans will always think of as the Shark Tank (despite whatever corporate sponsor bought the naming rights this year), was given a wristband. There were signs telling them not to throw them away because they were part of the show.

Yeah, it was a corporate wristband, plugging Coldplay on one side and Twitter on the other, but it wasn't offensive.

Having seen pictures from the Friday show and Madonna at the Super Bowl, I knew what was going to happen.

But, I still wasn't prepared for the way the wall between performer and audience fell when the house lights went down and the wristbands lit up in bright colors.

It was the technological equivalent of doing the wave. The audience was now part of the show.

The lights flickered in time with the music and they weren't used all the time, but as an accent, like fireworks, during big crescendos.

Nice trick. Wonder how much it cost? With prices ranging from $61 to $167 a ticket with service charges, they could afford the nick nack, no doubt most ungreenly imported from China. But it gave something a rock audience may not have seen before and will be talking about for a long time. Too bad they stopped working when you left the arena.

Coldplay, the English band that broke onto the world stage with the alternative hit "Yellow" in 2000, has been on a tightly-controlled and shameless path to follow in the footsteps of U2 and become one of the last big rock bands.

Unlike U2, there is little substance in their songs, which are the musical equivalent of French onion dip and chips or chocolate covered Twinkies, depending on your junk food addiction of choice.

Their whole catalog, with only a few exceptions, is catchy as hell, but lyrically resembles the poems in a junior high school student's diary. The tunes are deceptively simple, but layered in bolder experiments, cornerstone guitar licks here, challenging stops and starts there.

Like little movie soundtracks they sound great while they are playing, but I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone sing one later.

The recordings, like U2's, are produced by Brian Eno, who adds enough layers of glimmer to give them some depth, beneath the sugar coat. Overall, they are less like U2 than they are the current equivalent to old FM standards Journey or Supertramp. They aren't breaking ground so much as putting a shiny patina on it.

That said, their hour and 40 minutes on stage passed in the blink of an eye, one sparkly hit after another with frosted birthday cake visuals to keep everyone happy. (And to cover up the fact that Chris Martin has got NO dance game. He moves more like Elaine from Seinfeld than Mick Jagger. By comparison Bono, with his steelworker frame, seems like a ballerina.)

The set, which was identical both nights in San Jose, covered all but two songs off the new disk, Mylo Xyloto (a cryptic name with no meaning but to be cryptic). But the easy-listening hits were there from their four other albums: "Clocks," "Yellow" (which started dirgelike and acoustic and then built up to the grandeur),  "The Scientist," "Fix You."

And they gave. Singer Chris Martin thanked the audience for braving the same traffic they faced getting there. "I know it's a hassle to get to a big show," he said, probably commuting by private jet from L.A. and facing traffic from the San Jose Jet Center.

They played on a B stage in the middle of the hall, and a C stage out in the back of the room, giving fans some intimacy in the hockey tank. They also triggered confetti twice, at a cost of $5,000 a pop to pay for clean up. The visuals were spectacular, the music lush and easy.

Yeah, it's a guilty pleasure to go to a concert that is not the least bit challenging, but simply good fun.

That said, the opening bands had some kick. I will buy discs by Metronomy, a band that definitely challenged the audience with the kind of electronic prog rock popularized by early Genesis and David Bowie and later acts like Muse or Ratatat. See Video. It was refreshingly complex and not easy listening, but the audience seemed to really like them.

The Pierces also played, a sister-fronted band that had a few intriguing tunes. I'd buy them too. What more could an opening band want than to find some new fans in an echoey arena. It worked. (Vid of my favorite song by them..sounds like something from Disney)

PS: The show was said to be sold out and on Friday the only tickets available were behind the stage. On Saturday afternoon, however, there were great center seats available at Ticketmaster.

tami ellis April 29, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Great review of a great show. But I totally disagree about Chris Martin....I'll dance with him any time!
Mega Jack April 30, 2012 at 06:12 PM
I really find it crap to read reviews comparing Coldplay to U2; Chris to Bono, etc. I listen to Coldplay because I love their music- it always brings out emotions- not because I want something like U2. Don't get me wrong, I also love U2. But I just find it so unfair for people to always compare when each band or musician has its own distinct style and sound. They're just as unique as every human beings- twins can be so similar yet so different! Stop comparing! Enjoy the music and stop being so hypocritical.

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