Monday, July 25, 2016

Hot and Coldplay: Band Provides a Dazzling--If Not So Substantive--Feast for the Senses -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

(opening acts Foxes and Alessia Cara did not perform due to the weather)
Soldier Field, Chicago
July 24 (also played July 23)

I have to imagine that everyone who saw Coldplay at Soldier Field on Sunday night--especially in braving pre-show storms of "biblical proportions" in the words of singer Chris Martin--had a whole lot of fun in enjoying the British quartet's sound & vision extravaganza.

I certainly did. 

Say what you will about the band's music--and I'll get to such an appraisal shortly--but the band has made an art form of turning virtually every song into a spectacle akin to a Super Bowl halftime show.

This is a bit ironic given that Bruno Mars and Beyonce blew a relatively tepid Coldplay off my TV screen during Super Bowl 50's halftime show this past February, but with every fan armed with a wristband that lit up in various colors throughout most tunes, dynamic lighting and video cues, plus fireworks, confetti and three different stages, the home of the Chicago Bears was constantly filled with rather spectacular pageantry.

I'd seen a press blurb about a prior show on the A Head Full of Dreams tour that--in praising all the pumped-up pomp--said something to the effect of Coldplay "begins where most other bands end."

And indeed, after opening acts Foxes and Alessia Cara were precluded by monsoons for the second straight night--I'm still not sure if they were to play together or separate--Coldplay took the stage around 9:20pm, with a Maria Callas aria ("O mio bambino caro") and then Charlie Chaplin's humanitarian speech from the end of The Great Dictator blaring over the PA, wristbands aglow throughout the stadium and Martin jaunting down a long catwalk as "A Head Full of Dreams" exploded with color and light (and sound). 

Even more so in juxtaposition with the blitzkrieg from Mother Nature, it was a rather resplendent and buoyant way to start a concert, and the sensory smorgasbord carried through to the band's breakthrough hit, "Yellow"--complete with a rather obvious hue change--and 2011's "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall."

As on the concert's 4th song (not counting a snippet of "Sweet Home Chicago,"), the lovely piano ballad, "The Scientist" from 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head--still the band's best album, IMO--Coldplay showed cognizance that occasional valleys were needed amid a 2-hour succession of songs mostly infused with "Can we top this?" flash and flourish.

It was undeniably fun and festive, and per my @@@@1/2 (out of 5) rating, I generally loved it more than not.

All the extravagance wouldn't have worked if Coldplay wasn't playing songs the sellout crowd enjoyed, and tunes both old--"Clocks," "Fix You," acoustic takes on "In My Place," "Don't Panic," and "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face"--and new or newish ("Princess of China," "Charlie Brown," "Adventure of a Lifetime") sounded swell amid the comfortable night air (the day's 90+ degree heat having been defanged by the torrential cloudbursts).

Coldplay has certainly built an impressive career--selling out multiple nights in U.S. football stadiums would seem to cement their standing as the biggest band to arise in the 21st century--with a solid canon of upbeat, positive songs. (See Sunday's Coldplay setlist here.)

And the ever-gracious Martin is an energetic, effervescent front man who aims to please, even to the point of bringing a kid at his first concert onstage to watch him play "Everglow" alone on piano from up close. (Except when Martin pointed them out, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion were relatively inconspicuous most of the night.)

Whether visually spartan or grandiose, great concerts are typically about the "experience"--individually unique and hard to define as it may be--more so than just the music performed.

And to their credit, after a few tours I found to be fairly rote 90-minute performances, back in 2012 and again in the present Coldplay has amplified the visceral excitement of their shows by turning practically every song into a carnival of its own.

That said--with genuine admiration--during the concert there were times when I couldn't help but feel that A) all the pomp and circumstance was probably a bit too much and B) it served to mask the reality that there isn't a whole lot of depth, differentiation or sophistication to Coldplay's music, sonically or lyrically.

Back in 2002, when the terrific A Rush of Blood to the Head marked a clear leap forward from their fine debut album, Parachutes, and the band blew me away in a relatively intimate show at Milwaukee's Eagles Ballroom--they were already filling Chicago's UIC Pavilion at the time--it felt to me that Coldplay could well be destined to become "the next great rock band," of an ilk to rival U2.

But while they have released a few really good songs--including "Viva la Vida," a standout of Sunday's show--and several more nice-sounding ones, it is perhaps because Martin is seemingly a good, well-adjusted guy who even in splitting with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow hasn't reflected much turmoil in public or his music, Coldplay's songs seem rather facile as a base generalization.

There never seems to be much angst, social observation, personal reflection/revelation or ingenuity in their songs--"Clocks" still being their most musically vibrant--and perhaps they've knowingly ceded "the new U2" turf, at least qualitatively, to Arcade Fire.

And as such, the largely superb concert lacked the level of musical and emotional gravitas I embrace at the very best ones.

I don't doubt that many of the 50,000+ in attendance found the show absolutely phenomenal in all regards, and could be wholly dispassionate about acts I--and Martin, by the way--find remarkable, such as Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Paul McCartney.

Many may consider this one of the best concerts they've ever seen, and I certainly wouldn't argue with their opinion.

But though I had a wonderful time with good friends, I don't share it.

I would concur the Coldplay has become one of the best in the concert business in delivering a dazzling show full of audiovisual wonder--and as someone who loves the art of performance, this isn't trifling praise. You don't delight 50,000 people by accident.

Yet while I like a good bit of it, their music rarely really matters to me.

And as further exemplified by a rather middling cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" that captured none of the song's pensive pathos ("Life on Mars" could have a been a better tribute given Martin's piano gifts) and three show-closing encores of new songs--"Amazing Day," "A Sky Full of Stars," "Up&Up"--offering rather trite sentiments amid confetti ("Politik" could have been a prime closer in this cantankerous election year), although this was a great concert, at the same time it reaffirmed my reluctance to consider Coldplay a truly great band.

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