Where do we go, nobody knows
-God Put A Smile On Your Face
Spotlights cover the stage, the band reaches a crescendo with a soft ballad Fix You and somehow the sound emanating from the 35,000 in attendance is thunderous
something one would not expect from a band often deemed soft rock. This is the third straight ballad of the encore and while most fans would be put to sleep by any artists reluctance to end the show on 3 delicate notes, Coldplay has engaged their crowd in a distinctive way by connecting sincerely through music so powerful it does not matter if its the driving Clocks or the sweet ballad In My Place being performed. Going to the show I had my doubts as to whether Coldplay deserved to be headlining to crowds as big as the one at Alpine Valley. However, I am confident that Coldplay is band with nothing more than pure talent and hard work coming to the forefront. As I gazed around the enormous crowd throughout the evening, through the singing and swaying, one thing was evident through the relationship of band to fan; Coldplay put a smile on all of our faces.
Playing to the biggest US crowd of their career, Coldplay surprisingly matched the crowds adoration with a 100-minute set that took the audience on a journey from their melodious debut Parachutes to their masterwork A Rush of Blood To The Head finally to their newest album, X&Y. Alpine Valley is located in between Chicago and Milwaukee and is widely acclaimed as one of the big three sheds across America, along with Red Rocks in Denver and The Gorge in Georgia. The pavilion holds 7,000 while the remaining 28,000 rock out on the steep-inclined lawn. As I entered the pavilion of the breezy summer night not a single blade of grass could be seen as it was inhabited by a rare sold out crowd for Alpine Valley. Only Jimmy Buffet or Dave Matthews fill Alpine to its capacity. When the lights dimmed at 9:15 the cry of 35,000 could be heard. One by one, the members of Coldplay took to the stage as a giant screen, in the back, ticked down numbers until we had lift off with Square One. Lead singer Chris Martin was at the back of the stage with his ghostly shadow radiating from the front of the giant screen. Right from the get go, Coldplay proved they were no fluke and that they are very deserving of any and all praise given to them by delivering a competent set that even a cynic could appreciate.
Coldplay is band that should not be filling arenas and amphitheaters, but somehow, they have captured the hearts, minds and imagination of a mass audience, who helped push their X&Y pass platinum in its second week of release. Unlike most rock bands, their melodies are not driven by any one instrument. They are a band that has a particularly distinctive sound. This was never more evident as Politik kicked in and the rapturous roar of the crowd almost engulfed the band. The opening track off of A Rush Of Blood To The Head was breathtaking to hear among 35,000 screams. The band then indulged the crowd to some favorites; Yellow shined (excuse the pun) as a number of balloons with confetti came into the pavilion. The band would not finish Yellow until they had all been popped which led to Chris Martin holding an extended note until the final one was popped. God Put A Smile On Your Face and Speed of Sound sustained the momentum and the veneration of the crowd only amplified. What is electrifying about seeing Coldplay is their youthfulness affords them the ability to play such a crowd-pleasing set since they only have three albums to draw material from.
Are you lost or incomplete?
Chris Martin dedicated Everythings Not Lost to the people in the back, referring to the 28,000 on the lawn. It was apparent that even though Coldplay performs to stadiums in Europe, he was clearly overwhelmed by the size of the Midwest audience. The slow driving song (guided by drummer Will Champion) led to a remarkable moment. The band began a chant and soon thereafter all 35,000 in attendance were singing along to ah-ah, yeah as Martin led the sea of fans crooning the tune. This is what makes seeing concerts so captivating. As the chant continued the house lights came on and it was clearly a sight to see as I turned around and the depth of the hands that was seen is overwhelming. Moments like these send you back to the albums to rediscover certain songs. What should have been a beer break turned into a powerful moment that all 35,000 in attendance took part in.
Chris Martin handles his front man duties quite well, without sacrificing the musicianship he brings to the band. Martin shifted from the piano to strutting across the stage and climbing speakers without missing a single note. He found ways to reach out, connect and mere moments later could be found back behind his piano. When seeing Coldplay live it becomes evident that no one member of the band shines brighter than the other. Most bands are defined by a sole instrument. What gives Coldplay their distinguishing sound is that in the course of any given song, the rhythm section, guitars and keys could all be prominent. While watching guitarist John Buckland, I was in awe of his subtle playing. He rose to the occasion when the song warranted it (Yellow) and took a back seat when needed (God Put A Smile On Your Face). Hes the equivalent of a pinch runner in baseball. Hes a team player who makes things happen and from time to time and always is trying to set the team up for victory. Bass player Guy Berryman plays the role of a rhythm guitarist more than a bass player. One never hears the effortless nuances of his playing when listening to their albums, but seeing Coldplay live and how they translate that confident and instinctive sound is another story. I have seen numerous bands whose albums I have loved and in concert they are a train wreck. Im happy to say this is not the case with Coldplay.
Oh take me back to the start
The Scientist struck a profound chord with the crowd went wild when the piano intro began, it was clear that even though this is a slow driving number, it is still an anthem. As I turned around to see the crowd behind me, there was nothing but a sea of lighters and cell phones lighting the outdoor theater. There was a concentrated spotlight on the four-piece band as Martin slowly faded into singing the outro as the crowd hummed along until the house lights recognized them. Ryan Adams may be more about rock n roll and bring the guitar to the forefront, but the last time he engaged an audience (the way Coldplay did at Alpine) was when he picks fistfights with his band or heckling members of his audience. As The Scientist wound down, a loop finished the song as each member came to the forefront on the stage with cameras and took pictures of the audience as the crew appeared in the shadows making changes to the set.
The band emerged at the tip of the stage to perform a mini acoustic set. Even Chris Martin joked about making a soft rock concert...softer. Til Kingdom Come was introduced as a song written specifically for Johnny Cash. However, Cash passed away before he could ever record it. Drummer Will Champion filled in on keyboards while bassist Guy Berryman blew away on harmonica while sipping a beer in between. As the staggering song came to a close you could see some discussion ensue from the band members before they launched into the Johnny Cash classic, Ring of Fire, for only the second time on the tour. Between the mega effort to connect with the audience and one-off moments like this, Coldplay are proving they are not mere machines set to churn out the hits, but musicians who make split second decisions from their gut, which is always a sign of a great live band. After a killer 1-2 acoustic punch, Coldplay performed Dont Panic, the lead track from their debut album, Parachutes. Dont ask me how, but the aura of the performance Coldplay somehow made he monstrosity of Alpine Valley appear to be intimate, a truly impossible feat.
As the band took their positions back on the main stage, a intro loop could be heard which was followed by a slow drum fill which continued to intensify as the lights spun brighter, the clapping became louder and Clocks came to life. A illustrious song was made even better with this arrangement. Drummer Will Champion reminded me of The Polices Stuart Copeland as he did not miss a beat while Chris Martin resembled Linus from the Peanuts comic strip as he pounded away on the piano and his head bounced back and forth. Here is a song that was a walk in the park for Coldplay to execute, but they took it to the next echelon with a killer intro and at the end, they sped it up and teased the audience until the song reached an epic climax. Talk brought the main set to a close and I applaud the band for taking a chance with the preeminent track off of X&Y", believing in its power to keep momentum going after the convincing performance of Clocks. The realization and presentation of all of the material was spot on. Chris Martin may be the only member of Coldplay a household name, however, when the last note of Talk had been performed and the band was taking their bows, it was apparent that Chris Martin would not be where he is today without the other three members; guitarist Jon Buckland, drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman. The sum of their parts far outweighs the talent of any one individual.
I was lost, I was lost
Crossed lines I shouldn't have crossed
The encores may have been the most rousing and laid back encores in the history of rock n roll. Swallowed In The Sea, In My Place and the bands new single, Fix You were performed in unison and miraculously, instead of losing the crowd, they preserved the intensity of the main set and took the crowd to go to a higher plane. As Martin crooned Yeah...how long must you wait for it he had 35,000 fans in the palm of his hands. Even though the guitar amps are not turned up to 11, Coldplays performance was more dynamic than the one I saw Tom Petty give a few weeks earlier. Coldplay could have come to tour and rest on their laurels and let the material speak for itself, which would have sufficed their fans, but they went a step above and beyond. They connected with the audience in a way few acts can. One minor quibble is that top-tier tickets were near $80 with service fees. That is a steep price for a band only three albums into their career. Coldplay sold 400,000 tickets the first day the shows went on sale, so obviously people want to see them, but for a band who is charging that much, they should consider playing another 20-30 minutes, adding songs like Moses, Trouble and Amsterdam.
Much has been written about Coldplay over the last few years. Some of it hails them as the saviors of rock n roll; others condemn them for doing anything but rocking. The comparisons given to them are unceasing and yet beneath everything that is being written, something is vastly overlooked...they have struck a worldwide chord with just three studio albums under their belt. If they continue with this formula, they will be around for decades to come not because of luck or the record company promotion, but merely for the connection they have with their audience. Some herald them as the next U2, others champion them as rock n rolls future where I simply just see them as a damn fine band writing really great songs that at the end of the day, not only give a rush of blood to the head, but most importantly, the heart as well.
In the future where will I be?
God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
Speed Of Sound
The Hardest Part
Everything's Not Lost
'Til Kingdom Come (Acoustic)
Don't Panic (Acoustic)
Swallowed In The Sea
In My Place