Say what you will about Coldplay–go ahead, it's cool–but they put on a hell of a show last night at the United Center. That's right, I went to see Coldplay in a huge basketball arena, and I'm not apologizing for it. I'm an unabashed fan of their first two albums, I like a couple of songs on the otherwise not-so-good X&Y;, and my jury's still out on Viva La Vida. But complimentary tickets (face value: $112? Holy cow.) made their way into my hot little hands, and who was I to turn away?
I'd seen Coldplay just once before, at the Vic Theatre (capacity: 1,500) for a taping of MTV's now-defunct (I think) $2 bill series. They were incredible there, having just put the finishing touches on A Rush Of Blood To The Head, and with nothing to play but their first two albums and assorted B-sides (including my absolute favorite Coldplay song, "See You Soon"). To be honest, if I had seen the setlist for the United Center show–the first night of their American tour if you don't count free shows in London and New York last month–I might have been a little apprehensive about going. But I'm glad I did.
(For Chris Rock's account of what it was like being the only black guy at Coldplay's New York show, see here.
First the bad news: By my count, the band played just one song from Parachutes, and that song was "Yellow." The set list leaned heavily on Viva La Vida. The good news: The new songs sounded suitably massive for such a cavernous venue (roughly 20,000 seats, and they sold out two nights quickly), and Coldplay have figured out how to work a room this big. Not only did they have the requisite huge backdrop (which at first featured the Delacroix painting from the latest album's cover, but later featured other video footage and live shots of the band), but they also brought in catwalks, giant orb-screens, and cannons. More on all of those shortly.
The first part of the set buzzed through a mixture of new and old: "Violet Hill," "Clocks," "In My Place," and "Viva La Vida." There's nothing like hearing 20,000 people sing along with a song you actually like–individually, people sound horrible, but the combination of voices makes for something spectacular. And Chris Martin is either really humble and appreciative or an excellent actor. He seemed genuinely chuffed (as his people say) that so many concertgoers were so excited. He bumbles around the stage like a clumsy (but much more loveable) Bono, occasionally doing the Molly Ringwald dance, but mostly just looking live he's having unrehearsed fun. (The outfits Coldplay are wearing on this look a little more rehearsed. They're iffy, I've gotta say.)
About eight songs in, the band made their way down one of the ramps to a bit of glowing stage that rose from underneath black curtains, and played all crunched together in about 8 feet of space. This space happened to be about 10 feet from me, so I took this terrible picture with my phone. Drummer Will Champion played electronic drums, and the band worked through prog-ish takes on "Chinese Sleep Chant" and "God Put A Smile Upon Your Face."
After making it back to the main part of the stage, Martin announced that Chicago was lucky (he said the name of our city!), or maybe unlucky, because they were shooting a video for the song "Lost!" last night. This meant that the band had to play the song twice, which my wife described as "a little Spinal Tap." But it's a good song, and they played "Yellow" right before it.
Then things got even weirder then, as the band jumped off the stage and made their way all the way to the back of the arena. (This is not a short distance.) They set up shop in a walkway/entranceway, all mic-ed up and with acoustic instruments, to perform "The Scientist" and "Death Will Never Conquer" (the latter sung and guitar-ed by Champion). Martin remarked that they'd never played "The Scientist" that way before and probably never would again. They then said goodbye in what I think was supposed to be the "we're leaving, clap for the encore!" moment, but no one really did. They came out again anyway.
Oh yeah, the orbs… What amounts to spherical movie screens descended periodically throughout the show. They were nifty, if I may use an antiquated word. But not as nifty as the tens of thousands of paper butterflies that were launched from cannons at the top of the venue during "Lovers In Japan." I realize it's a gimmick, but it was fucking incredible. The United Center was basically snowing multi-colored paper butterflies–the floor was covered with them when the lights came up. It actually made me like the song better, so good on ya, Coldplay's butterfly wrangler.
The final songs were a bit anticlimactic: "Death And All His Friends" was the finale, after which Martin and Champion came out to do an acoustic version of "Green Eyes." Apparently this encore was unplanned, as Martin promised, "We'll do a few more songs like this," then promptly did just one and left. A bombastic "Spies" or "Shiver" or "Trouble" would've been a lot more welcome, but all in all, it was still pretty fantastic, pleasantly surprising, and big.