Last Night: Coldplay at the Honda Center

Photo by Christopher Victorio
Last Night:
Coldplay at the Honda Center, Anaheim, Nov. 25, 2008.

Better than: Staying home to watch the six-hour long “Dancing with the Stars” season finale.

Most mixed message: Booths in the lobby promoting anti-poverty organization Oxfam, just mere feet away from merch tables selling $35 t-shirts and $20 “tour programs.”

Let's face it–it's really not “cool” to like Coldplay. They're just too popular, too earnest, too derivative of The Bends-era Radiohead and too married to Gwyenth Paltrow to be taken seriously. It's like that troubling line from The 40-Year-Old Virgin: “How do I know you're gay? Because you like Coldplay.”

But dismissing the band for any or all of those reasons means missing out on things like Tuesday night's concert at the Honda Center, where their numerous anthemic numbers met perfectly with enjoyably overblown stage production, creating a nearly two hour rock spectacle strongly reminiscent of some Irish band Coldplay's been compared to a few times before.

With a giant multi-use screen serving as a backdrop (first projecting the cover of latest album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, later showing abstract images and real-time footage of the band performing), elaborately coordinated flickering lights and hanging orbs acting as spherical, secondary video screens, this was every bit of an “arena show,” complete with copious amounts of both pomp and circumstance. And, of course, lots of singing along–you don't necessarily realize listening to their records or hearing them on the radio, but the majority of Coldplay songs seem almost shredly designed for this type of setting, with the sold-out crowd filling in on the “yeah”s on “In My Place,” and whole choruses on “Fix You.” At this point, with only four albums, they already have so many good songs that you don't even realize it until you're in a setting like this.

Other antics included moving to a platform in the middle of the floor seats for an electronica-tinged version of “God Put A Smile Up Your Face” that blended into a reworked version of “Talk.” The band moved all the way to the back of the arena for acoustic numbers “Lost!,” “The Scientist” and “Death Will Never Conquer.” They even dropped confetti late in the set during current single “Lovers in Japan.” (Well, not them personally. Though that would be even more impressive.)

All of that is to be expected, but what might surprise the Coldplay haters is that, in concert, the band actually kind of rocks. Hits like “The Scientist” and recent single “Lost!” have given them a not-entirely-unfair reputation of being rather mellow. While the slow melancholy of those songs is (wisely) retained live, pieces like “Clocks” and set-closer “Yellow” (their breakthrough hit and the only song off Parachutes performed Tuesday) are louder and faster, establishing the band as rock stars and not shoegazers.

“Band” is also something you don't always think of with Coldplay. Lead singer Chris Martin is such a public face for the band that the other members are essentially anonymous (go ahead: try to name one other member!), with nary a Keith Richards or The Edge in sight. That's a perception that won't be dispelled by seeing them live, as the other members remained pretty much background characters, other than drummer Will Champion performing lead vocals on “Death Will Never Conquer.” Champion was also the only member to get an introduction.

It's not like Martin isn't endearing enough for all four of them, though, from his singing, piano playing, guitar playing and expression of gratitude over the crowd “missing 'American Idol'” to see them (silly British man, that doesn't start again until January!) to discussing meeting the Jonas Brothers for the first time two days prior at the American Music Awards. “Never before have I felt like an old man with no talent whatsoever,” he said, taking his Jonas affection so far as to insert them into the lyrics of X&Y track, “The Hardest Part.” (“Those Jonas boys so much younger than me.”)

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: The Jonas Brothers also make me feel like an old man with no talent whatsoever–but in their defense, so do lots of things.

Random Detail: Martin slipped in a couple of llyrics from “Human” by The Killers into “Viva La Vida;” check about 3:00 into this video.

By the Way: The Honda Center sells off-brand Dippin' Dots ripoff “Molli Coolz” instead of the genuine article. Surely Dippin' Dots v. Molli Coolz will be the Coke/Pepsi War of the 21st century.

Set list:

“Life in Technicolor” (instrumental intro)
“Violet Hill”
“In My Place”
“Speed of Sound”
“Cemeteries of London”
“Chinese Sleep Chant”
“Fix You”
“Strawberry Swing”
“God Put a Smile on My Face”
“The Hardest Part”
“Viva La Vida”
“The Scientist”
“Death Will Never Conquer”
“Lovers in Japan”
“Death and All His Friends”


“Life in Techinicolor 2” (instrumental outro)

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