- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

The distance between Coldplay’s music — melancholy and middling — and its worldly ambitions — towering — disappears when you actually see the band perform in concert.

It’s not quite a revelation; such things are hard to come by at Nissan Pavilion, a venue whose bottlenecked access points create hellish commutes, especially on nights when megapopular British rock bands are on the bill. (Even St. Peter would see a few scowling faces if it took three hours to reach the Pearly Gates.)

Put it this way: On Friday night, the Coldplay thing began to make sense. I’m still a little puzzled, though, as to why so many young men are so enthusiastic about a mousy quartet whose prettified balladry makes Elton John sound like Black Sabbath. Could it be the presence of thousands of beautiful young women? (I realize this is a stretch.)

When swallowed up and spit back out by a massive, 20,000-plus audience, singer Chris Martin’s woozy melodies take on grand echoes. And songs that (at best) beguile or (at worst) bore on, become steroid-enhanced twins on stage.

Mr. Martin wasted no time assuming frontman swagger, leaping and bounding across the stage as his bandmates glided through the spacey “Square One,” followed by a commanding run through “Politik.” Whether hunched over a piano or strapped with a lozenge-shaped guitar, Mr. Martin was unconfinably aswirl, making good on a promise to play with “twice the energy” of a typical Coldplay concert. (Friday was the last show of the band’s highly successful summer tour.)

For all its talk of clean living and diet purity, Coldplay isn’t above using tape accompaniment to bulk up its sound (or giant yellow balloons to announce the hit “Yellow”; or video-screen images of cosmic explosions to set the mood for “Speed of Sound”). But the band huddled around drummer-turned-pianist Will Champion for a boiled-down barbershop acoustic set that included “Green Eyes” and “Till Kingdom Come,” which Mr. Martin wrote for the late Johnny Cash. A snoozing rendition of “Ring of Fire,” however, was perhaps too literal a tribute to the Man in Black.

As a reminder of how incalculably lucky Coldplay has been the last few years, Mr. Martin shared the war story of the band’s Washington-area debut at the HFStival in 2000. “We felt like aliens from another planet,” he said, mentioning later (during an extemporaneous “Everything’s Not Lost”) the indignity of playing second fiddle to rap-metalers Limp Bizkit.

Things have changed, to say the least.

Now America is alien to Mr. Martin, a Brit who specifically refused to lay eyes on American beers backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards, and whose American wife, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, doesn’t want to raise their daughter, Apple, here (she prefers Europe, with its “respect for the multicultural nature of the globe”).

For what it’s worth, Mr. Martin and Co. seemed humbled by their rousing reception at Nissan; they were, simply, four musicians plying a craft and plying it well.

And if we have imported beers to thank for that, then pass the Heineken.

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