Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Coldplay at the Rod Laver Arena review 

Last night, J and I caught Coldplay's first Melbourne show and it was amazing!

It's been a long time between concerts for me - so long, I'm having trouble remembering exactly when I last went to one. Still, I have strong memories of favourites - the first, Ian Dury & The Blockheads (with No Fixed Address) at Festival Hall, and others such as The Talking Heads "Stop Making Sense" show at Kooyong, and The Floyd (sans Waters) at the same tennis centre venue as Coldplay are currently playing. I'd certainly never experienced an audience lit up with mobile phones filming before!

Coldplay first began to register with me in a good way when they hosted Rage some years ago, choosing such fine songs as The Jayhawks "Blue" (a possible inspiration for "Yellow"?).

With the Melbourne Cricket Ground carparks shut for the stormy weather, J and I had trouble finding a parking spot, but we did find one, and free - possibly a benefit of coming early enough to catch the support bands.

Decoder Ring opened with an instrumental set of three pieces. While initially drawn in, their sound had a sameiness to it after a while that became wearying - fine musicians plying their craft in straight fours - maybe I've heard too much accomplished and meandering progressive rock to really enjoy something so driving, and I didn't think their slideshow featuring microbiology, anatomy and the odd bird added all that much.

I was astounded to hear that the next support band would be Mercury Rev, a great band, who I like a lot, both for their songcraft and their videos. Their live show somehow failed to capture that magic, with Jonathon Donahue's quirky vocals sounding forced, and again, the band's sound being somehow too driving to capture much of their frequent magic. Good, but slightly lacking, though in fairness, neither support act had the benefit of much in the way of lighting and pyrotechniques.

After a second interval, Coldplay themselves emerged in the darkness as four sparklers, then got down to the business of showing us how to put on a captivating live show. Chris Martin fronts the band in a charming manner, often speaking directly to the audience in self-effacing asides - "some of you 55 year olds will be wondering what you're doing here" - or weaving a sly line into a well-known lyric. He began by introducing Coldplay as one of "England's premier soft-rock bands" a tag he again mentioned later (better to embrace such a veiled insult to diffuse it, I figure). What's clear is that the band has worked to earn their position as possibly the top band in the world, but are also fully enjoying it, and giving their absolute best to their audience.

I'm not wholly familiar with Coldplay's back catalogue, but they barely played a song I didn't recognise, mostly from overhearing J's constant playing of their albums. Something that is clear about "Viva La Vida" is that the material - along with the "Prospekt's March" additional CD - forms a coherent thematic work, long live the album format!

Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland certainly know their arpeggios :). While Martin fluffed slightly on the beginning of "Clocks" as the band emerged from the darkness, such idiosyncracies only added to the sense of how live the show was, and how real the band. I remember seeing an early Coldplay show on TV while on the phone to a mate and relating how unimpressed I was. Either they've come a long way, or I was completely wrong. Probably both!

For four musicians the music was wide-ranging and incredibly tight. The consistent fast pacing surprised me - I'd expected them to be more laid back - but this show rocked, while remaining consistently engaging and musically appealing. Coldplay have an excellent sense of dynamics - of when to strip the music back to just Martin's evocative voice and piano, or even just percussion - and when to bring bassist Guy Berryman and Will Champion thundering in (the band probably don't deserve to be labelled in their roles, as they're all multi-instrumentalists).

Lighting and multimedia effects were used expertly throughout - multiple screens and catwalks, a shower of yellow balloons and lights for "Yellow" and coloured paper butterflies for "Lovers in Japan," an extraordinary laser show, and huge hovering globes. The band shed layers of their revolutionary outfits as they grew warmer, eventually down to shirts displaying the blood red letters of VIVA, with Martin's placed like he'd returned too soon after an appendicetomy.

Coldplay also had many surprises in store, including decamping to a ministage near the cheap seats for a sublime acoustic set, featuring Will Champion playing guitar and singing a folk-inflected song. Speaking to the audience, Martin claimed he drew the short straw in the early days and became the band's vocalist, something lent real credibility by Champion's lovely solo spot (I was reminded of the TomTom Club emerging from Talking Heads). Despite the magnificence of Martin's voice, I think there's room for exploration here in Coldplay's future.

I wonder about their practice of crediting material to all four band members, and would be interested to know the mechanics of who actually writes what. Martin mentioned Genesis at one point - a band of songwriters who put their words in the mouth of their frontman - and I wonder to what extent they all contribute to the actual wordsmithing. While this crediting will work beautifully for now, distributing royalties and helping keep them together, I have to wonder if it's a good idea considering the experience of so many other bands.

Coldplay are a band who totally deserve their success at every level. If, like me, you're perpetually short of money and can only scrape together the money to get to one show, I can totally recommend Coldplay. Don't be put off by their enormous popularity :).

By the way, can anyone tell me, what was the classical baroque piece that Martin played on piano?

  • Coldplay Clock Up a Winner
  • Review and setlist

  • Best of all, when we came out, after a day of some of the direst wind, fire and weather warnings ever (ratings of 200-300, based on a usual scale of 50-100) it had finally rained!


    Obviously I'd heard of them, and I've liked almost every song of theirs that I've listened to. But it wasn't until I saw a recent interview on 60 Minutes in which Chris Martin was interviewed that I fully liked and respected this band. They're just so down-to-earth, not full of themselves. Love it!
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