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Coldplay at the Pepsi Center

Photo: Chad Fahnestock

Coldplay at the Pepsi Center



Coldplay, Jon Hopkins, Sleeper Car
Friday, Nov. 21, 2008
Pepsi Center

Better Than: A rock show where the band stays rooted in one spot.

Making

an arena rock show personal may seem like an impossible task,

especially for any band playing to thousands of fans in the airy

expanses of the Pepsi Center.

But Coldplay defied the inherent

limitations of its grandiose setting Friday night, offering a

performance full of immediacy and intimacy despite the large venue.

Even with a complex stage show marked by massive moving set pieces and

elaborate video work, the band kept the performance rooted in a direct

rapport with the audience.

All told, it was an impressive feat.

The band's ability to fuse the epic and the intimate elements of its performance made for a show that was impressive in myriad ways. The

giant globes, the great piles of confetti released into the audience,

the massive screens hung from the ceiling - all of these arena-scale

ingredients were complemented by the band's movement around the large

space.

By shifting spots on the main stage and even taking its performance to the upper rings of the Pepsi Center, the group escaped

the typical arena model and made the night much more memorable.

Considering

the large-scale stagecraft that would mark Coldplay's entire set, the

evening started out on a decidedly low-key note. Predictably, opening

band Sleepercar's set occupied a fraction of the stage and a fraction

of the time of the headliners. But the El Paso, Texas-based quintet's

sound offered a dynamic markedly similar to that of the main act in both

structure and content.

While lead singer Jim Ward's alt-country

tones contained the sounds and contours of the band's West Texas

musical roots, the plaintive pace and straightforward chords

recalled Coldplay's debut album, Parachutes.

While

Sleepercar's set provided a preview of the show to come in terms of

sound and structure, Jon Hopkins's performance veered much farther from

Coldplay's musical guideposts. As a large screen displayed a series of

psychedelic animations by Vince Collins, Hopkins worked like a mad

scientist over a MacBook Pro and a mixing board. What started out as

electronic music marked by sparse chords and syncopated percussion

eventually intensified in pace and in volume. Hopkin's uncanny ability

to match his frenzied and changeable rhythms with the bright animation

sequences helped carry his set.

Immediately after Hopkins's set,

handlers and techies scrambled to configure the stage for Coldplay's

performance. While the layout seemed straightforward - a main stage

with long walkways on either side - the band would make full use of its

space in creative ways.
The instrumental "Life in Technicolor"

served as the opening theme. Long tapestries that had hid the

stage rose to the rafters as the band put the final tones on the

opening track from the new album, Viva la Vida.

Coldplay immediately mixed old and new into its set list, with the first three

songs, "Violet Hill," "Clocks" and "In My Place," running the gamut from

the band's latest release to 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head. The

sophisticated stagecraft started in earnest early on, as complex laser

patterns shot into the crowd and lead singer Chris Martin ran the

expanse of the stage and its side walkways within the first five

minutes of the performance.

Martin's animated energy was on

display from first phases of the set. "In My Place" saw him constantly

exhorting participation from the crowd, extending the mike toward

throngs eager to supply the words. As the band rang the song's final

tones, Martin collapsed on his back on the side stage. Guitarist Guy

Berryman hefted Martin back to his feet.

Despite the pure theatricality of such antics, Martin managed to keep the feeling of his performance genuine.

As the band broke into "Speed of Sound" from X&Y,

massive orbs descended from the heights of the ceiling. The weather

balloon-sized spheres blazed bright with primary colors, and as the

evening progressed, live video images from the stage were projected in

layers from their surfaces. The stage pieces made for a grandiose

atmosphere, which was lessened somewhat when the house lights came on

and Anderson addressed the Denver crowd directly.

It was a

dynamic that would repeat throughout the performance. Just as the giant

orbs, the flashing lights and the huge projections on three different

screens seemed overly theatric, the band would change the parameters of its performance to make it more cozy and involved.
For the performance of "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," from A Rush of Blood to the Head,

for example, all four of the bandmembers crowded on a small space at

the end of the walkway on stage left. As Martin, Berryman, Jonny

Buckland and Will Champion lined up on the cramped platform, the floor

lit up in segmented squares and washed them in a fluorescent glow. The

stark performance of the song, which featured drummer Champion's

impressive skills on electronic drums, helped to ground the performance

and place the band in the midst of the crowd.

Martin remained

on the platform with his piano after the other three members left,

giving a solo rendition of "The Hardest Part" from X&Y and

labeling it his "ego moment." The rendition, which featured Champion on

harmonies from the darkened main stage, provided yet another low-scale

relief to the epic feel of the venue and the sets.

While the

subsequent performances of "Viva la Vida" and "Lost!"

featured much fuller instrumentation, including a massive percussion

round on the timpani for "World," the final two songs of the first set

calmed the energy significantly.

After "Lost!," the bandmembers descended from the stage, winding their way through the crowd on the

floor. As they progressed through the front rows, hiked up the stairs

and settled at one of the upper rings toting acoustic guitars, it

seemed as if Coldplay had decided to take an impromptu tour of the

Pepsi Center in order to relax a bit.

Instead, the journey

through the throngs turned out to be one of the most memorable musical

moments of the evening. The band cleared out a small space amid the

fans long enough to play dynamic acoustic versions of "The Scientist"

and "Death Will Never Conquer." The latter featured the vocals of

Champion, as Martin complemented the chorus of "Let me know, boys, let

me know" with harmonies blown through a harmonica.

The band

disappeared just long enough to make its way back to the main stage

and indulge in a few moments of rest. When it returned with a

high-volume, high-energy version of "Politik," all of the grandiose

stage cues were back. The globes descended, the lasers beamed, and

strobed lights flashed across the crowds.

Martin's punctuated

piano solo served as an introduction and a calm bridge to "Lovers In

Japan," but as black and white images flashed across the massive screen

at the back of the stage, the band quickly revved up the energy level

once more. As the frequency of the film clips increased and the song's

pace intensified, masses of confetti fell from the rafters. The release

spots were strategic - despite the large scope of the arena, the

butterfly-shaped snips of paper seemed to cover the majority of the

floor and the upper tiers.

Even as the band broke into "Death

Will Never Conquer" and Martin started to voice the band's farewells,

the paper butterflies continued to fall. The extended version of

"Death" roused the already frenzied audience, and as the band made its

second exit, no one seemed to make a move to leave.

The crowds did not have to wait long. Mere minutes after the last strains of

"Death" rang out, the band came back to play the single that earned it its first fame, "Yellow."

In all, the Pepsi Center

performance was in no way hampered by its massive scale. Coldplay

delivered all of the fireworks and flair requisite for its status as

a commercial, stadium rock band - but in between, the group achieved a much more remarkable dynamic. While maintaining the epic scope, Coldplay sneaked in moments of pure audience rapport.

Despite the

screaming hordes and the dizzying size of the arena, the band created the illusion of a small club performance at several key points.



Considering the venue, it was no small achievement.

Personal bias:

I first heard Coldplay when I was living in France in 2002 -- and

Friday's live renditions of the Blood songs, combined with the massive

projection on the back screen of the cover art from Vida  ("Liberty

Leading the People" by French painter Eugene Delacroix) gave the show

an evocative, transportive power.

Random detail:

Extremists on both sides of the Coldplay debate tend to be annoying.

Those who worship every syllable that Chris Martin utters and those who

harp on how the band represents all that is evil in the commercial

music industry rub me the wrong way. Obviously, the show was populated

by a high number of folks in the first category. Two-plus hours

surrounded by such fanatics can grow old fairly fast.

By the way: Chris Martin's heavy use of falsetto can get a bit annoying after almost two hours.

- A.H. Goldstein

Setlist

1)     Opening theme - Life in Technicolor
2)     Violet Hill
3)     Clocks
4)     In My Place
5)     Speed of Sound
6)     Cemeteries of London
7)     Chinese Sleep Chant
8)     42
9)     Fix You
10)   Strawberry Swing
11)   God Put a Smile Upon Your Face
12)   The Hardest Part
13)   Viva la Vida
14)   Lost!
15)   The Scientist
16)   Death Will Never Conquer
Encore 1
1)    Politik
2)    Lovers in Japan
3)    Death and All His Friends
Encore 2
1)    Yellow