Okay, so I ripped off that joke from Airheads, substituting Mr. Hewson for Mr. Kilmister. Nonetheless, judging from his performance Sunday night at the Pepsi Center, Chris Martin already knows the punchline: Bono is God -- at least in the eyes of Coldplay's messianic frontman.
But first, another question: What the hell is with Fiona Apple? That broad seriously freaks me out. Her meltdown at the MTV Video Music Awards back in '97 made it clear that she was not just intense, but a little unhinged -- and her inexplicable, self-imposed exile for the past few years only solidified that impression.
But it was still unsettling Sunday night when, after essentially disemboweling herself on each song -- with vocals that ranged from throaty purrs to primal screams, accented by a tuneless, shaky vibrato -- she morphed into a downright cherubic figurine between tunes. For example, after turning in a particularly visceral version of "Shadow Boxer" -- which contains the quatrain "Once my lover, now my friend/What a cruel thing to pretend/What a cunning way to condescend/Once my lover, now my friend" -- she remarked, "Every time I sing this song, I think about a boy I liked in the third grade; I don't know if that makes me pathetic or what."
Um, yeah. It's sort of scary that she can conjure that sort of emotion over a grade-school romance. Did I mention that Apple is intense? Stalking the stage like Ozzy and looking like a post-modern Janis Joplin clad in a floor-length, black-floral-print dress, Apple was positively bewitching as she gyrated maniacally, like a deaf interpreter with Tourette's syndrome. Either her actual name is Sybil, or she's a consummate performer who's really well-adjusted. Because as twisted as her pathos seemed, it also seemed scripted. I mean, I've seen dudes cry on stage after dredging up poignant memories in a particular song, and afterward they're always a little verklempt. Apple, on the other hand, emerged from each emotional display as though she'd just finished delivering some benign bar-room anecdote.
She wasn't any better at engaging the band than she was the crowd. The musicians' chemistry was non-existent; Apple's supporting cast of crack hired gunners appeared to be just that. And it was a bit disingenuous when she breathlessly fired off the obligatory "Is it supposed to be hard to breathe here?" line, then started singing with her lungs at full capacity. To give Apple the benefit of the doubt, as the warm-up act for Martin and company she had to squeeze seven songs into a paltry 45-minute set, when she could (and should) headline a tour of her own.
Now cue Coldplay, who had no problem engaging the assembled throng. Once the band finally got on stage, that is.
You'd think that at a venue as pre-eminent as the Pepsi Center, they'd have set changeovers down to a science. Not so much. I managed to whiz, grab two four-dollar sodas and a bag full of Mmmini donuts (which more than live up to their name, but that's a whole 'nother Oprah), and get back to my seat in time to catch interim music that ranged from glitchy electronica to Radiohead to New Order, and receive a text message from my friend Whitey. "You know how I know you're gay," he wrote, no doubt laughing like a hyena. "You're at a Coldplay concert right now."
Comedian, that guy, but he had a point. Although I'm not sure how many members of the rainbow coalition were actually on hand, I spotted a fair number of metrosexuals, most of them members of the Abercrombie posse who'd chosen to don the same gear -- sportcoat with a hoodie underneath, jeans and squared-off black leather shoes. We live in a world where everybody's trying to be something (or someone) they're not -- in this case, Gotham-by-way-of-Britain hipsters.
And Martin fit right in, only he was a Brit trying to emulate a certain Irish man. I missed the Grammys a few weeks ago, but I'd heard about Coldplay's appearance, with Martin channeling Bono's Jesus Christ pose. So I was prepared to see Coldplay paraphrasing Dublin's finest, and I didn't have to wait long for the mimicry to commence. The act kicked off its seventeen-song, hour-and-a-half-long set with "Square One," from X&Y, with Martin -- and his shaggy Roger Daltrey locks -- bouncing around like a poor man's Bono. It didn't help matters that the group played in front of a giant JumboTron similar to what U2 used on the Pop tour, filled with a pixilated, Atari 2600-esque montage. What's more, "Square One" contains Coldplay's most blatant musical ripoff (not counting "Talk," which the band cribs from Kraftwerk, and "Swallowed in the Sea," which steals from the Pogues), with an insistent Adam Clayton-style bass line beside Edge-like fretwork.
Martin cheekily acknowledged the transparent thievery after "Speed of Sound," telling the audience, "This is exactly the type of concert you need after you lost all your Grammys to U2."
Aside from a few minor missteps -- a banal version of "'Til Kingdom Come," Coldplay's homage to Johnny Cash, segued into the worst version of "Ring of Fire" I've ever heard -- the act's presentation was on point. But with the exception of "Yellow" -- in which twenty or so gigantic yellow balloons filled with confetti dropped into the crowd -- the show was exactly what I'd expected after seeing the group's live DVD, Coldplay Live 2003. It was arena rock by the numbers.
Coldplay has the potential for greatness. But first Martin and the boys need to get out of the moment they're stuck in and find their own vox.
God help them.