CINCINNATI — If concert tours were Hollywood summer blockbusters, then Coldplay's North American amphitheater swing would be "War of the Worlds."
With an amiable, photogenic superstar (who jumps — although not on couches), flashing lights, heart-tugging drama and even some explosions, the band's show Tuesday night at Riverbend Amphitheater had no shortage of crowd-pleasing drama.
The sixth stop on their Twisted Logic Tour (they didn't even play the song from which the trek takes its name — that's twisted logic for ya!) felt like a well-choreographed 90-minute popcorn flick, from the blinding lights to a rain of confetti and singer Chris Martin's sprint to the cheap seats near the show's end. The band that would be U2 already has a stadium-worthy show — it's just been resized for 20,000-seat amphitheaters.
With a wraparound screen at the back of the stage flashing a random sequence of numbers, the black-clad band made a quiet entrance, trailed by Martin, who alternated between a foppish skip and bouncing on his toes like a boxer as he leaned into the microphone for "Square One," the lead track on the band's latest album, X&Y.
In perfect voice, Martin glued himself to the edge of the stage, his right arm outstretched, his face turned skyward, as if he were singing directly to the stars above the audience. Like many of the night's songs, Martin ended "Square One" at his piano, rocking back and forth on the stool like an autistic savant, his head bowed perilously close to his busy hands.
Drummer Will Champion introduced a chilling "Politik" with a barrage of beats accompanied by enough flashing white lights and videos of explosions to make the stage look like the site of an alien landing. Bassist Guy Berryman asked for his bass to be turned up mid-song, providing a rumbling undercurrent that gave the band's delicate songs a beefier presence throughout the rest of the show.
"This is the song that brought us to America the first time," Martin said by way of introducing "Yellow," Coldplay's 2000 breakthrough hit. Compared to the more elaborate compositions on their latest album, "Yellow" seemed almost quaint, a straight-ahead rock song played in a bare-bones style. But the band found a way to up the drama by dropping confetti and a dozen huge yellow balloons on the audience midway through the song. Holding a falsetto note for an uncomfortably long time, Martin vowed to keep singing until every confetti-filled balloon was popped, jokingly scolding the audience as he and the band were forced to vamp for a few extra minutes until the task was completed.
Martin might receive the lion's share of attention, but Coldplay proved they were a cohesive unit on the stirring "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," with guitarist Jonny Buckland ripping off some Edge-worthy guitar riffs while Martin strummed away on acoustic guitar, giving the song a country-ish jangle. And though the other three bandmembers were fairly stern-faced throughout, Martin worked the crowd and smiled often, projecting the image of a guy truly in love with his job. They showed their sense of humor during "Low," when the screen flashed the warning "Get your cameras ready," then counted down to a live shot of dozens of fans holding up their camera phones and snapping shots of themselves.
Coming out of the earnest, folky "Warning Sign," Martin joked that he and his college chums were "not the most attractive" band in the world. Amending the lyrics to "Everything's Not Lost," he sang, "When I counted up my demons/ Saw there was one for every day/ I wish we looked more like the Backstreet Boys/ And a little less like Coldplay." Bent over his piano during the jazzy section of the song, Martin cracked a smile as the audience broke into an unprompted round of the song's refrain.
That kind of earnestness stretched to Martin's stage moves as well, which ranged from a spinning sort of rain dance during "White Shadows" to a spastic swimming motion and mimed hands during "Clocks."
The band huddled together at the front of the stage for a mini-unplugged set, dedicating the X&Y hidden track " 'Til Kingdom Come" to the late Johnny Cash, for whom it was written. The 70-minute set ended with a hypnotic rendition of "Clocks" — as the screen flashed the color blocks from the new album's cover, it combined with the rapidly increasing beat and Martin's blinding piano playing to evoke the climactic ending of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
The band returned for an encore that included "Swallowed in the Sea" and "In My Place," during which Martin leapt from the stage and made his way to the barrier in front of the packed lawn, where he induced the crowd into the same "whoa-whoa!" call-and-response he initiated at the Live 8 concert last month (see "Jay-Z, U2, Madonna, Pink Floyd Deliver Live 8 Highlights"). Seated under a bare light bulb, Martin ended the show at his piano for a hymn-like rendition of "Fix You."
For all the good vibes Coldplay stirred up, their opening act generated an equal amount of raised eyebrows. Black Mountain, the scruffy stoner-rock quintet that is opening the first leg of the tour at Coldplay's request, played to a mostly full house, the front of which began to empty out about halfway through their 45-minute set (see "Who Are Black Mountain — And Why On Earth Are They Touring With Coldplay?"). Combining the dinosaur stomp of Led Zeppelin with droning Moog keyboards and fuzzed-out guitar solos, songs like the druggy "No Hits" and pummeling anthem "Druganaut" drew a combination of confused looks, polite applause and a few knowing smiles.
Coldplay's set list from August 9, Cincinnati:
- "Square One"
- "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face"
- "Speed Of Sound"
- "Warning Sign"
- "Everything's Not Lost"
- "White Shadows"
- "The Scientist"
- "Til Kingdom Come"
- "Don't Panic"
- "Swallowed in the Sea"
- "In My Place"
- "Fix You"
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.