CINCINNATI — At some point during Coldplay's nearly two-hour show at the Riverbend Amphitheater last night, I had a dream. It went something like this: I was walking around the luxurious London flat that is home to singer Chris Martin and his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, and while flipping through the various yoga journals, costume-fabric swatch samples and discarded baby-name books piled on the couple's nightstands, I spotted a most unusual binder.
On the cover were the words "Rock Star Stage Materials Inc.," and it was stuffed with page after page of every cool, whiz-bang thing a world-beating superstar could want for his band's tour. And then I woke up and realized that, economic downturn be damned, Martin had totally folded down just about every page in the catalog for the Viva la Vida outing. Coldplay have never shied away from admitting they are going for the big brass rock ring owned by U2, and their live show on this tour is definitive proof.
While drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman appear to have mostly abandoned the album's signature Civil War-meets-Sgt. Pepper's ragbag uniforms, Martin and his "best friend" (he said it at least twice), guitarist Jonny Buckland, were still rocking the candy-colored striped jackets as the band marched out onstage waving giant sparklers to start the show.
And when Martin sat down at the piano to bang out the indelible lead line of "Clocks," out came the red spinning laser lights and smoke. Two songs later, giant yellow balloons bounced around the pavilion, several of which Martin lanced with the headpiece of his acoustic guitar, sending a shower of confetti on the folks in the expensive seats down front.
During "Glass of Water," five humongous orbs descended from the ceiling at different heights, with swirly psychedelic patterns dancing across their faces. Over the course of the next few songs, the orbs flashed alternately moody black-and-white and trippy blurred images of the band as they played the anthemic twofer of "Fix You" and "Strawberry Swing," on which Buckland busted out his best Edge-like guitar tricks.
It was during the latter that one of the coolest custom light rigs I've ever seen descended from the rafters, an undulating pair of metal waves tricked out with high-end Intellibeam stage lights, which swept over Martin as he did his ragdoll stage dance.
What's a big show without a satellite stage in the middle of the crowd? For a Peter Bjorn and John-meets-Depeche Mode techno-synth remix of "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," the quartet squeezed onto a tiny stage in the crowd. They soon ran back to the main floor and segued into a triumphant "Viva la Vida," with Champion banging on a giant bell and kettle drum as that song, too, was turned into a techno-lite rave-up.
Martin donned a giant Chinese dragon costume for part of "Lost!," and the band schlepped out to yet another satellite stage for a folky acoustic set on the edge of the lawn that included a strummy "Green Eyes," a rare lead vocal from Champion on "Death Will Never Conquer" and an unplugged, spirited cover of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer."
Then it was back to the main stage again, where the wide-screen rocker "Lovers in Japan" was amped up about 50 notches thanks to several rain showers of tens of thousands of neon paper butterflies that fluttered down over the crowd with mesmerizing effect.
Yes, tickets for the show were pretty pricey, but between the free live CD, Left Right Left Right Left, that everyone got on the way out and the over-the-top spectacle, it didn't sound like anyone was complaining.