SEATTLE When Coldplay singer Chris Martin hit the Showbox stage Friday for the first gig in his band's inaugural U.S. tour, he greeted the crowd not with a "hello" or a wave, but with a snappy military salute. From the crowd it looked like a gracious sign of respect for American fans who made Coldplay's "Yellow" a hit and perhaps a sign of hope they'll latch on to other songs as well, helping the band seal a victory with Yanks that has eluded Britpop compatriots including Travis and Embrace.
In a brisk 65-minute set, the four-piece knocked out most of its moody debut, Parachutes (2000), along with two unreleased songs, "Animals" and "In My Place." By the time Martin closed the night with a brief run at the piano through Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now," he had loosened up from a nervous start. But he barely said a word until the fifth song of the night.
"We just wanted to get the first few songs out of the way in case they were sh--," he said. "But since they weren't, now we can start talking." The show was their second since arriving in North America, after a gig Thursday in Vancouver, British Columbia.
While Martin seemed to shy away from the frontman role, he was the most animated member of the London outfit. Sporting a black Oxford shirt, black pants and a crew cut, he had the government-issue appearance of a prisoner or soldier.
During a rumbling "Spies," he pleaded some lyrics looking up from below the mic, then rose on his toes to stare the mic down. Each time he plopped his lanky frame behind a small center-stage keyboard, he looked like a college student shoved behind a grammar-school desk. Though he could have played the soulful, begging lover in the R&B-influenced "Shiver," Martin chose instead to stand behind his acoustic guitar, strumming frenetically as if casting his lot as just another musician in a guitar pop band.
Meanwhile, the rest of the band played with deft economy, apparently content to stay in the background. Bassist Guy Berryman's most overt statement of the night was a T-shirt that read "Get Sex Appeal." When guitarist Jon Buckland did take a solo, he barely stepped into the light, showcasing an affinity for electronic effects more than a love of pyrotechnic fingering. On "High Speed," he threw out his lines with no more drama than someone humbly adding his two cents to a conversation.
Both of the band's new songs fit well within the Coldplay template of pensive sounds. "Animals" ended with a short, crisp solo from Buckland, and Martin delivering his familiar high-range vocals. "I stumble/ Stumble and fall/ Stumble and fall like an animal," he sang.
"In My Place" (whose chorus asks "How long must you wait for it?") opened on a twist: drummer Will Champion slamming out a Black Sabbath thud behind the band's melancholy melody and delicate guitar.
Champion was equally aggressive on "Yellow," which Martin introduced as "our ticket here." Clearly by evening's end any opening-night jitters had dissipated. "This was originally written by Shania Twain, but I believe we really make it our own," Martin cracked, introducing his band's "Sparks." Later, he tossed in references to hometown heroes like any good showman.
"We're going to play one more song," he said, "then go hang out with Pearl Jam."