Confetti jets, a huge projection screen at the band’s back, Chris Martin’s mug projected onto massive balls dangling from the ceiling, a stage with dual runways (out to the crowd on one end and an alternate drums/amp setup on the other) — you could almost be forgiven if you forgot it was a free show at Madison Square Garden last night. Except that Chris Martin reminded you with every other song. And hey why not, it was a nice time, and it was a certain experiment with our collective fascination for loss leading musical ventures, staged for the benefit of around 10,000 people here and similar amounts in London and Barcelona in the days before. They’re not putting up Lil Wayne numbers, but Coldplay’s selling, and this was their way of saying thanks (optimistic) or please put us in your headlines (cynical). Whatever your view, you should hand it to ‘em: they managed both.
I’ve seen Coldplay a few times, once back in the Parachutes days, and then a couple times at Wembley the month Rush Of Blood… was released. This show had many (many) rough spots, but overall they’re a much better band now: more sturdy, and empowered by the X&Y rut-busting of the Viva La Vida… songs, even if the post-Eno incarnation has further marginalized everyone’s musical identity save Martin. But you know, it’s Coldplay — not high artists, but self-admitted appreciators and appropriators of high artists — and it’s nice to see solid reference points wading so far out into the mainstream. To make an occasion of it last night, the band played with the venue a bit. “Chinese Sleep Chant,” one of their more interesting and outlying musical moments (hi, MBV), got the showcase treatment: performed on its own, not affixed to “Yes” (which wasn’t played at all), with the band set up on a little stage jetty that sorta put them in the thick of the crowd.
I say “sorta” because later, for “Yellow,” they were actually deep in the thick of the crowd: after warning us they were trying something new and it “might backfire,” Chris led the band on a long, spotlit walk from stage, through the crowd, and up into the second level, close enough to my post-photo pit seat to grab a shot or two.
Now, if you’re looking for a great (not great) way to temper people’s expectations and diffuse awkwardness after numerous fuck-ups, forgotten lyrics, an untuned guitar, earpieces falling out, and/or bum piano chords, just say something like “hey, you could ask for a refund — except this is free!” Over. And over. (Also improvise new lyrics to “Fix You” — “when you embarrass yourself at MSG-eee / but it doesn’t matter ’cause they got in for free-eee,” etc. PEOPLE LOVE THAT. Side note to the youngsters: don’t use this if your show isn’t actually free. Or at MSG. It’ll be even less charming.)
So no the night didn’t go entirely smoothly, but maybe you heard, IT WAS FREE. There were some good choices, like DJing a straight shot of Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” while readjusted the stage, rather than performing the song that samples it (“Talk”). And overall the Viva stuff sounds good: “Lost!” and “Strawberry Swing” and “Lovers In Japan” brought some cute hug-your-lover moments, the former being my favorite Viva song and strong live, the latter bringing lots of confetti and ending the show sans encore, moving into the same “Eno was here” electronic music that bookends the new album (and opened the show). At an hour and change, sure it could’ve been longer. Chris never offered an explanation, but you know exactly what he’d have said if asked.
01 “Life In Technicolor”
02 “Violet Hill”
04 “In My Place”
05 “Viva La Vida”
06 “Chinese Sleep Chant”
07 “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face”
09 “Square One”
12 “Strawberry Swing”
14 “Death Will Never Conquer”
15 “Fix You”
16 “Lovers In Japan”