Emotional warmth and populist technique are going head to head with ingrained austerity and melodrama in Coldplay’s new stage show, which got its official start Monday at the Forum. Changes in style and sound abound on the British quartet’s latest album “Viva la Vida,” including the pronounced use of the acoustic guitar and more upbeat tempos, and those elements were provided in bulk. There is a disconnect, though, one that’s hard to pinpoint, that prevents the concert from developing momentum or even having that one moment that kicks the listener in the gut and demands his attention and loyalty.
Ultimately, the new show is a celebration of “Viva la Vida”: Nine of its 10 songs make it into the 19-song set; the enormous backdrop is the album cover, Delacroix’s French revolution painting “Liberty Leads the People”; and the urgent newer material is partnered with equally fervid songs from their catalog. A run of new songs early on — the title track, “42” and “Yes”– segued into the surge of “The Scientist,” a track from 2002 and suggested that a thread could weave together the hits and the new songs. It really only worked in that case.
With no way of knowing if a paying audience would embrace the new material, the set’s construction felt rule-bound, specifically one that determined a familiar tune must show up every 15 minutes or so. “Clocks” went first followed by “In My Place”; “Speed of Sound,” with a new intro that requires finessing came three songs later; and after another three songs “Yellow” was performed.
In a bit of theatrics worthy of Bon Jovi, the band ran the length of the Forum floor and up a back stairway to perform in an aisle in “the cheap seats.” Performed piano-less (obviously) and with just acoustic guitar and maracas, the rendition did not intensify the moment; a different song, something with a bit more pep, might make it the attraction the fans talk about for weeks to come. The inclination to come down off the rock star pedestal is a smart one for Chris Martin, but to be done effectively it cannot be handled casually.
And that may be Coldplay’s biggest hurdle to scale as the band tries to find comfortable playing field that does not position them under the shadows of U2 and Radiohead. The earnestness of their early performances has dissipated and one imagines they will develop a greater command of the material and performance space as the tour progresses. Surprisingly, the new material was as well received as the older songs.
“Viva la Vida” is a fine album, rife with risks for a band known for its sullen melodies and a piano-based sonic thumbprint. Brian Eno and the other producers give the album’s songs a more-rounded sound and smartly pick spots to use strings or electronic percussion to attack a melody like darts. Some songs, without the benefit of the studio effects, emerge in a sketch-like state while others have all the accoutrements of the bonus layers (the orchestra and middle eastern sounds on “Yes,” for example).
This concert is Martin stepping away from messages, whether they be personal, political or social, and endearing himself to the masses. The theatrics have been ramped up, the mood made festive and the spoken interludes all about the here and now, no saving the world, no bonus thoughts for the ride home, no messages.
Increased dynamics, though, would go a long way toward improving the show. They have some excellent video projections on balls hanging from the rafters and some deft lighting operators. (The use of lasers, however, just screams late ’80s).