Coldplay qualify as a VIB—a “Very Important Band.” Everyone says so.
According to Wikipedia — which is never wrong, of course – the Brit quartet’s most recent album, Vida la Vida or Death and All His Friends, has been “the number-one-selling album in 36 countries around the world.” They’ve won Grammys, wed Academy Award winners, and worked to Make Trade Fair with Oxfam.
But the cool, unexpected thing? They rock. And Coldplay doesn’t act like a VIB. But they do sound like one. Who knew? Apparently people in 36 countries around the world. But more on all that later.
As Coldplay’s tour bus idles on Manhattan’s grimy 33rd Street ahead of a 4:15 p.m. soundcheck at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, those millions of people aren’t mobbing the band—oblivious commuters rush below the buses’ darkened windows on their way to nearby Penn Station. Inside the venue, some of the crew have already been working for 13 hours—since the 3 a.m. load-in time. But when you’re a VIB, your dues have been paid, and, if you’re singer Chris Martin, you walk onstage in a turtleneck, smiling, and begin discussions with the crew and band – guitarist Johnny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion–about new songs like “Strawberry Swing,” before sitting down at an upright piano to soundcheck “Clocks.”
By 7:10, it’s the calm before the storm at Hammerstein. Fans are lined up down 34th Street, the crew are downstairs eating, and Coldplay, clad in their militaristic/Sgt. Pepper-style jackets, are mounting numerous stairs to a grimy room to do a quick Yahoo photo shoot. The amenable foursome pose like pros, joke around… then ask the small assembled throng pointed, informed questions about Nissan and Yahoo. Then it’s thanks all around and back to the bus for a few minutes before their grand entrance to the now-packed ballroom.
For me, the venue has been the scene of an odd variety of shows. Under its Sistine Chapel-like ceiling I’ve borne witness to everything from the-band-formerly-known as Guns N’ Roses (Axl Rose and band du jour) to a Tommy Hilfiger fashion show to Megadeth’s Gigantour to Wolfmother — all great in their own ways. The gorgeous, multi-tiered venue was born as the Manhattan Opera House, built by Oscar Hammerstein in 1906. It’s a lot of history to live up to, and will Coldplay manage to do it? Full confession: I’ve never seen the band live. Liked them as a very casual fan, knew the radio hits, but figured it was too late for me – and them. I presumed that critical acclaim, movie star wives and seemingly too-earnest attention to “causes” is not “rock” (dude). But, so far, seeing them around the venue and in soundcheck, they’ve been super-cool, down to earth, and surprisingly funny and irreverent. So color me pleased-so-far….and hopeful. Fingers crossed.
It’s close to show time when the backstage double doors swing open and three men and a woman are ushered in, one bulky guy in a black suit with an earpiece. Upon closer inspection, he seems to be a bodyguard, and the body he is guarding belongs to Jay-Z (sans Beyonce). Coldplay come through the backstage doors from the street, followed by cameras, greeting Jay-Z effusively, as he entreats Chris Martin to “do a good show.”
It’s advice the band heeds, kicking off an energetic, commanding 11-song set with “Life in Technicolor,” “Violet Hill” and “Clocks,” where Martin sounds his most Bono-like (for better or worse, depending on your perspective). The percussive pulse of the bouncy “Lost!” is a highlight, and Chris’ humor kicks in, as he jokes to the crowd between songs, “we’ve all had mistakes with prostitutes, let’s face it,” in a reference to former NY governor Eliot Spitzer. Animated and charming, songs like “42” with Martin on piano, managed to be both grand and intimate, and of course, their 2000 breakthrough hit “Yellow” had the audience singing along—and Jay-Z too, from his perch in a VIP balcony.
After the show, the band further proves that VIBs are just regular folk too, breaking the “fourth wall” with fans lucky enough to be in attendance. Instead of the prescribed stools, Coldplay sit casually on the edge of the stage as the audience park themselves on the floor for a question and answer period. The foursome field queries and banter easily with the starstruck crowd: “We could tell you a great story about transvestites, but I don’t think that’s why we’re here!” Another audience member stands with a question, and Martin acts mock-shocked, looking at the baseball hat- wearing questioner, quipping, “uh, oh, it’s Fred Durst!” Martin also jokes about some alleged lawsuits against the band surrounding Viva La Vida, saying, “I can’t tell you who is suing us, but it rhymes with Bo Mastriani!”
Martin may appear to be a VSS (Very Serious Singer), but Coldplay is not a (BPB) boring, pretentious band. Dare I say they “rock”–as people and musicians? I admit it: I was wrong. I had low expectations, but this Coldplay experience made me a believer. They deserve the accolades, and forget comparisons to Oasis, U2 and other VIBs. (Uh oh, does this mean I have to reconsider my opinion of the aforementioned?! Ugh.) Well, while I’m not going to paper my bedroom wall with Coldplay posters, there is one thing I can now safely say: Viva La Coldplay!