Musically overrated or not, Coldplay puts on a fucking good show. Not just “Sesame Street”-level flashing light displays, but Kraftwerk-inspired countdowns, prismatic beams of light shooting from all corners, confetti-filled yellow balloons descending from the Palace of Auburn Hills’ ceiling at musical climax – and that all was within the first 10 minutes of their concert Wednesday night. Chris Martin better have thanked the sound and lighting technicians.
Among the biggest bands in the world, Coldplay commanded the crowd at the Palace, putting the 20,000-plus group under a soft-focus, piano-rock spell.
But given the inoffensive nature that’s led to their worldwide success, the ever-interesting Fiona Apple – so alluring, so borderline unstable – seemed an odd choice for opening act.
Though a throaty performance of “Criminal” had Apple shaking and whirling like a repenting sinner possessed, she wasn’t quite in tune with the rest of the congregation. During Coldplay’s lengthy set, the band took over the pulpit but preached to the choir. The majority of the Palace crowd was there for one reason alone: They wanted to see the British quartet perform their multiplatinum records live, augmented by flashy theatrics. Though Apple’s intimate songs and personal idiosyncrasies were lost in a venue accustomed to selling out NBA playoff games, Coldplay was made for this kind of thing. As each of their popular torch songs came up in the set list, the band’s audience swayed with arms open like members of a religious revival and waved the occasional lighter.
Besides weepers like “The Scientist” – when the entire female contingent sighed audibly at the opening chords – Coldplay lit up the Palace with the dynamics of their kinetic, rhythm-heavy songs. Their opener was a spectacle in and of itself: Coldplay, backlit by a massive digital clock, launched into their first song as the numbers dribbled down to zero. The clock periodically re-started and counted down, setting off waves of light in red, blue and green over the captive audience. Frontman Martin leapt and strutted through the spotlight; the devout shouted along with the lyrics; 30-something drunk women found it a good time to dance.
Coldplay is above all a pop band: They have a specific audience (the college co-eds, young couples and sensitive yuppies were out in full force) and they know how to satisfy them. Thus the band stuck with their hits, including the ballads from their first two albums and the up-tempo singles off X & Y, mixing music with Cirque du Soleil-style aesthetics and athletics. Martin was in constant cardiovascular action, even when on the piano, shifting violently back and forth like a frantic child. Guy Berryman and Jon Buckland snarked and pulsed with their instruments, moving around the stage between the camera views broadcasting kaleidoscopic versions of them on the giant background screen.
One of the earliest songs of their set, “Yellow” featured a fantastic display of simple sensory stimulation and highlighted the Palace’s arena atmosphere. Midway through the song, as the chorus built and the ringing guitar crescendoed, oversized yellow balloons dropped from the ceiling and burst with gold confetti as the crowd tossed them around the venue’s floor. People knocked the lemon-yellow orbs around like beach balls, eventually batting them to the stage, popping, Martin attacking some of them, glitter spilling everywhere in a extravagant, beautiful mess.
Martin might be the best-known member of the group, but no man is an island. Without support, such as when he opens a song just playing acoustic guitar, it’s cute but it’s a novelty. “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” might fare better fleshed out with guitar, drums and bass; the introduction of just vocals and acoustic guitar was an unnecessary change to the already fine-tuned concert catalogue.
Throughout the night, Coldplay’s aim was to please – and their fans ate up everything they put out on the stage. After their own songs and a brief, stripped-down Johnny Cash tribute of sorts, Coldplay just wouldn’t stop playing. What was the end of the band’s set seemed weary, and the actual encore was just plain excessive to the casual fan.
As Coldplay has already been on this Twisted Logic tour for months, you have to wonder how scripted it is. How many times can Martin attack glittery balloons with glee before it gets old? Thankfully for the Palace crowd on Wednesday, it came off fresh and effervescent.