But that’s just a bunch of malarkey. There’s not a lot of rebelliousness in Martin and his affable bandmates. Exactly the opposite. Inclusion is the big theme at their concerts, and so it was Tuesday in the first of two shows at the United Center.
Martin dropped enough “Chicago” and “Chi-town” references into his songs to suggest that every song had been written with us and only us in mind. A band this aggressively ingratiating can be a bit much, but Coldplay compensates with a scrupulously scripted, fast-paced show chock full of excellent singles: “Yellow,” “Clocks,” “Fix You,” “Viva La Vida,” “Paradise.”
The band’s eagerness to please kept the preachiness and the between-songs patter to a merciful minimum. Instead the foursome turned the interjection “Whoah!” into a 10-syllable celebration, with sing-alongs the rule. The balloons and confetti camouflaged some of the slow spots or underlined the crescendos. The always eager Martin at times resembled an Olympic gymnast performing a particularly awkward floor exercise, sprinting and leap-frogging up and down a runway through the audience.
The stage moves were choreographed to look heroic from the third balcony: Martin kneeling and leaning back with microphone thrust toward Buckland as the guitarist played a solo during “In My Place,” Martin dueting with the video image of Rihanna on “Princess of China,” the band setting up in the middle of the audience to play “Us Against the World.”
It was professional arena rock executed with lots of recorded backing instrumentation and few moments of genuine spontaneity – the show has been replicated at nearly every tour stop so far. Martin tried to play “Amsterdam,” a song requested by several fans, but could only manage a few lines before breaking it off and returning to the band’s regularly scheduled programming.
“I don’t want to (tick) anyone off,” Martin said by way of apology, while essentially summarizing the band’s career ambitions. Over five albums, Coldplay has flirted with art-rock and world music, but their primary ambition is a crowd-pleasing universality. They want what Rihanna has – to rule the pop world. And they’re going to do it by playing nice.
Coldplay set list Tuesday at the United Center:
1. Mylo Xyloto
2. Hurts Like Heaven
3. In my Place
4. Major Minus
5. Lovers in Japan
6. The Scientist
8. Violet Hill
9. God Put a Smile Upon Your Face