It was tough to tell whether you were at a theme park or a pop concert at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, where Coldplay were playing the first of back to back nights at the South Philadelphia sports arena.
The Chris Martin-led British quartet were up on stage – and in the crowd - playing music focused on their candy-colored fifth album, Mylo Xyloto (2011), mixed in with ingratiating hits from throughout their dozen year career.
But the show was as much about the exploding bursts of color filling up the room as it was the soaring melodic soft-rock being brought to life by pianist-guitarist-singer Martin and his bandmates Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland and Will Champion.
The hardest, most startling moment of the evening came before the concert began – Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” banging out of the sound system in marked contrast to the far more soothing sounds that would follow. The band took the stage to a recording of the “Back To The Future” theme, then began with the Mylo title track and the cheerfully bummed “Hurts Like Heaven,” in which Martin sang: “You use your heart as a weapon / And it hurts like heaven.”
By that time, confetti in the shape of birds, hearts and butterflies was already being shot up in the sky and raining down on the sold out crowd. For the next song, “In My Place,” one of four songs from their time tested 2002 A Rush Of Blood To The Head, scores of beach balls descended from the rafters.
And all of this visual entertainment was on top of an ongoing laser and light show that utilized five round video screens with one placed behind the band on stage and four more hung through the arena.
Not to mention the woven recyclable “Xylobands” given to concertgoers as they entered. The wirelessly controlled wristbands lit up in a rainbow of colors timed to the music in intervals throughout the evening. (Presumably, the bracelets were handed out as visual aids in a forthcoming concert movie, as they were emblazoned with the Twitter hashtag #Coldplayfilm.) No need to hold up a cellphone or a lighter: Coldplay’s got your covered!
Oh, and how about the music? It was pleasant, and perky, and at times, like Martin’s biceps, surprisingly muscular. Coldplay proudly cops to the “soft-rock” designation, and the Brit-band never measures up to, say U2’s epic grandeur or Radiohead’s epic artiness. But the Bian Eno produced band's steady stream of hits from “The Scientist” to “Viva La Vida” to Mylo’s kaleidoscopic “Paradise” do pack enough sinew to fill up an enormodome without ever sounding sonically thin.
Not thin, but often slight. It seems silly to hate or even strongly dislike Coldplay, but it’s perfectly rational to be disappointed in them. A lot of that has to do with the lyrics, which often don’t stand up to scrutiny, even as you find yourself singing along to insipid moon-June-spoon lines like “Lights will guide you home / And ignite your bones” and thousands did, a cappella, on the evening’s penultimate piano ballad, “Fix You.”
But while Coldplay fail to be great, or threatening, or all that challenging, they do succeed in being entertaining. And like it or not, likable. They played a three song stripped down segment at the front of a runway that extended into the middle of the floor, with one of those tune being “Princess of China,” a duet with a version of Rihanna on a video screen whose tribal chant hook was distressingly reminiscent of Atlanta Braves’ fans doing the Tomahawk chop.
And to top that, the first two songs of the foursome’s encore were performed on a makeshift stage in the midst of the crowd in the back of the hall. One of them was Mylo’s acoustic Coldplay fight song “Us Against The World,” which Martin, then wearing a pink shirt introduced by drolly quipping: “That’s the kind of band we are. The kind of band that wears a pink shirt and sings a song at the back of the room.”
There were two opening acts, Wolf Gang and Swedish dance pop star Robyn, who was scheduled to later do a DJ set at Voyeur in Center City later in the evening. Robyn came on stage wearing a giant blue kimono – or was it a raincoat – which she then took off to reveal a shiny silver and blue skin tight outfit that made her look like a refugee from a ‘70s superhero comic book.
Backed by two drummers and two keyboard players, she served up 40 minutes of dance floor directed alt-pop. Marred by a muddled vocal mix, songs like “Dancing On My Own” and “Don’t F------- Tell Me What To Do,” were nonetheless robotically aerobic enough to get even the most prone to be immobile bodies moving while delivering a personal statement while she’s at it. And her presence on the bill demonstrated another nice thing about Coldplay: They’ve got good taste.
Some obstrcuted view seats remain for Friday night's show.