It was tough to tell whether you were at a theme park or a pop concert Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center, where Coldplay was playing the first of back-to-back nights.
The Chris Martin-led British quartet was up on stage — and in the crowd — playing music focused on its candy-colored fifth album, Mylo Xyloto (2011), mixed with ingratiating hits from throughout its dozen-year career.
But the show was as much about the exploding bursts of color filling up the room as it was about the soaring melodic soft-rock that was 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, when Jay-Z's "99 Problems" came 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 Mylo Xyloto's title track and the cheerfully bummed-out "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 being shot skyward and was raining down on the sold-out crowd. For the next song, "In My Place," one of four songs from their time-tested 2002 album, 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, one behind the band on stage and four more through the arena.
And that's 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 for 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 you 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 band's steady stream of Brian Eno-produced hits, from "Viva La Vida" to Mylo's kaleidoscopic "Paradise" and "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall," do pack enough sinew to fill up an enormo-dome 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," a song written by Martin for his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, after her father died.
While Coldplay fails to be great, or threatening, or even all that challenging, it does succeed in being entertaining. And, like it or not, likable. They played a stripped-down, three-song segment at the front of a runway that extended into the middle of the floor, with one of those tunes being "Princess of China," a duet that featured Rihanna on a video screen singing a tribal-chant hook that was distressingly reminiscent of Atlanta Braves' fans doing the Tomahawk chop.
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 also 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 took off to reveal a shiny silver-and-blue skintight 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 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 usually immobile bodies moving while managing to deliver a personal statement, too. And her presence on the bill demonstrated another nice thing about Coldplay: They've got good taste.