Coldplay's palate pleasers charm crowd

Posted: July 28, 2008

The world's most palatable rock-and-roll band came to the sold-out Wachovia Center in South Philadelphia on Friday, working hard to please.

An hour and half spent with Coldplay is like enjoying a light summer meal, spread out on the lawn on a humidity-free late July evening. Chris Martin and his bandmates make for mildly engaging company, and even when they aim lasers to the rafters, the bombast goes down easy. Airy melodies carry the day, and it never threatens to become a hot and sticky situation.

At the Wachovia, the British foursome - which includes guitarist Jonny Buckman, bass player Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion - took the stage half-obscured behind a scrim, with Martin strumming an acoustic guitar on "Life in Technicolor," the vaguely exotic instrumental that leads off the band's formula-tweaking fourth album, Viva La Vida Or Death and All His Friends.

Then, the curtain came up to reveal the backdrop of Eugene Delacroix's bare-breasted Liberty Leading The People - nudity, at a Coldplay show! - and the arena-sized entertainment began.

Sporting the silly blue and red military outfits that signal they're all on the same soft-rock team, the foursome kicked off with "Violet Hill," the dark and stormy first single off the Brian Eno-produced Vida. The rockers then proceeded to march through agreeable past hits like the mass singalong "Yellow" and momentum-gathering "Speed of Sound." They also performed nearly all of Vida, the album that moved more than 700,000 copies in its first week of release.

Martin is a high-energy, ingratiating performer whose music is in its comfort zone when he's bouncing on his piano stool on pulsing songs like "Clocks," with verses that can't help but hurry toward anthemic choruses before settling down to share intimate confidences. If you pay too close attention to the lyrics on ballads like "Fix You" and "The Scientist," you might think you had wandered into a Hallmark-card pep rally.

And although the band's tendency toward grandiosity can't help but come off as U2-lite, Martin's self-deprecating charm diminishes the cloying quotient. "Even objectively, this is a tremendous reception, and we're incredibly grateful," the well-spoken rock star told the crowd.

And to prove that Coldplay is a band of the people, the foursome closed the set with two acoustic songs played in the midst of the crowd, including a quite lovely "Death Will Never Conquer," sung by Champion. That interlude went so well that Martin received several fist-bump congratulations from fans. "Don't tell Fox News!" he quipped.

Mount Airy-raised Santi White - who has risen to ultimate hipster status as Santogold - warmed up with a half-hour set that did its best to connect with a half-full house. The Brooklyn-based White fronted an eight-member ensemble that expertly navigated the New Wave, dub, reggae and electro-pop textures of her Santogold debut. It wasn't her crowd, but White was greeted warmly enough by the audience, even if she had to shout "Philadelphia!" twice to get a response that "sounds like my hometown."

Singer-songwriter Jonah Delso - from Westhampton, Burlington County - won a WMMR-FM (93.3) contest to open the show. Delso did 20 solidly crafted minutes of piano-cushioned pop songs like "Elevator" and "Before I Go Away" that dovetailed nicely with the unfailingly pleasant sounds of the headliner.

Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at http://go.philly.com/inthemix.

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