Amway Arena, Orlando, Fl • November 7, 2008
Traffic is backed up for miles as carloads of fans descend upon the basketball arena. In the parking lot, tailgate parties are under way with the smell of hot dogs mingling with the sweet stench of spilled beer and cigarette smoke. It’s a scene that’s happening all over the country, and it has nothing to do with basketball. It’s the tell-tale signs that Coldplay is in town, on yet another sold-out arena tour of the U.S.
Inside Amway Arena (home to the Orlando Magic) seats fill up fast as eager fans arrive early enough to check out opening act, Sleepercar. I’m willing to bet that an easy 95% of the 18,000 in attendance have never heard of either Sleepercar or the band’s veteran leader Jim Ward, but they listen intently anyway.
On the giant stage, the alternative folk act from Texas looks uncomfortable and out of place like a five-year-old wearing his father’s shoes. The lights are dim and Ward (whose previous musical involvement was with Sparta and At the Drive-In) plants himself stage left next to his keyboardist and hardly veers from that spot. His strength lies within his voice, not in any flashy spectacle onstage.
As their set moves along, the band shrugs off the apparent pressures of performing in front of — let’s face it — a crowd that just wants them to get off and make way for the headliners, and warms the space with their front porch, desert folk rock. “Fences Down” soars gorgeously as it allows the soul of Ward to be heard in every last crevice of the arena.
The audience politely accepts Sleepercar, but as the lights began to fade and the anthemic pre-show music (Strauss’ “Blue Danube”) erupts into Coldplay’s opening number (“Life in Technicolor”), the seemingly reserved crowd becomes fanatical beyond anything I had been expecting.
In fact, even my expectations for the band were unfairly low. I, like many, think of quiet piano ballads and a band who has been given more credit than they have earned when I think of the London band… or, rather, that’s what I thought prior to seeing their live show.
Chris Martin exhibits a kind of joyous charm and childlike exuberance that is as endearing as it is surprising. Rather than stay seated behind a piano, he spends most of the two-hour set running up and down the stage’s pair of catwalks, spinning like a recently animated puppet, and even leaping high into the air. This is what Coldplay has grown into?! I had no idea!
The fans are on their feet from the first note until the last, joining in the mass sing-a-longs throughout. “Fix You,” “Viva La Vida,” and “In My Place” get particularly boisterous reactions from the elated audience. When the band sets itself up on the catwalk in the middle of the floor seats halfway through the concert, even the most modest fans are reduced to screaming teenagers as they try to push past security guards to get within hands reach of the band. They play two songs out on this naked stage, including “The Hardest Part” — a song that Martin laughingly belittles by referring to it as “the 17th best Coldplay song.” Ironically, his solo performance of the ballad, seated behind the piano, and the goosebump-inspiring sound of 18,000 voices singing backup, is one the most beautiful moments of the entire set for me. It’s then that the draw of Coldplay finally clicks in my brain.
I won’t say that they are as established, or as good, as U2, but the band is well on their way to joining the legion of legends. In the hearts of their most dedicated fans, they’re already there.
To see more photos of this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.