Fasten your chute packs and prepare the head-rush, Orlando, as Capitol Records' Brit darlings Coldplay have deigned to use our fair city to launch their biggest North American tour ever, a cross-country affair designed to further elevate the chart position of the band's incredibly successful new album, "A Rush of Blood to the Head." It's oh-so-exciting and such a big deal. But wait. There's more. If you can believe it, there will actually be ... wait for it ... "a good light show."
Great. A light show. But that's the best that Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman could come up with to describe the show. Now, no writer wants to interview a band's bassist, unless it's, say, Flea or perhaps the late John Entwistle. With a few exceptions, rock bassists don't tend to be the axis upon which the band turns.
Yet, I had the great "honor" of speaking with Berryman briefly -- very briefly -- the very day his band appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman" in December. He had stood me up (blaming cell-phone reception) the previous day, but was kind enough to do an interview among the frequent distractions of numerous people walking around him to prepare for the taping. Perhaps I may have been better off talking to a 4-year-old chasing a butterfly, but this was the magnificent Coldplay, touted as the new Oasis, the new Radiohead, compared with the likes of U2 and, occasionally, a certain other famous (fab) foursome from England. Who was I to complain?
You've probably heard the mellow "Yellow," Coldplay's maddeningly ubiquitous single from "Parachutes," their debut which earned them the "Best Alternative Album" Grammy last year. The ABC network used the hit during many self-promotional commercials last year. (Coldplay, however, vehemently deny that these were actual "commercials" and often stress they would never use one of their songs in an advertisement.) This fall, Capitol Records released "Parachutes'" follow-up: "A Rush of Blood to the Head." So far, it's received much spin on alt-rock stations, been nominated for two Grammys of its own (for "Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal" and "Best Alternative Music Album") and Muzak has even incorporated a couple of the tracks into the playlists you might hear while shopping for fresh produce or tube socks, poising it for even greater cross-market success than "Parachutes."
It's a homogenized sound, quaint and, though catchy, a tad soporific. The pitch of Coldplay is Jon Buckland's smooth and scaling guitar and, most importantly, lead singer Chris Martin's sometimes falsetto vocals and idyllic lyricism; together they are simple yet mellifluous. Drummer Will Champion adds the rhythmic hook and an organic passion. And then, there's the laconic Berryman, the bloke with the moppish, dark brown shag, the bassist who will never be accused of obscure metaphors (yet who would probably garner the most votes from teen-age girls as the band's "cutest" member -- go figure).
I asked Berryman a question journalists often ask musicians: "What are you listening to right now?" It gives insight into a band's mentality, as to what recordings might influence future releases or current projects. His reply? "Not a lot, really; we're all going through a chill-out period, musically."
"So you're not listening to anything?" I replied. "You don't bring any CDs with you?"
I tried to delve into another aspect of his mentality: What did he get, or what did he plan to get, his bandmates for Christmas, then a mere nine days away? His answer: Nothing.
No presents for his three closest friends. It made perfect sense to me that these four lads in their mid-20s, all suddenly propelled into stardom and spending nearly every waking moment together, might occasionally quarrel. What did they bicker about, I asked? You guessed it: Nothing.
I asked him about the upcoming show: What surprises are in store for the big kick off? What can fans expect?
"We have a lot more production and a very good light show," he said.
I bit my lip, then finally, frustratingly, told him that almost anyone could say they have a good light show. But what, exactly, was different about Coldplay's show?
I then managed to cajole from him the most profound statement of our conversation: "We just try and play songs with as much energy and passion as possible, and our aim is to make everyone in the place, even the ones in the very back, able to enjoy a good show."
A good show. A brief version of which was indeed what Coldplay did play for David Letterman's audience a short while after our little chat, which halted after Berryman so kindly said, "Listen, I'm going to have to go. ... I think you have enough." Performing "In My Place," their movements, aside from a bit of bouncing on Martin's part, were minimal, and they perhaps seemed nervous, being still fledgling artists trying to fill the shoes of the greats like U2.
Taking a cue from Bono's benevolence and commitment to Amnesty International, Jubilee 2000 and others, Martin has chosen fair trade as his own plight of fancy, and his T-shirt at the Letterman taping reflected this. Bono has kept a loud political voice for nearly two decades and last year formed the organization DATA, which stands for "Debt, Aid, Trade for Africa." With U2 as Coldplay's exemplar, Martin has perhaps hurriedly been playing catch-up by wearing "Make Trade Fair" T-shirts on stage, scrawling messages on his hand in promo shots and directing his fans to websites such as maketradefair.com. In April, he spent a week in Haiti to support Oxfam International. As for the true depth of his sincerity to the cause, only time will tell.
But what does it all matter? After all, if you're lucky enough to have a ticket to this sold-out gig, you'll be getting "a very good light show." And that's what it's all about.