May 2003

By Steve Knopper

When you're Bono, and you write songs about Soviet dominance of Poland, it's easy to pull off political activism on stage. But when you're Coldplay's Chris Martin, and you write lyrics like "Questions of science / Science and progress / Do not speak as loud as my heart," the transition isn't quite as easy. So Martin has to be clever, marking "MAKE TRADE FAIR" on his left hand and making sure the video screen picks it up.

That kind of social gesture has little to do with Coldplay's music ( blasts the U.S. and other countries for exploiting poor international workers). Martin, a skinny Brit whose spastic headbanging somehow doesn't detract from his regular-guy good looks, is a lover, not a fighter. He usually pleads for one of two things -- the return of lost love or the meaning of life. And his band enthusiastically hammers in his sentiments with monster guitar/piano riffs and aggressive drums. Last year's A Rush of Blood to the Head was more accomplished in the hammering department than Coldplay's 2000 debut, Parachutes. And although Martin danced around like a Peanuts character for the first two songs -- "Politik" and "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" -- the show's early focal point was drummer Will Champion, who turned Martin's swirling songs into rallying cries.

Martin eventually took over, especially on soaring Parachutes material like "Spies" and "Don't Panic." On occasion he babbled humorously, abruptly cutting off Coldplay's second-biggest radio hit, "Trouble," in mid-chorus to give the crowd sing-along instructions. And after name-dropping Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer," Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and Christina Aguilera, Martin added with cheerful sarcasm, "A lot of times, people -- especially in the back -- think we're a bunch of miserable bastards. But we're really not, lyrical evidence to the contrary."

The singer never gave a political speech, but on two new songs -- the tense B-side "One I Love" and the slower, more reflective "Moses" -- Coldplay took on the purposeful glow of early U2. Like the Edge, guitarist Jonny Buckland doesn't so much solo as toss out tiny, repetitive snippets of melody, and Martin has the rare ability to hold falsetto notes (as on the band's breakthrough hit "Yellow") without sounding corny. Another Coldplay weapon is the old Nirvana soft-loud-soft thing, particularly evident on the encores "Clocks" and "In My Place."

Martin did rewrite a key line in "Everything's Not Lost," played as old-school soul with killer gospel piano. "If you ever feel neglected / If George Bush gets reelected," he sang, "then there's trouble for all of us." Not exactly an entrance essay for the World Economic Forum, but memorable in its own small way.