By Mark Guarino
Chris Martin insisted he was joking after calling U2 “the second best band in the world.” But by the tail end of Coldplay’s special club show at Chicago’s Metro, it was no doubt a wink to the wise. Chicagoans had the unusual opportunity to compare/contrast both global behemoths the first weekend in May when Coldplay and U2 played back-to-back nights and, when it came to whipping up excitement, playing new songs that took risks and quaking with an undeniably fresh energy, Martin’s assessment was more than ironic boasting.
The British quartet spent the spring hopping through the U.S. playing a select number of small club dates in preparation of the European stadiums it plays this summer following the June release of their highly-anticipated third album, “X&Y” (Capitol). Of course any chance to get up close and personal with a band geared to fill multi-tiered sports complexes will peel back surprises. They arrived in a single package: Martin, who has developed from a faceless love-struck singer into an appealing rock band frontman. Switching between playing guitar and hunching over a Munchkin-sized piano, he proceeded to kick up a storm by frantic hopping and twirling while lighting up the big moments of some songs with just the right gesture. The close quarters showed what a nuanced singer he really is, curling his falsetto ever so slightly and pausing to let tiny pockets of silence speak volumes.
While familiar songs like “Clocks,” “Warning Sign” and “For You” became full choir collaborations between fans and band, new tunes like “Low,” a heavy and dense rocker, and the darkly rhythmic “Square One,” relied on the tight interlocking between guitarist Jon Buckland, drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman. They are taking Coldplay to the next chapter, from standard verse-chorus-verse to a more ethereal sound that, like Radiohead, can still shatter a stadium. Hooks were not immediately evident; instead songs were presented through many layers, most provided by guitarist Buckland who tastefully whipped up a myriad of sounds as Champion and Berryman pulsed behind him. All risky choices considering that the band is going for adventure at the same moment they are poised for stadium stardom.
Martin met eyes with wife Gwyneth Paltrow several times during the show, singing directly to her and occasionally sticking out his tongue to which she stood and waved him on, receiving her own ovation once the house lights went up. Reliable thrills for tabloid watchers, but secondary to witnessing a band stepping forward and seizing their moment.