We interrupt your regularly scheduled music column for a concert review. The Metro Gnome will return next week.
Coldplay, Showbox, February 9
It's been a while since Seattle has witnessed a music phenomenon first-hand, which is why Coldplay's Friday night appearance at the sold-out Showbox arrived with a heaping spoonful of hype. The English band have been climbing the pop charts, selling 25,000 copies a week of their debut, Parachutes, all without a marketing blitz and despite the fact that they'd never played a show in the United States. The last British export to cause a buzz, Travis, never sold records here at such a rapid clip, and their introduction to the States came on the coattails of an Oasis tour.
Coldplay's Chris Martin and his three mates didn't exhibit any signs of stress, however, as they coolly took the stage and reeled off note-perfect renditions of "Spies," "Trouble," and "Shiver." While the band sounded practiced and poised for a bunch of guys in their early 20s, they punched up each song with sharp flourishes, extending into bluesy vamps and soaring away from the melody to match Martin's careening falsetto.
The only indication that Coldplay experienced any nervousness about their first-ever US show came about five songs into their set, when Martin finally attempted some banter. Sounding shy and perhaps in awe of the 1,000-plus screaming fans, Martin noted his band's increasing success and thanked everyone profusely. He'd later commit a rookie mistake, employing a weak Sleepless in Seattle reference.
But Coldplay kept the focus on and around their songs, accentuating the universal appeal of upbeat lines like "We live in a beautiful world," from "Don't Panic," and illuminating the concave Showbox ceiling with golden stars for their first US hit, "Yellow." The song has broken through to modern-rock and adult-oriented stations alike, and the crowd reacted enthusiastically upon hearing its first notes. Not everyone was satisfied; one man in the audience voiced a familiar complaint about Coldplay, yelling "Go, Radiohead" at one point.
That Coldplay's surge toward stardom at home in the United Kingdom coincided with persistent Radiohead comparisons is of more significance than either band would like to admit. Given the more established act's No. 1 entry on the Billboard chart last year with the obtuse Kid A and Coldplay's emergence on the strength of an album filled with artful and emotive rock, American taste is in question for the first time in years. Are US music fans finally pulling away from their embrace of lowest common denominator pop and rock-rap? Or are these two British entries merely causing a blip in the prevailing market?
Whatever the answer, Coldplay didn't seem to care on Friday night. Their subdued stage presence and nearly flawless performance wasn't especially thrilling on the surface, but the looming possibility that this could be their first step on a long, fruitful path provided a jolt to anyone who dared hold such a hope.