I was once again accompanied by aide-de-camp 11 on our briefest concert journey yet, traveling the 90 minutes south to Birmingham to see Coldplay. Birmingham is the shortest drive we've undertaken in any of our previous adventures, and also the most impulsive attempt. I got Zen with the ticket drop and pulled eighth row seats on Saturday.
Why didn't I already have my tickets long ago? Because it took me until two days before the show to justify the ridiculous price . I still felt a sense of outrage about the crime committed against my Visa in the name of attending this show, but eighth row tickets quelled it just enough.
Without more time to plan our attack, we were vulnerable to the soul crushing indignities that befall the mortals. Sure enough, the shortest commute of our career in adventuring proved to be the worst yet because someone thought it would be a good idea to build an amphitheater that has, in effect, one entrance. As we sat in the parking lot that became I-65, I turned to him and said, "It's going to be a heavy nicotine night, my lord."
I looked at Marvin, my trusty GPS guide, and saw we had only 1.1 miles to travel to our exit. Orange and white construction barriers obstructed seemingly perfect paving to our right. 11 queried why on earth those barriers couldn't be removed for a couple hours in the morning and evening. I told him I was tempted to go do just that. "I think we've got time," he quipped. I suppose we'll know how much longer than the hour it took to move that 1.1 miles we'd have had to wait before my impatience would have overcome my laziness (any exaggeration here is minimal and accidental).
Having finally bested the interstate, we got off at our exit when the local cops dispatched Barney Fife to misdirect traffic, forcing us to go a mile out of our way to make a U-turn to get in line to actually get into the venue. Making matters is worse is that somewhere, some asshole thought it would be a good idea to try moving 11,000 cars through one gate with only 5,000 parking spaces (the numbers here are relative, used strictly for illustrative purposes) for the poor bastards when they got there. Where we ended parking was free, because I'm pretty sure we were in Mobile. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin would later make reference to the "parking shenanigans." The upshot of this is we got to our seat just in time to hear Pete Yorn's last song. Savage.
Eighth row can mean a lot of things. "Eighth row" is a bit nebulous. On Monday night, eighth row felt a whole lot closer than… eighth row, I guess. We climbed over the four or five people on our row not thwarted by traffic bollocks and 11 turned to me, "This'll do."
11's mind and field of vision turned elsewhere. I'm 35 and fat. 11 is a couple years younger. We're both married. To women. I only add that bit because more than once I've been told straight men don't like Coldplay . It turns out that's not true because we are and we do. It also turns out we weren't exactly a majority demographic at this particular show. Young. And female. And young.
I actually became aware of this in a completely innocent way. On this leg of the tour, Coldplay is giving away a free live CD to everyone who attends one of their shows. Those not in attendance can download the live album from the band's web site. We got to our seats with t-shirt in tow, yet never saw any of the CDs being given away. As I scanned the audience I didn't see anyone obviously carrying a CD, either. I did see something else.
I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. I'm not a bastard. Well, I am but I'm in the clear on this one. If you're inclined to think fat, married men should not notice these things, I'm in agreement with you but here's the thing: I'm not taking the rap when more of them are uncovered than covered. I'm also claiming it as an absolute defense when the covered:uncovered ratio is augmented by, well, augmentation. I didn't go seeking them, but they weren't exactly being hidden from view and I didn't do that.
"The 2009 models must be out," I mused, to myself. I started imagining a silicone sales lot, sales pitch and all. "Good evening, miss. What's it going to take to get you into a pair of 2009s, or should I say what's it going to take to get a pair of 2009s in you? The Marylin Monroe Classic Re-issues have been top sellers and we're running low on this year's run, so keep that in mind as you make your choice." The music blaring over the PA prevented me from sharing this little inner-monologue with 11, so I elbowed him. I'm pretty sure he got the message.
As if I needed to be reminded I'm on death's door compared to most everyone else in this audience, someone decided to throw a rap song into the mix of songs being played over the PA. I was horrified at the number of kids seemingly mouthing the words and – you can call it dancing, but I don't. Speaking of dancing, one of Coldplay's roadies stopped sweeping the stage to do a little dancing on his own, entertaining the crowd. He was good enough not to be embarrassing but not good enough not to be funny.
After the rap song, a classical song was next played. "They're coming on after this," 11 predicted. Give that man 64 silver dollars. As soon as the final notes of whatever that was finished, the glorious sounds of "Life in Technicolor" began. The band walked on stage to the instrumental track that opens Viva La Vida. Frontman Chris Martin, guitarist John Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion took their places and joined the tape, finishing "Life in Technicolor" before launching into "Violet Hill" Martin began the interaction with the crowd early, effectively using the song's repeated question "won't you let me know?" before launching into the classic "Clocks."
I remember thinking the show seemed to be going by really fast. The band weren't rushing it onstage nor were they ignoring the crowd to hurriedly play the next song. Why did it all seem to be moving at a sprinter's pace?
Martin again addressed the crowd, which did slow things down for a moment, and introduced Coldplay as one of the biggest bands to come from France in 70 years, which made me laugh. I found myself cringing just a little when he felt the need to tell us he was only kidding. Ever the earnest one, he couldn't possibly let that joke just hang out there lest some French man or woman have hurt feelings. Despite that, his awkwardness had a disarming charisma.
"In My Place" seemed an odd choice for a first single for a first single from A Rush Of Blood To The Head, but in concert it seemed to make more sense. No, it still didn't have the masterpiece qualities of "Clocks" but there was more bounce and life to it on stage than on record. The familiar "Yellow," released nine years ago, caused another surge of energy in a crowd on the verge of blissfully exploding into a euphoria. As Martin played with the crowd at the conclusion of the song, he mispronounced "Alabamians" and playfully chided himself. "That's a word I should have learned before coming on stage tonight." Martin's mild verbal gaffe would have been quickly forgiven without the good humored self-deprecation, but the goodwill and good feelings of the night grew because of it.
I wanted to survey the audience to see if anyone was enjoying "Cemeteries of London" as much as I was, but I didn't want to take my eyes off the stage — you know, where the music was actually being made — and miss the opportunity to engage the song. Upon its conclusion, I decided by grand right the title was mine; I did enjoy it more than anyone else.
I'm sure I didn't get the title for "Fix You," but I didn't come in last. For starters, I like that song more than I should. Second, I was at least present. One of the most shocking observations of the night — even more shocking than the accidental observation of earlier — was that as Martin started this song, 2/3 of my row was empty. I'm willing to bet everything in my wallet right now against everything in yours that a vast number of fellow attendees came to the show looking forward to this song as much as any other, yet somehow they were in the porta-potties or the beer line when the moment came.
I almost felt sorry for them, to have spent all that money only to miss one of their big moments. I quickly changed my mind. I'd needed to go to the restroom since somewhere around 0.8 miles from the exit. I held my fluid and stayed in place until the concert had come to a complete stop. I felt like Linus in the pumpkin patch; I waited, sincerely, for my songs to be played. I saw the Great Pumpkin. They went trick-or-treating. They got a Bud Light and missed their song. I saw their song and mine and didn't assault my tongue with Budweiser.
Ambivalence crept in when the band left the main stage and headed out to a miniature stage near the leftmost bleacher seats for a miniset . On the one hand, I thought it was very nice and egalitarian to play to the whole crowd, including the cheap seats. On the other, I'd paid top dollar for eighth row seats and wanted them to get their ass back down front where they belonged. I felt the same way about the arrangements of "God Put a Smile On Your Face" and "Talk," both performed with an odd, techno feel.
While on this mini stage, there was a sweet bit of irony as Chris Martin told the crowd about seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert recently and learning the difference between a crowd booing and a Springsteen crowd's chant of "BRUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!" It would have been ironic if we'd had to go to a Coldplay show to hear a Bruce Springsteen song, and for one brief moment that's what 11 and I thought they were about to do. Instead, Martin played "The Hardest Part."
The band returned to the stage proper for magnificent performances of "Viva La Vida" and "Lost!" before moving to another alternate stage, this time on near the bleachers on the opposite end of the amphitheater. I was having a lot of fun at this show that seemed as breezy as the unseasonably cool, comfortable weather but I was also getting a little irritated that so much of the show was being performed from remote locations. That irritation melted when the band used a fun cover of The Monkees' "I'm A Believer" to introduce the band.
Yes, I said it. The cover was fun. I don't covet The Monkees nor do I particularly like "I'm A Believer." One cover used for quasi-comic effect in the course of an evening didn't seem indulgent or annoying. In fact, nothing on this night was really annoying me. I liked it better when the band was closer, but wasn't that bothered when they departed to the far reaches. I didn't really like sitting in traffic nor walking from our car parked in Mobile to the show in Birmingham, but parking was free. The little things that can aggravate an easily irritated man didn't seem so bad.
Maybe it was because I was touched by some real, perspective-providing events in the days leading up to this show. Maybe it was because Coldplay created an atmosphere that made it so easy to cast fear, anxiety, worry, regret, and frustration aside. Throughout the show, Martin checked on the crowd and wished them the absolute best evening of their lives.
While some have dismissed the band's music as being lightweight or mellow, people who listen to these songs know these aren't ordinary odes to ordinary things. Songs of love and lost aren't uncommon, but there's nothing ordinary about love's power or the devastation of love's loss and when they sing of these things they go beyond Beavis and Butt-head choruses of how life would suck without someone. Questions of faith and mortality also permeate Coldplay's work; these songs go beyond the philosophy of the hook up. Chris Martin may be ponderous, but his earnestness keeps the songs from becoming a long day.
The show began its final descent, and both Chris Martin and Jon Buckland hit a bum note during the intro to "Death And All His Friends." Martin again playfully chided himself and as he recovered, "Death And All His Friends" became a spiritual elevator. I felt myself leaving the ground, just for a little while. I sang the chorus louder than anything I'd sung all night, even "Cemeteries of London." It was also the first time all night I could hear 11 singing beside me, through the noise of the band, the crowd, and my earplugs. I don't think his feet were on the ground either.
The band left the stage and returned with a lovely performance of "The Scientist" before taking us off our feet one more time. As Chris Martin sang the final lines of "Life in Technicolor II," I know he was singing just to me: "Gravity release me/and don't ever hold me down/now my feet won't touch the ground."
Coldplay left the stage for the final night as "The Escapist" was played over the PA. "The Escapist" is a brief coda to "Death And All His Friends," in part built on the music of the two "Technicolors." As the lights came back on, we made our way through the gates, both of us wearing an invisible grin. We got our free CD gift and 11 bought the first concert t-shirt he's purchased in ages.
It's been three days since Coldplay brought their tour to Birmingham. Gravity is reaching for me, but I think I like it up here. I'm still floating and I don't want to stop.
- Life In Technicolor
- Violet Hill
- In My Place
- Glass Of Water
- Cemeteries Of London
- Fix You
- Strawberry Swing
- God Put A Smile Upon Your Face (techno version)
- Talk (techno version)
- The Hardest Part (Chris piano, Will)
- Postcards From Far Away (piano instrumental)
- Viva La Vida
- Green Eyes (acoustic)
- Death Will Never Conquer (acoustic – Will vocals)
- I'm A Believer (Neil Diamond Cover – acoustic)
- Viva La Vida (remix interlude)
- Lovers In Japan
- Death And All His Friend
- The Scientist
- Life in Technicolor II
- The Escapist (outro)