Consider it Lollapalooza Day Four. As the United Center filled with a democratic, x chromosome–heavy crowd on Tuesday evening, I noticed many Lollapalooza armbands still dangling from the wrists of fans. But it was bracelets of a different sort that rocketed this joyous, candy-colored concert into the annals of the arena greats.
Coldplay distributed thick neon nylon bracelets of a mysterious purpose to each of the 19,000 (that's the number Chris Martin threw out there) or so ticketholders as we entered. I got a yellow one; my girlfriend, pink. The "xylobands," as they were branded and trademarked, came in blue, green, white and red varieties as well. By now, it won't spoil anything to say these xylobands are loaded with LEDs, radio-controlled and synchronized, and they erupt with light when the British quartet bursts onstage with "Hurts Like Heaven." The stadium becomes a glittering rainbow starfield, and it is undeniably spectacular. The entire show is a similar panoply of confetti (in Lucky Charms–esque shapes: teardrops, bids, butterflies, clovers, hearts and bells) and lasers and ultraviolet and florescent paint and big bouncing, batted balls.
Oh, right, there's music, too, equally bright and ebullient. I mentioned the crowd was democratic. If you made a Venn diagram with circles representing the audiences of Ravinia Festival, Radiohead, Jay-Z and the How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular, than Coldplay's crowd would be the diamond overlap in the center. I saw dudes in Odd Future Wolf Gang and Thrice T-shirts. I saw pregnant women, retirees and preteens. It's easy to understand why Coldplay's music appeals to all of us on some level. Two wanna-be pop stars opened the show, yet the PA system played ambient krautrock and Jay-Z before the headliners jumped out of the tunnels. Chris Martin and crew want to be all of this and more. Live, the foursome pull it off far more brilliantly than on record. Will Champion beefs up the tunes with borderline-angry drumming. Jonny Buckland's guitar gets to shriek a little more. And Martin fills the rest of the space with his booming tenor.
The set drew largely from Mylo Xyloto—nine of its eleven full songs—and swung for the fences with crowd-stoking smashes like "Clocks," "In My Place," "The Scientist" and "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face." (A Rush of Blood to the Head is rather great in hindsight, isn't it?) Martin is a born showman and infectiously optimistic. Three girls in the fifth row hold up three sheets of loose leaf paper with AMS-TER-DAM scrawled in highlighters. Martin spots the message and confesses he won't sleep well unless he at least meets their demand and attempts to play the closing ballad of Rush. He apologizes for not remembering the tune at all and tells the other three with a laugh, "Money for nothing. You don't have to do fuck all on this one." He gives it a go on his fake, graffiti-splattered piano that rises from the stage with hydraulics. He can hardly get through the first verse. I see him blush. The girls lose their shit regardless.
Of course, the immediate comparison to make is to U2. Twenty years ago, I saw the Irish giants at a similar point in their career, on the Zoo Station and Zoo TV tours. While the rock & roll there was more progressive and aggressive, and the stage show more jaw-dropping, and the openers far more stimulating (Kate Bush–meets–Katy Perry warbler Marina & The Diamonds is no Pixies and Public Enemy), Coldplay surprisingly edges out their mentors by connecting with its audience. There's the post-Internet tech stuff, sure, but the group also goes out of its way to touch the people. While U2 continues to shrink and distance itself under gigantic prop monstrosities, Coldplay leaves the dazzling for clever, small-scale tricks. The Mylo Xyloto performance is quasi-in-the-round. Martin scampers all over the place. There are mini-sets in the stands. Those in section 103, have your cameras read in the encore. Everyone else, prepare to become human fireworks.