Day three we were back to All Points Wet, with lightning warnings so bad they didn’t let people in until four. That meant Steel Train, Kitty Daisy and Lewis and my personal faves the Gaslight Anthem were all cut. Disappointing for many, but the remaining sets made up for it.
I should note that I’ve already written a review in a best/worst format of day three that you can read over at SPIN.com.
The first act to get going once the gates were opened was PT Walkley. Unfortunately he went on right as the gates were opened, meaning no one had made it to the stage yet. The few of us press folks who had been let in early watched him glumly play his set in front of a nonexistent audience. The tunes were chirpy with “la la la”s aplenty which only made the depressed delivery even sadder. The fest’s organizers gave him the boot after two songs anyway.
By the time Akron/Family got onstage the fans had arrived. They began an inane “We like fun” chant that the audience thankfully had the class to ignore before going into a forty-five minute set that made me think they actually had a strong distaste for fun. Or at least a bizarre understanding of the term. Endless drum-circle jamming rivaled some deaf-pan-flute squalls from the four-piece horn section. Half the set sounded like the band was tuning different notes simultaneously, until they would spontaneously drop their instruments and being some faux-Native American chanting or attempted rhythmic clapping. Only the most stoned enjoyed the tom-tom solos and ambient-tuning blares. Maybe this set would have destroyed at Bonnaroo, but here it just hurt.
Hopefully Akron/Family stuck around to catch We Are Scientists, a band that shows you what fun really is without feeling the need to chant about it. The skinny jeans and hair flourishes would be hipster if the band wasn’t having such a blast, twirling and jerking around onstage as they ran through one hook-laden rock tune after another. “Let’s See It” into “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” into “The Scene Is Dead,” and that’s just the first ten minutes. Unfortunately their renowned stage banter was at a minimum due to the new time constraints, but their energy never flagged. The same couldn’t quite be said for the audience, who put forward a decent attempt at jumping around, but was ultimately succumbed to the heat. The best they could do was throw dirt at each other. I guess that’s what has to pass for enthusiasm in this weather.
Over on the main stage, Echo and the Bunnymen seemed to think themselves far more popular than they are. A lazy, energy-less performance can come across masterful if the audience has enough nostalgia, but in this crowd few seemed to know or care who these sullen middle-aged men were. “Lips Like Sugar” opened the set and from then on the only energy shown onstage was Ian McCullogh berating the stage crew for god knows what. The man may have lips like sugar, but he has a mouth like molasses. Even a “Walk on the Wild Side” cover fell flat. Most people seemed only there to secure a good spot for Coldplay, and Echo and co. didn’t try very hard to win them over.
The Black Keys, however, are crowd-pleasers. Whether that appreciation was expressed in jumping, clapping, or mud-wrestling, the fans were into the show. Guitar wild man Dan Auerbach showed himself to a more controlled Jack White, busting out loud bluesy riffs while Patrick Carney pounded the drums so hard he broke through his snare at one point (and splintered countless sticks). Blues rock like a louder ZZ Top has rarely been more satisfying.
Coldplay came on the main stage with sparklers, candles, and a rapturous crowd. Given that far more hipster-cool band MGMT was playing on the other stage, those who stuck around for Chris Martin and co. were dedicated. The foursome’s military jackets seemed an attempt to compete with their lights and lasers for the crowd’s attention, but they needn’t have worried. Playing like the seasoned pros they are, these four are master showman, cherry-picking the fastest songs from their often mellow catalogue to get fans moving. Martin joked that the half the audience was just guys dragged by their girlfriends and, while he may have been right, these sing-along rockers proved sure to win over the most uncomfortable boyfriend.
They kicked things into high gear straight off with a pair from their latest album, “Life in Technicolor” and “Violet Hill.” From there one hit followed the next, each performed with a passion that made even the most nauseating tracks like “Yellow” (“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you”) come alive (the latter aided by giant yellow balloons that bounced through the audience). The newer songs got sing alongs just as loud as the old – I guess selling eight million copies of your latest will do that.
Hits may have abounded, but that didn’t mean the band didn’t have a few surprises up their cuffed-and-tassled sleeves. Coming out onto a small platform in the middle of the crowd, the band performed “God Put a Smile On Your Face” and “Talk” before leaving Chris Martin alone with the piano. He sat down and began a slow, somber minor-key intro. “Here comes the sentimentality,” I whispered to my friend. Then Martin slowly began to sing: “You wake up late for school, man you don't wanna go /
You ask your mom please but she still says no.” It took the audience a minute to realize what was happening, but slowly gasps and cheers swept the stage. Martin didn’t crack a smile though, slowly one-upping Jay-Z with his somber “Fight For Your Right to Party” cover in honor of the injured Beastie Boys (video here). Some younger fans may not have known what was happening, but for the rest of us it was an inspired moment that proved both that Coldplay is not too big to pay special attention to an individual audience and that they have a real sense of humor.
Later they cemented both impressions with another unexpected cover, a full band acoustic “Billie Jean” on a second platform, this one halfway out in the field (video here). “We have infinitely more respect for you guys now that we’ve had to walk through that shit,” Martin quipped of their mud-filled trek to get there. Busting out a harmonica for some shockingly competent blues riffing he let drummer Will Champion croon just-released track “Death Will Never Conquer.”
In all honesty though, the entire show was really just leading up to one moment and everyone knew it: “Viva La Vida.” The biggest song of Coldplay’s career, the biggest song of 2008, it doesn’t get much bigger. And to everyone who says it’s played out, the thousands of people in the Liberty State Park fields Sunday night apparently hadn’t gotten the memo (video here). Crowd excitement seemed matched only by band enthusiasm, Champion pounding away on his front-stage floor toms while Martin leapt, walked, and crawled around the stage trying to let his voice above the crowds sing-along roar. Coldplay could have truly half-assed this one and gotten a great response, and after playing it to death for over a year you wouldn’t blame them if they did. The passion they put into a song they know damn well they’ll be playing the rest of their life was, in the end, the final testament to their unexpectedly inspired stage show. I was one of those guys Chris joked about, only there because a girl dragged me along. Well, Chris, count me a convert.
Photos by Tim Griffin and Chris La Putt (via BrooklynVegan)