Aftermath: Coldplay at Toyota Center

Photos by Mark C. Austin

The problem with Chris Martin isn’t the fact that the Coldplay frontman writes lyrics that resemble something that might come from the diary of a seventh grader who sniffs magic markers (snow, it turns out, is white after all). No, it’s the fact that he almost forces people to take him so goddamn seriously. And the reason is simple: He is a a) rock star; b) a celebrity (or at least married to one); and c) a social activist.

People often compare Martin’s motives to those of Bono, but that’s not exactly an apt comparison. Martin seems to be actively trying to dissociate himself from activists like Bono —Bono is a rock star who makes shitty music, but also a social activist who is trying to actually make social changes (Third World debt, etc) — while Martin is a pseudo-rock star who makes shitty music with designs on being perceived to be a social activist.

His political rhetoric is foggy - we all got a pamphlet from Oxfam upon entering Toyota Center, but who reads pamphlets? - just like his music. It appeals to people who put value in clichés, and this has turned Martin into a critical punch line (Chuck Klosterman writes extensively about this, most particularly the “fake love” Coldplay songs inevitably engender) and more importantly, a genius.

Martin is over-abundantly aware of his own iconography (he wants to be Radiohead), but seems to be entirely unaware that he is ruining for the rest of us every conceivable notion of what is or is not art. Everyone, Aftermath included, has bought into Coldplay's aesthetic for at least one year of their life, most likely the first year they “get a boyfriend” or the first time they “kiss someone,” and that year usually becomes seminal in the construction of what one believes to be real emotion.

And that’s dangerous. Dangerous because nothing Coldplay sings about has any relation to reality. It’s contrived bullshit for the sake of sentiment. It’s emotional pedantry masked as poetry. And it’s the continued Oprah-fication of culture that is turning art into a homogenized grayness (think Danielle Steele trying to write Gravity’s Rainbow).

Martin’s genius is that he knows people use his music for their own emotional gain - we all see ourselves trying to “fix” someone who will no longer love us. We’ve all wanted “go back to the start” in a relationship that wasn’t working. So as long as Coldplay exists, Coldplay will prosper. And prospering they are.

People go bananas for these guys. Or maybe not bananas, so much as those plastic banana-shaped yellow cylinders that live in brown wicker baskets atop the kitchen tables in houses for sale in River Oaks. That much was evident by the more than 15,000 people at Toyota Center Tuesday night. But those people got something I don’t know they expected - a sanitized nothingness, a rock show that looked and felt like a summer blockbuster (probably starring Will Smith), void of context and connection.

Seeing Coldplay is a weird experience.

Martin and crew played all the favorites, of course, going from “Violet Hill” right into “Clocks,” which included a boringly opulent laser show where the red and green beams just sat there, beaming their beams onto the beamed. It meant nothing, and felt like a futuristic hospital.

“Speed of Sound” was next, where Martin channeled his inner rock star, skipping around the stage like some Superball from a vending machine at a bowling alley. I think this was supposed to be a sort of first-act highlight. But the audience seemed full of only obligatory excitement. Most of them screamed and screamed for the first 30 seconds and then either sat down or started texting and feigned interest - sort of like, "I’m at a rock show, I should probably dance, right?"

“Fix You,” Coldplay’s most sing-alongable song, was pretty great, though, with the entire audience singing every single line. It reminded me of The OC episode when that one dude died. Probably the weirdest song of the night, though, was “The Scientist,” where Martin and his three bandmates waded their way through the stands until they finally reached their destination - where else but the cheap seats.

Sort of a taking the music to the streets kind of thing, like we really do care about you fans who only paid $50 for tickets. So there they all stood, singing like a multimillionaire French revolutionary peasant-boy barbershop quartet. What we didn’t get at all was Martin interacting with the crowd, except that one bit where he said, “Hey, you’re a four-year-old - this song was written before you were even born!”

And then to someone else, “But you’re like, 50… Wow!” The problem with this is that Martin misinterprets age difference as diversity, and the crowd at Toyota Center last night was the least diverse crowd I’ve ever seen at a concert. Coldplay appeals only to a certain group of people - those who are privileged enough to not have to make personal connections to art to help them define their position in the world; those who, when looking into a mirror, see nothing but a face.

As the show was coming to a close, I kept asking myself, "I wonder if Chris Martin knows what color the stars are?" Oh, they’re yellow, huh? Got it. - Brandon K. Hernsberger

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Brandon K. Hernsberger