Dear Chris Martin:
Photo by Sayre Berman
Thanks for the show on Friday night. It was excellent.
But before I go all gushy with praise -- which I will, I promise -- I should tell you that I was dreading your concert. Ever since I first heard your band in the early Aughts, I thought Coldplay was Too Cool For School. Removed. Passionless. Johnny Buckland's almost cyborgian fusillade of shimmering chords had something to do with it, as well as Guy Berryman's cold, efficient handling of his bass.
But it was mostly your voice. It didn't lack personality, exactly -- not like Abba or something -- but you did seem to advertise a personality that was always above it all. Never in danger of losing your cool, never willing to get swept along by whatever free and wild current is supposed to sweep a lad towards a life in the arts in the first place.
Listening to "Yellow" in my shitty Ford Taurus, I couldn't imagine you ever losing your head at the mike, the way Thom Yorke does, or even the way Scott Stapp has done on occasion. (I mention Stapp because, as I recall, you were both in pretty heavy rotation on the radio in the summer of 2000, and though Stapp was plainly an idiot I thought you were probably a helluvalot more cynical.)
Well, to hell with assumptions. We weren't three songs into the show last Friday when I realized you aren't cool at all. You're blazingly gifted -- your voice is almost perfect live, far better than one would expect from listening to that new live album, which your band so generously arranged to have distributed, gratis, to all 16,000 of us after the show). Your piano playing, which you spent the evening disparaging, is also fluid and strong. But you're also a bit of a geek. And though I haven't known you long enough to say for certain, I'm pretty sure I love you for it.
I'd like to remind you of something you did towards the end of a long, hot vamp wrapped around "Cemeteries of London" (Great song, btw! Props to the drummer!). After flailing around the stage in your cute black performance getup, you made your way to the piano and made a big show of wiping your brow and breathing heavily, to underline for all of us just how hard you'd been working for the previous minute or two. Speaking of assumptions, these gestures contained two that I think are worth noting:
Assumption 1: We'd been watching you the whole time and had taken note of how hard you'd been working. Not true. You have a stage set-up that cost, I dunno, a million bucks or so. It's full of lights and glowing balls and strange CGI video projections. Plus, at Cruzan Amphitheatre, you've got two big screens bookending the stage, both of which spent the majority of the concert beaming us images of things other than you. Most of us -- and I did some non-scientific polling to confirm this -- had no idea why you were making a big show of your tiredness.
Assumption 2: People don't give a shit about the content of your songs. Well, that may be true -- and who could blame them? Do you give a shit about content? And if so, can you please explain what the hell "Cemeteries of London" is supposed to be about in the first place? But content or no content, people certainly care about atmosphere. And the atmosphere summoned by "Cemeteries," especially live, is a long way from comic. So why the aping?
I think I know. I think you think you're boring your audience, or disappointing them. I think the sight of all 16,000 of us waiting for you to entertain us makes you a little panicky, makes you wanna throw in the kitchen sink, because you're not convinced the songs themselves will measure up.
Well, Mr. Martin, they do. Those songs measure up and more. The bits from Vida la Vida -- and especially "Cemeteries," "Lost!," and "Lovers In Japan" -- were especially lovely, mysterious, and inscrutable in a good way. You should stop worrying. And you should stop apologizing when you think you've goofed up some super-complicated piano riff. The apology is way more noticeable than the fuckup, and you're still a helluvalot more instrumentally competent than just about anybody I've ever seen at Cruzan Amphitheatre -- including, I suspect, your very own bandmates.
And besides, you don't need to cater to your audience so much. You've done enough. For fuck's sake, you've gone through the trouble of creating two auxillary stages so that those of us in the nosebleed seats can get a closeup look at your pretty bewhiskered face while you deploy that heavenly croon of yours. So chillax.
I'd like to tell you that I'm gonna go and buy your records now, but that'd be a lie. I think they'd still sound too cool for school. But I am gonna make a point of coming to see you again. Seeing you flail around up there lets us view the pallor of your most affecting songs as what it is. I
t's not reptilian cold-bloodedness, but a sudden gut-twisting lack of blood in the head when you realize, dear Christ, that for some reason you're fronting the biggest band in the world, and that a gazillion people want a piece of you, and that you haven't a clue how to deliver. I have no doubt that you'll continue to come through, but I applaud your fear: It means you're no different from the rest of us. You've just got a prettier voice. That, Mr. Martin, is enough.
Brandon K. Thorp