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Coldplay

Everything about Coldplay is patently ridiculous: the drippy lyricism, the wide-eyed songwriting, the album art, the dippy names of singer Chris Martin’s kids, the Brian Eno jones, the daft earnestness surrounding everything it does. But when a jukebox coughs up of the quartet’s better smashes – “Paradise” say, or “Clocks,” or even “Fix You” – if you happen to be in the right mood, Coldplay will lay your emotions flat; they will ride roughshod over your preconceived notions of what “middlebow” connotes. Hate them now, but popular anthemic pop-rock could do far, far worse.

Mon., May 5, 9 p.m., 2014

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‘The Concert for Sandy Relief’

To aid the relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a star-studded pantheon of classic rock, hip-hop, and soul musicians are playing tonight’s Concert for Sandy Relief. Those confirmed to perform at press time include (and note, there’s really no hierarchy to run these in, other than having Macca on top): Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Eric Clapton, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Kanye West, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, the Who, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Bon Jovi, and Alicia Keys. Proceeds go to the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which provides comfort and sustenance to tristate-area hurricane victims.

Wed., Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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Coldplay

If it weren’t enough that the leading British alt-rock band from the class of 2001 has begun making concept albums, their first such foray features a guest appearance by Rihanna herself. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, Mylo Xyloto hangs relies a little too heavily on frontman Chris Martin’s wispy falsetto. Even more surprising: The strongest portions seem to be heavily indebted to Phoenix. And while there’s nothing quite as deep as “Don’t Panic” or “Trouble,” it offers plenty of tracks that are almost as much fun as “Lisztomania.”

Sun., March 4, 7 p.m., 2012

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SHEAR GOODNESS

What is the real measure of someone’s character? To this retail survivor, it’s buying a watch. Several years ago, in my period of indentured servitude at a certain iconic New York department store, many famous faces perused my gleaming jewelry and timepiece counters, and in turn provided an honest look into their true personalities. For example, a much-heralded, seemingly kindly, older Academy Award–winning actress was a curt, foul-tempered witch. Chris Martin of Coldplay was a grinning, affable goofball eager to debate the virtues of Radiohead. And Jake Shears, the brains and booty behind Scissor Sisters, was one of my favorite customers from any walk of life, a friendly and unassuming young man who bought a beautiful Mother’s Day gift while warmly sharing his love for New York, music journalism, and Dolly Parton. I think I spent his commission on another copy of Ta-Dah. So thanks for making one shopgirl’s day a little more wonderful, Jake. When the gregarious carnival that is your band hits Terminal 5 (in support of your extra-disco dance-pop newest, Night Work), I’ll be there with bells on.

Tue., Aug. 24, 8 p.m., 2010

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WESTWARD, HO!

Your courageous immigrant ancestors didn’t cross forbidding seas so that you could miss Coldplay. So put on your traveling clothes and go enjoy Chris Martin’s melodious self-loathing as well as several other spectacles (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Tool, Echo and the Bunnymen, My Bloody Valentine, and more) in proximity to Lady Liberty at All Points West, the East Coast sister of California’s glorious Coachella Festival. The indie-rock-heavy lineup unspools over three days in Jersey’s Liberty State Park, just a free and, in theory, not hellaciously trendbot-stuffed ferry ride from the Battery Park Pier. The interactive art installations (one of Coachella’s best features) and Manhattan skyline would be a fine sight under any soundtrack, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better one this week.

July 31-Aug. 2, noon, 2009

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ODE TO THE CITY

Poets House, currently located in a Soho loft, will soon be packing up its 50,000-volume poetry library and literary center and moving to a larger 10,000-square-foot space in Battery Park City. Help them celebrate their new neighborhood with this day of readings, performances, and walks that’s sure to inspire your inner Walt Whitman. At 11 a.m., poet Chris Martin leads an interactive walking tour for children and adults. At 1 p.m., take a staff-guided tour of Battery Park City’s literary spots, with stops at the Irish Hunger Memorial and the World Financial Center Plaza to read the quotes by poets inscribed into the landscape. The program’s highlight is at 3 p.m., when top poets Edward Field, Joan Larkin, Patricia Smith, John Yau, and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic read their work in lovely Rockefeller Park overlooking the Hudson River.

Sat., Oct. 11, 11 a.m., 2008

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Coldplay’s Insurmountable Fire

Your songs are too long. And you’re too repetitive, and you use the same tricks too much, and big things aren’t necessarily good things, and you use the same sounds too much, and your lyrics are not good enough.

So, apparently, went Brian Eno’s rather brutal critique of Coldplay, delivered as part of his appeal to produce their new record, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (the title alone proves Eno right on at least one count), which he did indeed produce, as announced in the liner notes with the statement “Sonic landscapes by Brian Eno,” which, if he wouldn’t mind my critiquing him for a second, is incredibly fucking pretentious. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin merrily recounts his sonic landscaper’s gibes in the new Rolling Stone‘s cover story, sounding awfully cowed and sheepish for the guy whose band is charged with single-handedly saving the blockbuster-starved music industry: cowed by his competition (“I would still give my left ball to write anything as good as OK Computer“), cowed by his dizzying celebrity (“If your wife went out with Brad Pitt, you’d want to prove yourself, you know what I mean?”), cowed by the moderate backlash that greeted the band’s last record, 2005’s X&Y (“We were bigger than we were good”). On that last point, the radness of “Fix You” excepted, it’s tough to argue with him, or Eno, or the need for Vida to either perfect the band’s titanically sincere arena-rock mold or blow it up for good.

And indeed, the record’s first two and a half minutes—a throwaway intro called “Life in Technicolor”—are genuinely thrilling, a brief (and lyric-less!) master class in the tricks, the sounds, the repetition, the bigness that aided Coldplay’s rise to power. Eno’s sweetly pastoral synth landscape sets the tone, and soon it all piles on: the jangly electric-guitar riff, the cheerful acoustic to sketch out the simple chords, the rumbling bass and drums to give those chords muscle and propulsion, the ecstatically clanging piano, a few joyful oh-oh-oh‘s from Martin just to remind us who’s in charge here—a steady and true and exhilarating 150-second rise in volume and intensity that’s pure “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and if it doesn ‘t quite blossom into a full, magnificent anthem the way “Streets” did, the point is made. But part of that point is that this is Coldplay’s instinct—go for the gold, the jugular, the fist-pumping knockout—and most of the rest of Vida aims to subvert it.

Which doesn’t mean it’s too terribly difficult. The usual specters (U2 and Radiohead, mostly) hang over it, but Vida‘s true genesis is the Arcade Fire. Though not a “concept album” in any meaningful way, its tone throughout is soaring, portentous, desperate, elliptically political, and widescreen in terms of both geography and emotion: East and West, life and death. “Cemeteries of London” gives way to “Lovers in Japan.” From the onset, Martin’s hunting big game: “God is in the houses/And God is in my head!” he wails on “Cemeteries”; “Those who are dead are not dead/They’re just livin’ in my head,” he mews a few tracks later on “42.” Major motifs: snow and rooftops. Major theme: Life During Wartime, though that’s often abstract, and blessedly so. (Martin is far from embarrassing, but Eno is not incorrect that Coldplay’s lyrics, in terms of the music’s articulate grandiosity, aren’t quite good enough: Bono probably would’ve reached a more profound conclusion than “Soldiers, you’ve got to soldier on.”)


As to Eno’s simplest and truest declaration—that every single Coldplay song feels like it’s 10 minutes long, even if it’s actually only, like, three—Vida tries to solve the problem by breaking up the few longer tracks into jolting mini-suites. (Hey, “Clocks” was great and all, but that piano riff just went on forever. ) So “42” starts as a soft, lonely piano ballad, dead-ends into a harsh, knotty, Kraut-prog jam, then barrels into a discordantly peppy pop-tart chorus (“You didn’t get to heaven, but you made it close!”). And “Yes” starts as a slow, ominous rumble (Martin dropping his cavernous croon down to Crash Test Dummy depths) with spry klezmer strings slicing overhead, then abruptly bursts into a gauzy My Bloody Valentine shoegaze daydream, Martin’s normally sleek falsetto squeaking amid swirling guitar-hero blasts, as though he actually did give his left ball to write something as good as OK Computer and got ripped off.

This approach guarantees that you won’t get too bored, and the band’s old tricks have renewed power when deployed in smaller doses: a small piano-and-falsetto conclusion redeems the plodding lead single, “Violet Hill.” Eno, meanwhile, busts his ass to actually justify that sonic-landscape business. The strident strings that drive “Viva La Vida” confidently push the tune to rousing iPod-commercial heights, and “Lost!” is a deep and immersive and startling organ-and-handclaps march: He builds the cathedral, Martin brings the sermon. But though the result is biblical, it’s not neon-biblical: What makes the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler so effective at Life During Wartime shtick is that he howls and quavers as though he’s actually dying, as though his cathedral’s under siege and the organ’s only there to drown out the gunfire. Martin’s too sweet, too soothing for this wetwork. He tries hard to imagine how it feels to feel like you’re dying, but he can’t evoke it. Closing track “Death and All His Friends” tries to work itself into a climactic frenzy, cranking up the speed and intensity while trying out one of those life-and-death group shout-alongs that Butler leads so effortlessly, but Coldplay’s giving up their huge home-field advantage here—you don’t best your rivals by aping them. And when the pastoral Eno flourishes that started Vida off so promisingly return for a quick coda, Martin reverts back to his suavely crooning self, but blows it with his first four words: “And in the end . . . . ” Bam, you’re thinking Abbey Road, and while Vida is far from a dog, it’s just another unflattering comparison that the record itself needlessly invites—an extremely overconfident way to handle a crisis of confidence. Big isn’t necessarily good, no, and bigger isn’t necessarily better.

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Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid

Whether confessing that he “dreamed of you and I/And marriage in an orange grove” or claiming that “we kissed like we invented it,” Elbow frontman Guy Garvey is no less a gooey romantic than fellow British swooners James Blunt, Chris Martin, or Fran Healy, yet he never comes off nearly as wheedling or whipped as those oft-mocked soft touches. Garvey’s approvingly manful build, beard, and baritone all no doubt help him skirt being tagged a pantywaist, but it’s his approach toward women and love that truly makes him seem like the healthiest sap on the block.

That aforementioned cadre of dewy strummers and plinkers too often place their beloveds on the pedestal of near-creepy unattainability and poorly poetic idol worship—something that Garvey only does on The Seldom Seen Kid when his tongue’s firmly in cheek (“Starlings,” “An Audience With the Pope”). Instead, on Elbow’s fourth album, he brings romance down to the lived-in level of a day’s first cigarette, to unapologetically artless effusions like “Holy cow I love your eyes.” The singer’s Mancunian bleariness is such that the bittersweet barfly sing-along “Grounds for Divorce” rings effortlessly real, while the quasi-spiritual questing of “Weather to Fly” gets reined in by the sobering image of “pounding the streets where my father’s feet/Still ring from the walls.” Still, there’s no mistaking Garvey or the gorgeously swelling band behind him for cynics—not with the way one mate’s dissolution is treated with aggrieved concern on “Some Riot,” or the way another’s death is handled with absolute tenderness on “Friend of Ours.” Rather than rue the relative paucity of fair skies above their English heads, Elbow seize upon life’s rare bursts of sunlight, inviting a choir of voices to contemplate a perfectly love-drunk morning and humbly attest: “One day like this a year would see me right.”

Elbow play Webster Hall April 26

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Bearded DJ Freaks Screw Up Frequently, Royally, Splendidly

A disgruntled user at discogs.com recently bemoaned the “technical fumbles” of NYC duo Rub ‘n’ Tug’s live Campfire mix, meaning oopsies like coitus interruptus record skips and other bleary-eared fuckups that result from too much bumping ‘n’ grinding near the decks. And yet the complainant also praises Thomas Bullock and Eric Duncan’s ability to flaunt their DJ eclecticism “without jerking the listener,” a skill that ensures johns like Chris Martin, James Murphy, and Bryan Ferry get similar happy-ending results from their RNT remixes. Being pulled in every direction is part of this duo’s charm (aside from their matching beards), and Campfire recreates that unsteady but sweaty flame the boys carefully tend at their weekly parties. Shooting cock-a-doodle-doos and tasers through house, disco, electro, funk, and hip-hop cuts, they also slyly stash contraband cucumbers like J.J. Cale, Sylvester, Boney M, and Robin Trower down their trousers. Such selections on Campfire fuel a dance party high not just on blow but blow darts.


Rub ‘n’ Tug play the Tribeca Grand Hotel Thursday and P.S.1 Saturday.

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Odd Artist Out

Chris Martin is a perennial member of the large, by nature neglected, nonetheless crucial and treasured confederacy known as “artist’s artists.” He’s one of the dark horses and workers-at-the-edge respected by their peers who never quite get their due. Probably most artists feel like members of this tribe to one degree or another. I don’t know if there’s a correlation between Martin’s generous-to-a-fault, almost shoot-yourself-in-the-foot selflessness and his reputation as one of the better underappreciated painters around, but his current all-over-the-place not-really-a-one-man show draws attention to his dilemma.

Picasso said, “A painter’s studio should be a laboratory.” Martin’s show is that, a living room, an ashram, and an opium den. As is some of the surrounding neighborhood. On the front of an abandoned building across the street from the gallery hang several of Martin’s brightly colored geometric abstract paintings. A huge 9 x 11 foot black-and-red painting of a circuit configuration hangs on the side of the gallery building itself. Not only is it great to see an artist employ modern paintings as urban frescoes, it’s nice to know that people don’t deface them—a few of these have been here for years.

Martin’s giving spirit continues inside the gallery, where a cushy couch, conga drums, Persian rugs, and pillows are scattered about. A soundtrack of classic rock plays (compiled by the artist’s 15-year-old daughter); the smell of incense and roses wafts through the air. Adding to the hippie flavor are nearly 200 keepsakes or power objects hanging cheek by jowl, floor to ceiling, in the rear room. Here, there’s art by Martin’s friends, his influences and inspirations, as well as paintings by fellow underknowns like Don Voisine, Glenn Goldberg, and Joyce Pensato. There are postcards, newspaper clippings, obituaries of famous artists, pictures of his high school art teacher, a samba drum, Indian miniatures, and who-knows-what. It’s his own private Salon des Refuse or a walk-in wonder cabinet. There are also works by Martin himself. All are abstract and have the feel of sacred diagrams by way of pop art and minimalism. Some are done on paper towel, stilts, and banana peels. His psychedelic and mystic leanings surface in titles like Epiphany and Mushroom People.

The poster for the show says as much about Martin being an artist’s artist as it does about this clan and its future. A large color photo depicts more than 60 people among a half-dozen of Martin’s works on the Williamsburg waterfront with Manhattan as backdrop. Among sundry dogs, drummers, and guitarists are fellow artist’s artists like Mike Ballou, Win Knowlton, and Dan Walsh. In effect, Martin is saying one of two things: either “When Williamsburg is developed, real estate prices will skyrocket, and all this will be lost forever”; or “Come hell or high rents the Williamsburg spirit will change but live on.” I believe the latter.

Some might claim the furniture, music, incense, and ephemera are a distraction and that Martin’s show is too hammy and New Agey. I wouldn’t entirely disagree. It is hard to concentrate or get around the down-homeyness. Others might say that the immense scale of his work makes Martin, 52, a throwback to Schnabel-esque giganticism. Martin’s work is huge and the show is hectic. But size isn’t the main quality of his art, nor is immediacy. In addition, there’s nothing wrong with being spiritual or New Age if you do it in a new way. As painter Alexander Ross says of Martin, “He re-injects all this with an unexpected, original twist.”

This twist is delivered most effectively in the form of three enormous abstract paintings. One 20-foot-long giant in glowing thalo green and bone white is composed of repeating gate-shapes. These figures echo one another and create a rippling horizon effect as if this were some vast celestial lake. This canvas is more like a shield or the wall of a Northwest coast Indian lodge than a painting. You walk past it and almost feel like you’re seeing the curvature of the earth and the distortion of peripheral vision. It immerses you in some other rhythm of the world.

This summer, when three of Martin’s battleship-scaled beauties at Feature Gallery looked great, I thought he was finally ready for prime time and that this show would put Martin on a bigger stage. I was wrong. Instead, this is more of a studio visit or a confession. It’s too scruffy and old-school to register with anyone who doesn’t already know and respect him. For all its bigheartedness and spirituality; tantalizing connections to fringy artists like Forrest Bess, Al Held, and Alfred Jensen; bumpy surfaces and vibrant color; and sources including Tibetan mandalas, magic carpets, and psychedelia, Martin’s show is like an anti-war leaflet: It’s vital, but the only people who pay attention to it are those who already agree with it.

I often complain about slickness in today’s art world. In this case, I wish some slicker gallery would give Martin a shot, present his work coherently, and not let him shoot himself in the foot. Until then, there’s joie de vivre and delight at Sideshow.


jsaltz@villagevoice.com