Home > Culture, Music, Reviews > Coldplay Live 2012: The Inherent Compromises of Mass Engagement

Coldplay Live 2012: The Inherent Compromises of Mass Engagement

There’s nothing like seeing a musical artist live to serve to crystallize your feelings about them and their music, to define the terms and limits of your engagement with them. So I observed upon the occasion of Coldplay’s second Mylo Xyloto concert at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre yesterday. Coldplay is a band that makes overt appeals to earnest emotional exchange with their audience, even while possessing an audience of such a size that it makes such an exchange highly burdensome, if quite nearly impossible. Chris Martin in particular would evidently like to envelop the whole world in a sweaty embrace if only his arms were long enough.

Coldplay didn’t so much as ease into or build their way up to arena- or stadium-level headlining gigs as they aesthetically and commercially re-branded themselves as World’s Biggest Band contenders around the A Rush of Blood To The Head era. That art/marketing profile has been updated with each subsequent release and tour, most recently with the colour-splashed graffito and sonically-diverse modern pop of their latest difficult-to-pronounce release. As sincerely passionate as Martin and Co. clearly are about the mass healing powers of popular music, and despite the awkward baby-steps adventurousness of their recent efforts, there’s always been a faint whiff of corporate calculation to Coldplay’s popularity that causes trepidation for those with alternative preferences.

The placement of Martin’s head relative to both the neon halo and the skyward lasers cannot be coincidental…

It’s not that Coldplay are too big, or that they steal a march from U2 whenever they can (especially evident from the ego ramps, confetti drops, and lighting of their concert tours), or that their cross-collaborations with hip-hop figures like Jay-Z, Kanye West, or Rihanna smack of radio-friendly synergy. And it’s not that they are “artificial” rather than “authentic”, distinctions that lack operative meaning in a cultural setting of post-capitalist hyper-saturation. And it isn’t that their mass gestures are somehow undergirded with implied ironic criticisms of mass tastes and practices, like the Arcade Fire’s music statements tend to be.

I suppose one can be moved by Coldplay’s songs, in some way or other, while admitting that, at their core, they are commercial product. This reality is neither disavowed, as in the authenticity-seeking proletarian poses of post-Springsteen rock, nor acknowledged with gleeful post-modern acceptance of its essential shallowness, as in the cases of current pop idols like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. With Coldplay, there is simple acceptance of the inherent compromises involved with making mass art in the corporate-controlled 21st Century. There’s a lack of judgment, and even a lack of pretension to it that redeems the band from their overwhelming desire for mutual adoration, if only a bit.

Musically speaking, of course, such macro theorizing does not always carry through into sonic quality. While singalong ballads like “The Scientist”, “Up in Flames” and the inevitable “Fix You” translate smoothly to stadium settings, mid-tempo outings such as “Trouble” and “In My Place”, while embraced by the crowds, middle their way to the kind of wussified oversensitivity that critics of Coldplay delight in accusing all of their material of embodying. Most tragically muddled are the uptempo cuts of the setlist, masterfully rousing numbers on record like “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” and “Lovers in Japan” whose complexly mixed elements vanish into the overamplified wash of noise bouncing back off of concrete arena walls.

Even in spite of such complaints and Martin’s patented histrionics, Coldplay strives to provide a basically positive collective experience in their shows, and they mostly succeed (they certainly did with set-closer “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”). Surely, with the amount of resources marshaled for that purpose, one might expect it to work out. But such results are not always guaranteed in the fickle, easily-misdirected realm of corporate-controlled mass entertainment, no matter the production budget. Those who manage to nudge that relentless Mammonist juggernaut in the right direction merit a certain measure of appreciation, and that’s what Coldplay always gets from me.

Categories: Culture, Music, Reviews
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