Rock You Like a Hurricane

UM concrete christened by Coldplay's yellow glow

There we were, convocating with our cup-holders. The total commute from central Broward County to the Concrete (er, Convocation) Center on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables: one hour and 25 minutes. Approaching the just-opened venue from southbound U.S. 1 was -- face it, folks -- a colossal clusterfuck. Warbling Ron Sexsmith had finished up as we found our seats. But we were in time for Coldplay, headlining the venue's inaugural concert.

The Convocation Center looks like a Shrinky Dink version of a big sports coliseum, perfectly proportioned and hot out of the oven. It's all cement and girders, built for reflecting and amplifying cheers and referee whistles, which doesn't bode well for concert clarity. Usually only two solutions can overcome less-than-perfect acoustics: overdriving the sound into the red and counting on brute force to conquer, or modulating on the side of caution, which was attempted first. Still Coldplay frontman Christopher Martin's piano notes fell like flabby darts. Sonic subtleties were missing, and Coldplay came off slightly muddy, with no high end. Cymbal crashes disappeared into the murk as the bass thudded like an underwater bell, lost in the expansive spare tire of the midrange. Finally by the middle of the show, the volume increased and the sound opened up limpid and clear.

All the better to appreciate Martin, he of the shiver-inducing Jeff Buckley falsetto. The kid's got the goods. Yet he's remarkably humble about it. Who ever heard of a peak-seeking British rock band -- in front of a full house of disciples, no less -- exhibiting such profound humility? Coldplay's distinct lack of hubris makes the band almost the polar opposite to Oasis or Echo and the Bunnymen, who made us accustomed to braggadocio, not "I know we're from England and you don't really know us, but thanks so much for coming." Thanks to Martin, modesty is the new loud.

By Miami standards, Coldplay attracted a drab-dressed crowd. These folks sipped Remy Zero, not Remy Martin. There were Asian art students in brown leather and fake leopard prints, a mating pair of West Palm Beach lovebirds in black plumage, and a mom (in a smart Ann Taylor ensemble and sensible shoes) with two teenagers in tow (one with her jeans riding lower than the Dow in late September 2001), all singing along.

Martin alternated between piano and acoustic guitar, though he did pick up a Rickenbacker electric at one point, and it snarled sweetly in his hands. The slower, smoldering songs like "Shiver" and "Spies," from Parachutes, Coldplay's 2000 debut, emotionally outweighed the new material from A Rush of Blood to the Head. Now it will be harder to imagine Martin as the sad sack his records would seem to paint him as, after seeing him happily bounce and pirouette across the stage or huddle over his tiny piano like it was a space heater.

Introducing the stately "Don't Panic" -- "even though Jeb Bush is your governor" -- Martin began inserting the liberal proselytizing that has earned Coldplay comparisons with U2. Four giant film screens (one for each member) provided Kodak moments and the concert's most U2-esque segment. But when did U2 ever muster such melancholy or subtlety? Martin's voice is an extraordinary instrument, but his modesty means it's hard to imagine Martin ever taking the Bono bait needed to become more to fans than simply "that guy from Coldplay." Who'd know the name of the singer/guitarist from the Dave Matthews Band if it weren't named for him? Martin seems too wise to buy into that sort of hype.

"A good way to start the life of this building," he said of Parachutes' elegiac closer, "Everything's Not Lost," which he used to christen the Convocation Center. The remark coaxed a few lighters from pockets (catch a clue, kids; this isn't Tesla), as did "Yellow," cleansing the hall like a smudge stick. "Yellow" recalled a great time two years ago, when the song burrowed through radio's fortifications like a glowworm, brightening the world every time it was played.

By the very end ("Trouble"), Martin appeared ready to deliver a treatise on treaties like NAFTA and GATT. Yet despite the heartfelt sing-alongs, the message did not appear to be getting through. In the slow-motion queue of cars crawling to the arena, there was a Volvo wearing a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker and a Jeep adorned with a red Jeb! Coldplay's melodies, not politics, move the people and sell the records and tickets (the Convocation Center's 7000 seats were filled).

So the preternaturally nice guys of Coldplay -- another Band Who Would Change the World Via Activism, Social Consciousness, and a Positive Attitude -- didn't make you feel like rutting in the street or changing your socks like the Strokes did -- but they didn't really make you think either.

And the $51 million Convocation Center? One day soon, the acrid tang of overripe jock straps will seep in, and everything will be just fine. Let's hope it sounds just as good when the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" blares over the PA system during UM games.

 
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