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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Shunning rock's dark side

With a smoothness and commitment to principle reminiscent of U2, the likable band Coldplay touches its Bowl audience.

June 02, 2003|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

U2's frontman has been referred to as "St. Bono," a facetious reaction to the singer's high-profile social crusades, inspirational music and generally unimpeachable ways. Don't look now, but rock has a new candidate for canonization. At the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, Coldplay's Chris Martin seemed to be fitted for a halo as he led the English band through a set of its grand, classically proportioned ballads.

Now, there's always a chance that Martin is a consummate con man and goes home and kicks puppies in private, but on Saturday the lanky singer, swooningly earnest and playfully rambunctious, came across as every parent's favorite son, the big brother any boy would want, a heartthrob for the ladies and an idealized best pal for the lads.

All this -- not to mention Coldplay's understated social crusading and its rejection of all that's musically grating -- might push the gag reflex of those with a taste for rock's dark, unruly, sinful and dangerous side.

Still, it's hard to imagine anyone remaining unpersuaded by Martin's natural enthusiasm and self-effacing good humor. With only two albums under Coldplay's belt, there may not be 90 minutes of uniformly great songs in the show, but there's never a false moment.

And while Coldplay's music might be unabashedly tame and traditional -- Martin made a joking reference to their "English soft rock" -- it has a backbone of dignity and urgency that keeps it from being limp or fluffy.

Jon Buckland isn't the most dynamic guitarist around, and Will Champion and Guy Berryman don't form the most powerful rhythm section -- at least in the slightly muffled, minimally nuanced mix at the Bowl -- but camaraderie and common purpose make the band a steady, reliable frame for their frontman's singing.

Martin is conversationally intimate in his natural register, like someone on the next barstool sharing confidences, and he deploys his trademark falsetto to add emotionally complex aspects to songs that -- perhaps surprisingly given the show's celebrative spirit -- are often troubled reflections on lost love, ominous social forces or existential drift.

But celebrative it was. Martin used his lanky body expressively, writhing over the keyboard, sometimes skipping around the stage with big, ungainly hops that underscored his disregard for the etiquette of cool.

But when all is said and done, the image that remains strongest is the inspirational, communal embrace during the show's penultimate song, "In My Place." With the band and audience united in singing the refrain, it was a vision of rock after the rapture, a paradise bathed in blinding white light.

Two miracles to go.

*

Coldplay

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave.

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Price: Sold out.

Contact: (323) 850-2000

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