Coldplay at the Clark County Amphitheater
August 17, 2005
It’s increasingly evident to me that I’m getting old. Not in the “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” sense, as I crank the stereo as much as anyone. No, this time I’m talking about the “I’m going to a concert, which means I must get completely dolled up” sense. When I got home yesterday after work I fully had the intention of doing the whole “dolled up” thing, like I did when in my youth I frequented those hair-band concerts, but instead I opted for comfort. If that’s not a sign of getting old, I don’t know what is.
Yesterday was a day of other firsts as well – Chris & I had never seen Coldplay (arguably my favorite band) in concert, nor had we seen a show at the Clark County Amphitheater. We didn’t know what to expect of either, though our hopes were pretty high for both. One not only did not disappoint, but so far exceeded hopes that I was giddy. The other set itself up to be sublime, only to have everything come crashing in at the end. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which was which.
As we anticipated, traffic getting out of Oregon and into Washington was a royal pain. To be fair, it was rush hour, but it took forever. We parked the car and walked toward the unassuming Amphitheater with the rest of the lemmings. I mean concertgoers. I say the Amphitheater is unassuming because it’s hardly noticeable from the highway, or, frankly, from the parking lots. I’m used to giant structures like the Rose Garden in Portland or the Tacoma Dome in (ahem) Tacoma, and was unprepared for how very nearly invisible the Amphitheater is. Sure, it’s not as big as either of the two stadiums I mentioned, but it’s pretty big for being so hard to see.
We made a beeline for the bathrooms, and here I found one of the more amazing things I’ve ever encountered at a place where large numbers of people gather – a women’s bathroom with no waiting line. Seriously. None. Not one. It was like a toilet assembly line – every time a door opened, the woman who had literally just walked into the place marched into the barely vacated stall and shut the door again. I’ve never seen anything quite so remarkable in my life. (Guys, you won’t appreciate the marvel that is a women’s toilet without a line, but tell the women in your life and watch their jaws drop. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about, huh? I thought so.)
We headed for our seats at around 7:30pm, knowing the opening band, Black Mountain from Vancouver BC, was taking the stage at 7:45pm. (I’d never heard of them, but having been in an opening band once upon a time, I like to try to respect the opening band and get there early enough to at least give them a chance.)
Our seats were so much better than I thought they’d be. Chris wasn’t surprised at the proximity of the stage, as he’d counted the number of rows back we were (20) and did the visual math. Thing is, I suck at visual math, and so it wasn’t until we sat down that I realized we would be able to see expressions on musicians’ faces. Yeah, I was a little schoolgirl-ish in my response to that.
Black Mountain was fine, if a bit left-of-center from Coldplay (apparently one of the Coldplay guys likes them, which is how they got the gig – more power to ‘em). We made another bathroom break in between bands, caught up with some friends we knew were at the show, and sat back down again to await the magic.
Let me just reiterate here that I am, in fact, old. I have plenty of concert-going experience under my belt, and consider myself something of a concert-going pro. The problem with this cocksure attitude is that I haven’t been to many big rock shows in the last five years – it’s been mostly smaller clubs. So I was totally taken aback by the abundance of digital cameras around me. My experience taught me that no cameras are ever allowed into concerts, and if you want to try to sneak one in it had better be well-concealed and only unearthed once the lights go down and the security personnel can’t get at you. These brazen folks had them held aloft, snapping shots of the naked stage in full view of the security folks – who didn’t bat an eyelash. I was puzzled (especially because the large signs outside the Amphitheater list cameras as one of the things you can’t bring in – mixed messages are bad things). (The photos I've posted here are from this kind concertgoer, from the Seattle show the day before - which looked remarkably similar - except for one picture, which is noted below and from this person, from the Clark County show.)
When the lights finally went down again and Coldplay took the stage, it was nonstop amazing music for the next 1¾ hours. They are a tech-savvy band, and have a large video screen behind them that not only shows the occasional pre-shot video but also shows live shots of them at that very moment – there are video cameras stationed at various spots around the stage. The images are sometimes heavily processed, and always colorful.
The show opened with this 'countdown' screen, allowing the band members to be shadows as they entered the stage.
Here are two samples of the screen later on - sometimes it was one big picture (left), other times it was one picture repeated several times (right).
I don’t know if singer Chris Martin has someone who feeds him local information about the places they play, but during the second song, “Politik,” he ad-libbed the following lyrics (the red text is the new stuff):
Give me strength, give me believers
Give me the Ducks, give me the Beavers
Give me love, and on an on,
Give me Portland Oregon
Needless to say, the crowd loved it.
He was very chatty during the show, at one point saying, “I’m not sure where we are – should we say we’re in Portland or Vancouver or Clark County or what? Wherever we are, thanks for coming here to see us play!” At another point, directing comments to the general admission folks seated on the lawn at the back, he said that there had been a recent poll in England in which Coldplay was voted the best band to view from far away. He said it was because they weren’t handsome fellows, though he said “we sing like fucking angels.” Yes, indeed.
Left: Buckland, Martin & Berryman onstage; Right: Closeup of Martin & Berryman
The setlist from the night:
Got Put a Smile Upon Your Face
Speed of Sound
A Rush of Blood to the Head
Everything’s Not Lost
'Til Kingdom Come
Ring of Fire
Swallowed in the Sea
In My Place
Two shots of Martin on guitar - I love the one on the right.
At the end of “Yellow,” the band’s first big hit, large yellow balloons filled with yellow confetti were released from the rafters and bounced through the crowd like beach balls. When the song ended and many of the balloons remained intact, Martin said, “You can burst them now.” They apparently didn’t want to go to the next song with the damned things still floating around. The few that ended up onstage were popped enthusiastically by the neck of Chris’ guitar. Guitarist Jon Buckland attempted to pop one in the same way, but it slipped out from under the guitar’s neck like a grape and back out over the audience.
The yellow balloons as they bounced down the audience toward the stage. (photo from here)
“Til Kingdom Come” is the “hidden track” on the newest CD, “X&Y,” and was originally written for what was to be Johnny Cash’s next American Recordings CD with Rick Rubin. As Johnny died before he got to record the song, Coldplay reclaimed it as their own. Martin has said in interviews about the song that there’s no way they could just sing the song without telling the Johnny Cash story, because there are lyrics in it that they could never get away with – namely the “wheels just keep on turning/The drummer begins to drum” bit. I think he might be exaggerating, but I can hear Cash singing the song easily. It would have fit well. They segued from a near-Cash song into the real thing with their rendition of “Ring of Fire,” which came off quite well – better than I would have expected.
The setup the band uses for this pair of songs is cozy. A small keyboard is set up at the very front of the stage, and the drummer Will Champion comes up to play it. Buckland stands just to his right, Martin (playing an acoustic guitar) stands just to his left, and the bass player Guy Berryman actually sits down on the floor just behind where Champion is sitting, only getting up for the harmonica bits. (“Don’t Panic” is in the same cozy setup, though Martin hands over acoustic duties to Berryman.) It’s a sweet intimate setting, perfectly showcasing how well these four guys seem to get along. There are several points during the show when Martin calls out to Buckland on the other side of the stage, or gestures to him in some kind of inside joke. At times, the camaraderie is so evident it’s like you’re watching a band rehearse.
The intimate acoustic setting (Martin isn't visible here, he's on the other side of Berryman who's playing harmonica).
It’s not often that a band does every song I’m there to hear, and this was no exception – though they played nearly every major label song I adore (there are plenty of unreleased gems, but they didn’t play a single thing that wasn’t on a major label release – with the exception of “Ring of Fire,” of course). Martin has said in interviews that the band thinks “Fix You” is the best song they’ve ever written, and it’s a great show-closer. It’s the only time (to my knowledge) that all four band members sing at the same time, and it’s a glorious sound. Truly a wonderful note on which to end a wonderful evening.
Left: During "Fix You," the screen showed each band member as they did their four-part harmony; Right: Martin applauding the audience
Oh, but it doesn’t quite end there, does it? No, no – as far as you’re concerned, we’re still in our seats at the Amphitheater, watching the haze from the fog machine drift away from the stage. Ordinarily, that’d be a fine place to be, and a perfectly acceptable way to end a concert review. But this, my friends, was not an ordinary evening.
We walked – quickly – back to our car and then dove into a line of cars which we thought was just waiting for an opening in the long line of departing vehicles. We thought there would be a wait, to be sure, but maybe something along the lines of 20-25 minutes at the most. We proceeded to wait in that parking area – no more than twenty feet from our original parking space – for very nearly two hours. We watched as a fire truck, an ambulance and then a tow truck arrived, but never knew where they were going. We still have no earthly idea what the giant holdup was, but we could have watched the entire concert over again in the time that we sat in the parking lot. I have never been, nor do I ever plan to be, one of those people who leaves a show early to beat the traffic – but in the future, if I see another show at the Clark County Amphitheater, I’ll be taking advantage of that bus they advertise on their website. Now I know why they’re pushing it so hard…
Still, the nasty (man, that doesn’t even come close to describing it, really) traffic as we tried to leave didn’t diminish how great Coldplay was live. I’m looking forward to the next time they come to town, and you can bet I’ll be bringing my camera.
Thanks to a kind friend who agreed to edit this. You think it's long now? You should've seen it before...
21 August Update: You can find more pictures from the Clark County show here. I also forgot to mention the final nail in the "I'm an old concertgoer" coffin - during "Fix You" I turned around to see that only a few people were holding lighters aloft... Most people were holding their open CELL PHONES with the lit screens toward the stage.