I do not claim to be a music critic. I know what I like and I like less and less new music these days, secure in the old alt country standbys and venturing into some occasional new rock and roll and even less frequently rap.  I keep up with few bands and purchase even fewer new CDs. Bands like Wilco, Son Volt, U2…these bands require release day purchases and concert tickets. So too do Coldplay. I’ve held off on writing about Coldplay’s newest album Viva la Vida since its release because, quite simply, I don’t often review albums. However, I could not ignore the fountain of spirituality flowing from this new album. Seeing them in concert over the weekend, helped push me through the writer’s block.

Walking into the Hp Pavilion in San Jose on Friday night, we were accosted by three or four “street preachers” (I use that phrase loosely). Actually, they were armed with a bullhorn through which they condemned everyone present and signs that read either “GOD THROWS THE SIN AND THE SINNER INTO HELL” or “JESUS SAVES.” They accused random strangers of any number of things ranging from pre-marital sex to drunkenness and drug use. I find it interesting that they were “preaching” outside the concert of a band whose lead singer, Chris Martin, is often quite open about his Christian upbringing and his struggles with the more traumatizing conservative aspects of it, as in a recent Rolling Stone interview, “The Jesus of Uncool.” Far from abandoning it totally, he comes across in interviews as someone trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of a theological or spiritual worldview.  Ironically, it sounds like these street preachers were the equivalent of some of the religious fanatics from whom Martin might still be recovering. On the other hand, these street preachers would have most likely been condemning DC Talk or Michael W. Smith concert-goers as well.

Coldplay took the stage, as I thought they would, to “Life in Technicolor,” the instrumental that also opens their latest album. It seems that the band has concert performances in mind when recording albums because they opened a 2005 show with the first track from their then latest album X & Y, “Square One.”

The rest of Friday night’s show was a great mix of old and new, going back and forth from Viva la Vida tracks (“42,” “Lost,” “Strawberry Swing,” “Violet Hill,” “Lovers in Japan,” and “Viva la Vida”) to several from A Rush of Blood to the Head (“Clocks,” “Politik,” and “In My Place”)and X & Y (“Speed of Sound,” “Square One,” and “Fix You”). Not surprisingly, the only song they played from Parachutes was “Yellow.” The crowd sang the entire first verse before Martin even approached the microphone. On “42,” Martin messed up the final line and then sang, “Oh, I made a mistake/but that’s ok/they’re forgiven in San Jose.”

One of the first things that struck me about seeing Coldplay live in 2005 was that they seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience.  While cynics might say that they damn well better at $80 a ticket, I still sensed this appreciation at the show over the weekend.  Though some critics say that Martin occasionally comes off as cocky, in many interviews, he still evidences an inability to comprehend or believe the popularity and acclaim that has befallen them. I think the highlight of Friday night’s show evidences this attitude as well. Towards the end of the set, Martin said, “I’m tired of playing on this end of the arena.” He and the rest of the band then stepped off the stage, ran through the floor seats, and climbed up into the stands one row over from where we sat to sing two songs before they returned for two encores.

This unexpected relocation highlighted a great show from the stage design to the lighting and even Martin’s constant marionette puppet-like dancing.  While Coldplay’s music has consistently translated well to large, sold-out venues, I feel like their latest album demands closer, more intimate listening.  The great music aside, I am intrigued by the lyrics of many of the songs on the new album.  There’s a spiritual component to these lyrics that shouldn’t be missed while driving around the car or being absorbed by a laser light show and vibrant stage performances.

In “42,” Martin laments, “Those who are dead are not dead/They’re just living in my head.” One of the great aspects of this song is its transition from a tone akin to mourning to a more ridiculing one: “You thought you might be a ghost/You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close.”

In “Cemeteries of London,” we hear: “At night they would go walking ‘till the breaking of the day,/The morning is for sleeping/Through the dark streets they go searching to see God in their own way/Save the nighttime for your weeping….” The song continues: “God is in the houses and God is in my head/and all the cemeteries in London/I see God come in my garden, but I don’t know what he said/For my heart it wasn’t open….”

In “Yes!,” Martin almost moans: “When it started we were alright/But night makes a fool/of us in the daylight. Then we were dying of frustration/Saying Lord lead me not into temptation/But it’s not easy when she turns you on/Sin, stay gone. If you’d only, if you’d only say yes/Whether you will’s anybody’s guess/God only God knows I’m trying my best/But I’m just so tired of this loneliness.”

“Lost” seems to capture the darker aspects of a spiritual journey, but the lyrics’ meaning changes with two different rhythms on the album.  We could almost hear this as a critical response to the damning street preachers stalking the streets of San Jose.  It’s definitely worth concluding in full here:

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop
Doesn’t mean I will cross

Just because I’m hurting
Doesn’t mean I’m hurt
Doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I deserve
No better and no worse

I just got lost
Every river that I’ve tried to cross
And every door I ever tried was locked
Ooh-Oh, And I’m just waiting till the shine wears off…

You might be a big fish
In a little pond
Doesn’t mean you’ve won
‘Cause along may come
A bigger one
And you’ll be lost

Every river that you tried to cross
Every gun you ever held went off
Ooh-Oh, And I’m just waiting till the firing starts
Ooh-Oh, And I’m just waiting till the shine wears off
Ooh-Oh, And I’m just waiting till the shine wears off