BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL For the Sun-Times
Lollapalooza's Friday night headliner could hardly have been more unlike the acts that pioneered the original festival 20 years ago this summer. They were outsiders; Coldplay is one of the biggest bands in the world. They were snotty, loud and brash; Coldplay is gratingly polite. They were misfits; Coldplay's Chris Martin, the platinum-selling prince of earnest, wounded soft rock, also happens to be Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow.
Ending something of a hiatus with a handful of high-profile gigs this summer, Coldplay is preparing for the release of its still-untitled fifth album. A few of the new songs appeared here, and true to the band's risk-averse form, they already sounded refined. There was "Hurts Like Heaven" ("you use your heart as a weapon and it hurts like heaven") with a thrumming rhythm and Jonny Buckland's liquid guitar line, "Major Minus," its U2-like licks riding Will Champion's muscular beat, and "Charlie Brown," its simple synth hook and anthemic chorus the hallmarks of a surefire smash.
Lacking fireworks in their songs, Coldplay used a pinch of pyrotechnics and other stage props to boost their entertainment value. They took the stage under a shower of sparks that glittered gold, green and red, they released huge, colorful balloons to the crowd, and during several songs they deployed laser lights that danced overhead in long fingers of blue, red and green.
Most of all, since aiming to please is in Coldplay's genteel DNA, Martin and his mates played the hits, among them "Yellow," "In My Place," "Viva La Vida," and in the encore, "Clocks." The field full of fans clapped and sang and sighed along.
Here's hoping Smith Westerns were taking notes. Playing much earlier and across the field, the young locals seemed swallowed up by the Petrillo stage. Whether it was nerves or just an off day, in any case the Omori brothers exuded scant energy--and not just in comparison to Le Butcherettes, who played at the same time. When it comes to live performance, if they're going to earn the notice they've already received and win the kind of crowds they so clearly want, the Smith Westerns boys need to step up their games.
Soon after, the Kills tried to impose their brooding, black mood on the golden afternoon. With crackling programmed beats, dueling vocals and snarling guitars, Allison Mossheart and Jamie Hince make music that's best suited for club shows, sweaty, dark and late. Though Mossheart usually grabs most of the attention, here Hince's guitar was every bit as elemental to the duo's success. In "Future Starts Slow" it rose and fell like a fading siren, in "Kissy Kissy" he coaxed a hynoptic, almost sitar-like drone.
From a style perspective, the Mountain Goats were maybe the oddest match for the big festival setting. Singer and songwriter John Darnielle started recording songs years ago into a fuzzy boom box; now, with his confederates Peter Hughes (bass) and Superchunk's Jon Wurster on drums, this acoustic lineup served the Lolla throngs a helping of idiosyncratic, chin-stroking folk rock. It's safe to say, though, that most of those listening close enough to catch Darnielle's words were already members of his devoted church of enthusiasts, so they know that in Mountain Goats songs, motives are often revealed or catharsis attained in moments that may seem insignificant. Darnielle sang of the sight of wild sage blooming in the weeds or a glimpse of a certain woman standing in a doorway.