Intensity equals success

I wish I could start my article on Coldplay by talking about how much I know about music, and how Coldplay is a generic rock band that has somehow made it big through good looks and major-label support. But as Coldplay’s “Swallowed in the Sea” eases its way through my fluffy headphones, I slowly come to the realization that I can’t trash them. I smile wide as I catch myself trying to find something wrong with the track. Unfortunately for me, I can’t find anything wrong. In three minutes and 59 seconds, I hear excellent group chemistry, decent technical skills, catchy songwriting, and, most importantly, musical intensity.

This final skill is exactly what makes Coldplay so darn good and contagious. Sure, singer Chris Martin may accent his S’s and T’s a little too hard, bassist Guy Berryman may lose time every now and then, and guitarist Johnny Buckland might buzz on the guitar, but dammit, they are simply cooking with musical intensity.

So what is it that makes Coldplay one of the biggest bands in the world? What is it about Coldplay’s records that sells? How are they able to pack basketball arenas and festivals around the world? Sure, being on a major label and getting music videos and radio play all help, but how did they get there? There has to be something more than distribution advantages that make them so universally acclaimed.

I found my answers at the Coldplay concert at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena last Monday night. After months and months of touring on the same set list, you’d think the band would be dead out of energy, and this would be another stop on the road. Then add on the boredom of a Monday-night gig in Cleveland. But somehow the band came out, and put every drop of energy they had into the performance. It felt like Coldplay’s farewell performance: that night, there would be nothing left to give to music.

At the beginning of “Talk,” Chris Martin slams his piano fervently as his shiny white sneakers twitch with delight. By the end of the number, he is leaning so far back in his chair that his head is nearly touching the ground, his feet flailing in the air. Simply phenomenal drummer Will Champion eloquently bangs the crap out of his drums during “Fix You.” With syncopated strokes on the tightly tuned snare drum and flurries of cymbal, he is the epitome of graceful intensity that the group has mastered.

Within this graceful intensity and carpe diem approach to music lies the answer to my questions. Each Coldplay song, each performance, makes you feel like it is their last. The music is dripping with energy and passion. Sound cheesy? Simply put, most people listen to music that is played with intensity. In this respect, Coldplay is simply perfect: They have musical and emotional intensity. Coldplay sounds like no one else. Coldplay’s use of both pianos and synthesizers gives them a unique mix between classic rock, blues, and new wave electronic music. Martin’s smooth voice adds a pop twist to the equation, while Champion’s drumming maintains the elegance of jazz drumming and the energetic intensity of a rock musician. The resulting product of these factors make Coldplay a treat to listen to.

It is this blend that Coldplay have concocted that frequently weeds out the talented musicians from the ones who only last for their 15 minutes of fame. While jazz musicians are often too focused on fast licks and scales and hard rockers are often too fixed on playing loudly, Coldplay is on their way to finding the right balance between well-crafted songs, satisfactory musical technique, and energetic delivery. And as Coldplay continues to grow, they continue to set higher and higher standards for up-and-coming groups. In fact, the most important group of musicians to pick up from Coldplay’s style is actually the indie rockers. Although they lack the talented production team and state-of-the-art technology to which Coldplay have access, groups like The Arcade Fire and The Fiery Furnaces are being recognized as creative in their compositions, above-average in their technical prowess, and, above all, passionate in their performances. Like Coldplay, these and other indie rock groups perform fabulous live shows because of their energy. They are engaging visual performers and energetic musicians.