Ron Sexsmith – Miami – The Convocation Center @ University of Miami, FL – 2003-01-22

Ron Sexsmith
Where: Miami – The Convocation Center @ University of Miami, FL.

When: 2003-01-22

South Florida has long been a wasteland without live independent music, a no-man’s land where small venue bands feared to tour due to both a perceived lack of local support and the heavy expense of driving the long distance through Florida to reach a supposedly disinterested audience. Recently, however, things have begun to change for the better. Tired of being snubbed and inspired by the success of such homegrown heroes as Dashboard Confessional, Further Seems Forever, and Rocking Horse Winner, local promoters began making concerted efforts to attract national acts to the area. The results have been exemplary. In the past six months, Guided By Voices, Bright Eyes, The Strokes, Hot Hot Heat, The Juliana Theory, Piebald, Hey Mercedes, and Taking Back Sunday have all made their way down and played in front of large and appreciative audiences.

But Coldplay is another story entirely. Despite their surging popularity, the British alt-pop quartet remains, much like Radiohead and R.E.M., a college radio mainstay rather than a FM rock juggernaut, more CMJ and NME than Spin or Rolling Stone. They are exactly the sort of mid-level act that South Florida has been unable to attract since the Cameo Theatre on Miami Beach stopped hosting live rock shows in the early 90s. But with the opening of the Convocation Center on the campus of the University of Miami a few weeks ago, South Florida’s music community might finally have the venue they desperately needed and wanted for so many years.

And what a way to kick things off! Opening the show was Canadian troubadour Ron Sexsmith who was backed by a solid trio that seemed to be well in touch with his stirring, emotional songs. To be honest, I am not familiar with his music, and judging from the rather quiet reception he received, not many in attendance were either. That’s a shame because Sexmith put on a dignified, somewhat subdued performance, his gentle and distinctive voice was earnest and sweet, perfectly steering the mostly mid-tempo folky material he played. His set was a bit short, only about 35 minutes worth, but it was a welcome surprise, and it seemed obvious by the end as the applause grew increasingly louder that Sexsmith was able to make quite an impression and even some converts.

But inevitably the night belonged to Coldplay. Playing before an eager and enthusiastic sold-out audience, they delivered a mesmerizing and emotionally charged performance that left even their most cynical fans dazzled and amazed. Hitting the stage amid a hypnotic barrage of white strobe lights, the band opened with the tense rocker “Politik,” instantly captivating the crowd with their manic intensity and heartfelt sincerity. Capitalizing on that potent sense of urgency, they then threw themselves into a rousing version of “Shiver” that drew a thunderous applause before settling into the eerie and spectral groove of “Spies.” The band was tight, focused, and remarkably spontaneous as they traveled from one majestic sonic peak to another, choosing judiciously from both their glistening debut Parachutes and their current release, the more accomplished A Rush of Blood to the Head. I was pleasantly surprised by their aggressive energy and the way that they relentlessly attacked their set. Jonny Buckland’s inventive, atmospheric guitar was much darker and louder that I had expected, lending some welcome bombast to the proceedings, while Guy Berryman’s smooth lines and Will Champion’s tight drumming supplied the perfect feel for the graceful dynamics of “Don’t Panic,” “The Scientist,” and especially “In My Place.”

Much has been written about vocalist Chris Martin, his fear of performing before large audiences and his supposed reluctance to embrace the spotlight. But on this night he proved without any shadow of doubt that he was a true rock star in the making. This last observation may seem silly and irrelevant to some, but it doesn’t change the fact that all eyes in the arena seemed to be drawn to Martin as iron filings to a magnet. Charming, irreverent, uninhibited, he was every bit the showman, demanding the rapt attention of the crowd from the moment he hit the stage, a whirlwind of frantic motion, his soulful voice – part hopeless romantic, part world-weary cynic – washing over the crowd in warm soaring waves. It doesn’t hurt that Martin and the rest of his mates are so obviously honest and sincere with their music or that striking and memorable melodies seem to come naturally to him. There is an aura of vulnerability about him, tempered with an open-eyed innocence and inspiring hopefulness that many listeners find refreshing. At one point during a jazzed-up version of the smoky lounge tune “Everything’s Not Lost,” Martin cajoled the crowd into taking over his vocal duties, which they did so eagerly, resulting in one of those spontaneous and carefree moments that only occur when large groups of people leave their burdens and worries behind and come together as one voice. It made for a glorious and magical musical moment.

As for the Convocation Center, it passed its first major test with flying colors. The sound system and acoustics were absolutely tremendous, combining to deliver a crisp, clean mix that reverberated wonderfully throughout the arena. Having attended so many small club shows over the past couple of years, I had almost forgotten how powerful a well-choreographed arena show could be. Particularly impressive was Coldplay’s fantastic lighting, which ranged from soft, serene green and purple pastels to piercingly bright and vibrant reds and yellows. The timing between the lights and the music was impeccable, lending the music a theatric quality that served well to heighten the tension and drama. There was no better example of this than on “Yellow,” the insanely catchy tune that catapulted the band into stardom, but that seemed to take on a greater force and depth with the stage bathed in varying hues of golden light. Coldplay also showed a flair for originality by mounting four cameras on the front of the stage, which projected individual black and white images of the band members on four separate screens suspended above and behind the drums. The images were in real time, allowing people in the back rows and in the upper rafters to get a better view of the terrific performance on stage. While this was enthralling, unique, and visually breathtaking for a few songs, the novelty eventually wore off. Fortunately, the images were in the back, well above the band, so they never became a distraction.

If there were any complaints to be made, it would be that the band predictably withheld their most familiar material until the encore, making the ending a tad anti-climatic. Still, with such pretty pop-rock gems as “Clocks” and the stunning “Trouble” to close things out, how could one complain? As Martin himself put it, “That was a nice way to start the life of this building.” Here’s hoping that life is prosperous and long-lived.