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Review: Coldplay goes big — well, bigger — at the Rose Bowl

Review: Coldplay goes big — well, bigger — at the Rose Bowl
Coldplay performs Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

"The world is more friendly than you think."

That was one of the feel-good aphorisms Chris Martin dispensed Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, just before he led his band Coldplay in "Everglow," a gently rolling piano ballad about the connection that can link two people even after a breakup.

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The song — from Coldplay's most recent album, last year's "A Head Full of Dreams" — is widely assumed to describe Martin's relationship with his ex-wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, from whom he "consciously uncoupled" (to use their oft-quoted neologism) in 2014.

But at the Rose Bowl, in front of a huge audience in the tens of thousands, Martin was widening the song's scope, reframing "Everglow" as a kind of prayer for reconciliation in battle-scarred places like Orlando, Fla., Germany and Baton Rouge, La. He asked the crowd to send "good vibes" to the people of those areas — people whose faith in others had been shaken — and fans responded by swaying to the music as meaningfully as they could.

Nudging (or maybe bulldozing) the personal toward the universal: It was a classic Coldplay gesture, the type that's made this British quartet one of the few rock bands in the world capable of filling a stadium at a moment when shifting tastes and a transforming industry have forced many groups to downsize.

Coldplay itself went small two years ago with "Ghost Stories," a collection of muted electro-pop tunes set in the immediate aftermath of Martin's separation. The band didn't do much to promote the album (which still debuted at No. 1), nor did Coldplay take the record on the road in its usual fashion. In Los Angeles, where Martin now lives part-time, the group's brief "Ghost Stories" tour stopped at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus — basically a closet as far as these guys are concerned.

Now Coldplay is living large again. Saturday's show was the first of two at the Rose Bowl behind "A Head Full of Dreams," which looks past trauma to find hope in deeply earnest songs tricked out with swaggering hip-hop beats, sleek disco grooves, even a guest vocal turn by Beyoncé.

Big turned bigger onstage as the band opened the two-hour production with a hurtling rendition of the album's U2-ish title track accompanied by fireworks bursting in the night sky. During "Yellow," the moony love song that brought Coldplay its first major hit in 2000, illuminated wristbands distributed to concertgoers at the venue's gates blinked in time to the music.

"Paradise" had a thumping EDM outro that temporarily transformed the show into an open-air mega-rave. And Martin pulled a variation on his "Everglow" trick in "Adventure of a Lifetime," which appears to address his recent romance with Jennifer Lawrence but played here like a generalized exhortation — to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, to go for that promotion, to finish that jigsaw puzzle or whatever else.

At one point the singer thanked the audience for coming out, admitting that folks might easily have stayed home to watch the Olympics instead of putting up with Rose Bowl traffic. But he was clearly determined to make this a worthy competitor to the spectacle in Rio.

Another band currently filling spaces this size is Guns N' Roses, which stopped for two nights at Dodger Stadium last week. And though the groups are about as far apart as two rock acts can be, watching both in quick succession can make one think about how willing each is to become a cartoon as a way of getting its message across.

For Guns N' Roses, that means images of bare-breasted women and Axl Rose's super-human screech to sell songs about pursuing pleasure beyond reason. For Coldplay it was a pair of angel wings superimposed on Martin's onscreen self as he sang "Magic," about how he still believes in love despite having had his heart broken.

Or it was the frontman tucking an American flag into his waistband during "Hymn for the Weekend" and sprinting down a long runway connecting the main stage to a smaller platform, stars and stripes flapping behind him like some vapor trail of open-border patriotism.

Sometimes all this much-ness had a paradoxical dulling effect. You can only see so many Roman candles explode before you start wondering if Southern California really needs more smoke in the atmosphere. And Coldplay's hyper-detailed new songs could make stripped-down oldies like "The Scientist" and "In My Place" sound a bit dreary in comparison.

But as the band closed with the indefatigable optimism of "Up & Up" — which had Martin tweaking a lyric to refer specifically to L.A. — you couldn't deny that Coldplay was providing a valuable public service.

This was all-purpose uplift ready for anyone to wear.

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Twitter: @mikaelwood

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