With so many variables going into the return of Music Midtown – How many days should it be? Which artists would attract crowds while not bankrupting promoters? Will people still care about a festival that hasn’t existed for six years? Would the weather cooperate this time? – it’s a bit amazing that Saturday’s event fired flawlessly.
That pesky Mother Nature, who received a chunk of the blame for the fizzling of the well-regarded music festival in 2005, seemed to be apologizing to Peter Conlon and the Live Nation crew, as the sun seared brightly and temperatures hovered at 80 during the day and dipped pleasantly into the 60s by the time Coldplay took the stage.
Though this was a mini version of the Music Midtowns of yore –10 bands instead of dozens, one day instead of three – and the lineup was heavy on alternative rock acts popular among twentysomethings and the musically curious, it was enough to attract tens of thousands of people.
Throughout the day, bands performed on two stages set about 200 yards apart – The Postelles, Walk the Moon, Band of Skulls, Young the Giant and Cage the Elephant on the slightly smaller Great Southeastern Music Hall Stage and The Constellations, The Joy Formidable, Manchester Orchestra, The Black Keys and Coldplay on the massive Electric Ballroom Stage.
While the younger indie bands drew impressive crowds, by the time Chris Martin and Co. arrived at 9:15 p.m. – Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” played over the speakers moments before they took the stage – it was obvious that Coldplay’s star power was the significant draw of the event.
In many ways, Coldplay was the perfect headlining choice. They’re a tremendously popular band, but not U2 or Paul McCartney mega-size. They’re stocked with an arsenal of hits, but not super-poppy and, thus, not polarizing. And, as evidenced from what appeared to be about 40,000 people lining the Meadow at Piedmont Park, their crossover appeal among generations is admirable. (Organizers didn’t release official crowd numbers as of midnight. We’ll update when we have that info.)
During the opening trio of the new “Hurts Like Heaven” and classics “Yellow” and “In My Place,” the newly buff Martin skittered around the stage, racing from his graffiti-sprayed upright piano to the mic stand, acoustic guitar strapped high on his chest.
“Thank you for everything you had to do to be here,” he said. “We publicly love playing Atlanta.”
The quartet sounded crisp and beautifully layered throughout their 80-minute set. Their stage setup was surprisingly elaborate considering they’ve only done a handful of dates this summer to promote the Oct. 24 release of “Mylo Xyloto” – including Friday night at the I Heart Radio musical buffet in Las Vegas.
Lasers, spastic lights and a massive video screen in addition to the two that flanked the stage for all of the acts highlighted many songs, and during the clip-clopping “Lost!” a cascade of colorful inflatable balls was unleashed into the audience (and these are a loyal bunch – one fan near the front had staked out her spot at 11:45 a.m. and another had been stationed since 1 p.m.).
Though the band played a handful of tunes from “Mylo” – and they all sound like instant hits – Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion didn’t neglect their catalog, even revamping “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face” into a locomotive-powered rocker.
Perhaps the rougher edge was a response to those who poke fun at Coldplay’s soft underbelly. But the band’s introspective side has produced some of its best material – “The Scientist,” “Yellow” and “Fix You,” their majestic anthem of hope poking through despair played during Saturday’s encore.
Coldplay also veered from their usual set list to say thanks to a musical influence – R.E.M.
Calling the band one of his favorites of all time who “for some crazy reason have finished,’ Martin said, humbly, that he and Coldplay wanted to play a song, “with the most respect in the world, to show how much they meant to us.”
With that came a lullaby-like rendition of “Everybody Hurts,” which didn’t sound overly rehearsed – as it shouldn’t.
Martin spent plenty of time hunched over his piano keyboard like the Peanuts’ Schroeder, but his most important playing came with the opening melody of “Viva La Vida.”
Still the band’s most lush song – and that’s saying something for these guys – it sounded slightly over modulated during Saturday’s show, odd considering the sound was so clean otherwise. But that didn’t deter the audience from singing along with the beloved “whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohhhh-a” refrain.
Coldplay closed its main set with the pensive piano ballad “Life is for Living” before returning with the melodically rich “Clocks,” the aforementioned “Fix You” and the crazy-catchy “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” its new reigning anthem that was capped with a flurry of fireworks.
Other musical moments at Music Midtown:
Though the band has existed for a decade, they’re still sort of an underground secret. They’ve sold about 2 million copies in their career, and one of their best-known songs, the softly growling “I’ll Be Your Man,” is a TV staple.
Yet the Keys have remained, steadfastly and proudly, original.
It’s a pretty incredible sound this twosome makes. Between the raw, serrated blues guitar of Auerbach and the furious pounding of Carney, it sounds as if there are at least two other players onstage (and at one point, they were joined by a keyboardist and bassist).
From “The Breaks” to “Busted,” Auerbach’s voice sounded beautifully gravelly and Carney’s drumming at the finish of the latter song set the tone for the entire set.
Though the guys did slow it down for a head-nodding stroll through the Kinks’ “Act Nice and Gentle” and Aeurbach broke out his falsetto for “Everlasting Light,” The Black Keys were at their best when stomping through their best-known song, “Tighten Up.”
While a seriousness pervades The Black Keys’ music, Auerbach and Carney aren’t humorless – demonstrated with a stage filled with such oddities as an inflatable tire and a giant dreamcatcher.
What did you think of Music Midtown? Since we couldn’t cover all of the acts, what did you think of some of the others?