For about 2,100 lucky Coldplay fans who got to attend the band’s Austin City Limits taping Thursday night, the weekend’s Austin City Limits Festival started a little early — and New Year’s Eve came way ahead of schedule. The capacity crowd at the long-running PBS show’s new shared taping/live performance venue, dubbed ACL Live at the Moody Theater, helped the band count down to midnight and ring in 2012, despite the Sept. 15 date and temps in the 90s. Turns out the show will air on Dec. 31, presumably near the midnight hour.
Even before that point, audience members hitting the three-day festival likely decided to head toward Kanye West’s set Friday night; no need for them to try viewing the Brit band from half a mile away after witnessing their tremendously energetic ACL performance. The show, now recording its 37th season (which kicks off October 1), even accommodated at least part of Coldplay’s stage set – which included the audience – during their taping, the band’s second ACL segment in six years.
The graffiti that inspired Coldplay’s upcoming album, Mylo Xyloto (out Octber 25) morphed into the stage’s day-glo splatter motif, decorating lead singer Chris Martin’s upright piano, the drum riser and even the band’s guitars in amped-up pastel colors, and T-shirts with glow-in-the-dark symbols taken from the album art were given to floor-level audience members. After a kinetic “Viva La Vida,” fueled by drummer Will Champion’s center-stage tom-and tympani-pounding, and everywhere-at-once Chris Martin’s vocals, the T-shirts went on, the countdown began and confetti flew. Then a matching backdrop resembling a Rube Goldberg contraption (think OK Go’s video, only more primitive and still) came down.
By then, the band had run through half a dozen tunes from the new album (“Hurts Like Heaven,” ‘Major Minus,” “Charlie Brown” and the world debut of a beautifully falsetto-filled “Up in Flames” among them) as well as their biggest hits. With pants tucked into all-terrains that gave them a combat-booted look, the well-rehearsed foursome played tight arrangements of “Yellow,” “In My Place,” “Lost!,” “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face,” a sharp-edged “Violet Hill” and “The Scientist,” frequently evoking an only slightly less anthemic U2, right down to Jonny Buckland’s chiming, Edge-like guitarwork.
“It means a lot to us to be playing ‘Austin City Limits’ for the second time,” a buff-looking Martin announced. “We play a lot of places where they never invite us back!” After complimenting the audience, then joking that they say that to all their TV audiences in an effort to pander for appreciation, he added, “It’s tough when you’re from England. Nobody likes you anyway. … Hope your Christmas was OK.”
Spinning, jumping from foot to foot like a boxer and careening from piano to mini-organ to acoustic and electric guitars, Martin stayed in motion, the band and crew moving seamlessly around him. Cursing as he forgot the words to a new song, “Us Against the World,” he and the band plowed on through, never losing momentum. With masterful, gorgeous renditions of “Clocks,” “Fix You” and the closer, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” they reinforced the fact that even self-proclaimed geeks can “rule the world” – or at least, its greatest stages.