The evening was started off by three blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sets by cabaret pop chanteuse Nellie McKay, locals The Like (Pretenders-inspired rock outfit) and Keaton Simons (bluesy folk rock balladeer).
Surprise guest, solo singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur followed in the grand tradition of previous years’ last-minute additions Badly Drawn Boy and Beck. Arthur, a veritable one-man-band, employed a multitude of distortion pedals and series of loops similar to contemporaries Jon Brion and Howie Day. Even though Arthur’s poignant yet grounded set was a mere three songs long, it left a lasting impression.
The most compelling sets of the evening (besides the outstanding Coldplay) came from Aqualung (aka Matt Hales), Atlanta-based classic soul crooner Van Hunt and delicate singer-songwriter Paul Buchanan (of Blue Nile).
British import Aqualung displayed deliciously crisp melodies and lullaby-like ballads that sweetly settled somewhere between a more introspective Coldplay and a kinder Radiohead – making for a quiet but captivating 30-minute set.
The instant Van Hunt took the stage at the sold out Amphitheatre and electric energy led the way for a set that was a sultry slip back in time. Traces of Curtis Mayfield, Prince, Marvin Gaye and Sly and the Family Stone rumbled beneath the surface, then met at a crossroads and overflowed throughout every moment of the slick performance.
Less effective than previous "Eclectic" Latin acts Ozomatli and Kinky was Café Tacuba, a boisterous Mexican collective. And although a crowd favorite, their 45-minute set proved unsavory as the spastic lead singer shouted and ran circles around his fellow bandmates.
Somewhere around 10 p.m., Paul Buchanan showed off his soothing sounds. Although Buchanan is a masterful songwriter, the soft, sleepy nature of the performance proved the late time slot to be too late in the evening as many in the crowd were nearly lulled to sleep.
Then the moment that everyone was waiting for finally arrived and Coldplay took the stage for a triumphant return. Opening the set with a new track and closing with their first hit single "Yellow," the set was perfect start to finish. Frontman Chris Martin banged out well-known anthems "Clocks" and "Politik," and true to his energetic nature, bounced around stage working his infallible charm and pitch-perfect vocals.
Although new tracks "White Shadows," "A Message" and "Square One" have yet to show their appeal in the pop market, the reaction from KCRW fans proved that the new album has great potential for thrusting Coldplay to legendary band status.