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A U.K. DOUBLE PLAY

Coldplay and Richard Ashcroft/Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J./March 25, 2006

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Every few years, music seems to birth a new band from England that is hailed as the beginning of the next British Invasion.

Richard Ashcroft‘s old band, The Verve, once looked to be the next big thing to invade the United States. The Verve did achieve brief success in 1997 with its release of Urban Hymns, mostly due to its catchy smash single, “Bittersweet Symphony.”

Now a solo artist and out in support of his new release, Keys to the World, Ashcroft finds himself opening for perhaps England’s biggest young band, Coldplay (above) — and playing before an audience of varying ages.

“I apologize for my language,” Ashcroft said after dropping an F-bomb midway through the show. “It’s not my fault; it’s called Tourette’s.”

Ashcroft and his band ripped through a solid 45-minute set that included songs from all three of his solo albums, but Verve tracks “Lucky Man,” “The Drugs Don’t Work” and the set-closing “Bittersweet Symphony” were best received by the crowd.

Then it was Coldplay’s turn. Riding high on the success of their two previous hit albums (2000’s Parachutes and 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head), the band is an arena headliner as it promotes last year’s X&Y. Coldplay drew heavily from the newest record, and many of its songs seem suited for large venues, but the audience responded best to better-known older selections such as “The Scientist,” “Clocks” and “In My Place,” all of which remain radio staples.

Outside of “Speed of Sound” and the show’s finale, “Fix You,” the new material was lost on much of the crowd. The poor pacing of the set list contributed to that feeling. Coldplay connected well early with “Politik,” “Yellow,” and “God Put a Smile on Your Face,” but followed them up with slower numbers such as “What If” and “Trouble,” which brought the fans off their feet and into their seats.

During a stripped-down segment at the front of the stage, drummer Will Champion took over on piano and bassist Guy Berryman handled harmonica, while Chris Martin and Jon Buckland played guitars on “Til Kingdom Come,” — a song they wrote following the death of Johnny Cash — and then quickly went into Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire.”

“Without hesitation, I can list three great Americans,” Martin said. “One being Jay-Z, who is here tonight. Two, Michael Stipe, who is also here tonight. And three, Johnny Cash, who is unfortunately no longer with us.”

Martin proved to be an engaging front man, hamming it up with the audience — even when playing guitar or piano — and exudes passion and excitement for the songs. During the encore, on “In My Place,” the daring singer decided to make a sprint to the sound stage at the end of the arena floor to lead the crowd in a sing-along, only to make a mad dash back to stage to safety.

If the rest of the band could better feed off his enthusiasm, Coldplay might truly be ready to play big venues such as this one.

— By Michael Corby