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Venue: The Forum, Inglewood (Monday, July 14)

Coldplay is striving for arena-rock epic greatness, but it's not there yet.

Still, the British band turned in a solid performance, with only a few misfires, in launching its North American tour Monday night at the Forum.

The quartet is good; it's just not consistently great. There's a lot of heart but little wallop, and that's where the group came up short.

Coldplay certainly has all the right elements: a personable frontman in singer Chris Martin, inventive guitar work from Johnny Buckland and a skillful rhythm section in bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion. Add a knack for warm-and-fuzzy songs and a social conscience (reps from Oxfam America were on site), and it should all add up.

Despite some free concerts in June that served as warm-up shows, the band was in work-out-the-kinks mode Monday. The Forum isn't known for pristine sound -- far from it -- but technology has improved, and yet the mix was surprisingly muddy, even shrill at times.

There was some gimmicky staging, with lasers right out of 1978 and dangling video globes and raining confetti that seemed more suited to the Hannah Montana set than Coldplay's adult audience, which also was heavily female.

The nearly 90-minute show kicked off with the instrumental "Life in Technicolor," which leads off Coldplay's chart-topping new album "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" (Capitol). But the song is all buildup with no payoff, music in search of a film soundtrack. The band followed with the McCartneyesque current single "Violet Hill," which gave way to a gliding rendition of the older "Clocks" and head-bobbing "In My Place."

Frequently employing backing tracks -- they couldn't just recruit a tour keyboardist? -- allowed Martin to work the crowd with his spastic hopping about, the entire band making good use of catwalks jutting from each side of the stage into the arena floor.

The sold-out crowd was pumped up and ready for every ooh-ahh sing-along opportunity, like the new "Viva la Vida," and also went wild for all those Martin piano ballads of romantic introspection.

Some of the new material came off as clumsy and didn't click, but just when it looked like things might falter, the band got its act together, scaling down for a bittersweet "Trouble" and a slightly awkward though still crowd-pleasing "Speed of Sound." The ringing "Talk" was missing in action, though, and should be added to the set list.

A definite highlight came with one of the simplest moments as the band walked the floor toward the rear of the arena and headed upstairs to the back corner colonnade for a rearranged, gentle acoustic version of the swelling ballad "Yellow" and the folksy "Death Will Never Conquer" -- a free download on the group's Web site right now -- with drummer Champion on lead vocals. The two songs brought the group and audience together more than all the light and video trappings and layered backing tracks earlier in the evening.

The night's final numbers included an overdone "Fix You," with a church organ opening, and the galloping, U2-styled "Lovers in Japan," which came close to that epic heroism Coldplay is shooting for and just might achieve as the tour continues.

Set list:
"Life in Technicolor"
"Violet Hill"
"Clocks"
"In My Place"
"Viva la Vida"
"42"
"Yes"
"The Scientist"
"Chinese Sleep Chant"
"God Put a Smile Upon Your Face"
"Square One"
"Speed of Sound"
"Trouble"
"Lost!"
"Strawberry Swing"
"Yellow"
"Death Will Never Conquer"
"Fix You"
"Lovers in Japan"
"Death and All His Friends"
"The Escapist"
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