once just another cool export, COLDPLAY is now the hottest band out of the u.k.-and they're only getting warmed up

Coldplay’s Chris Martin is all wet. In honor of his band’s final few hours in America, the fates have decreed that New York City be drenched by one of those veddy British-seeming rainstorms. Speed-walking through the downpour sans umbrella, the lanky Martin ducks into a midtown Manhattan luncheonette and plops onto a stool. A Londoner to the core, he makes no mention of the inclement weather.

In a little over an hour, Coldplay will cap off their recent eight-week U.S. tour by performing their current single, ”In My Place,” before the Late Night With Conan O’Brien audience at the nearby NBC studios before jetting back home to the U.K. Sipping ginger ale and impassively surveying the rain-slicked streets outside the window, Martin admits he’s bone weary: ”I really feel a bit spent, like an actor after a long day of porn shooting.”

Still, Martin says, it’s a good sort of tiredness, like when the endorphins kick in after a strenuous stretch of exercise — or copulation. And he does find America to be an ”amazing place.” Just about everyone he’s met here, from fans to promoters to record-company worker bees, has been ”unbelievably cool” to him and his mates.

One thing about this particular Stateside jaunt, however, sticks in his craw. ”Thom Yorke ignored me at a hotel in Los Angeles,” he says. ”I was secretly a bit gutted. I’m sure he recognized me. I always look at it like we’re in a big musical high school and Radiohead is in the year above us and they still haven’t come and sat with us at lunch.”

Lesson one: High school never ends. That fact, at least, is no different for rock stars than for mere mortals. Just like cool seniors invariably view overachieving juniors with a mix of wariness and condescension, so too must established, critically venerated rock bands look at their fresher-faced competitors with suspicion. And right now, Coldplay are in roughly the position Radiohead were in four years ago, when the latter released their breakthrough album, OK Computer: They’re the young Brits with the buzz, the band that hipsters are rushing to claim as their own, a soulfully smart group that’s mixing art and pop and rock in judicious, satisfying measures. Coldplay — who take their name from a book of poetry, Child’s Reflections, Cold Play — haven’t yet gone all difficult and challenging on us, as Radiohead did with Kid A and Amnesiac. ”Our aim is to be a big pop band,” admits Martin. With two terrific, subtly hooky albums under their belts, the four are succeeding admirably.

As for Thom ”Cold Shoulder” Yorke — well, as Martin says, ”all our other favorite bands, like U2 and Oasis, have been great to us.”

Take that, Kid T.

The other members of Coldplay all share Martin’s favorable impressions of the USA — aside from the occasional grouse about the quality of the food. ”I miss English bacon,” complains bassist Guy Berryman. ”Over here, you’ve got this sort of streaky bacon in strips; it’s not at all the same. Also, you can’t escape cheese in America — they seem to put it on everything.” And Americans have certainly taken the band to their collective bosom. Let’s rewind our tale a week, to the evening of Sept. 19 and the lovefest that was Coldplay’s show under the stars at New York’s Jones Beach. With some 10,000 devoted fans in attendance, it was Coldplay’s largest headlining gig ever. The band delivered a corking good set, a grab-bag assortment of tunes from their two albums, 2000’s Parachutes and the recently released A Rush of Blood to the Head, which debuted to critical raves and is steadily raising Coldplay from impressive imports to bona fide Stateside rock stars. Each song — the fantastically mellow ”Yellow,” the chill-inducing ”Shiver,” the time-stopping ”Clocks,” and more — was greeted like an old friend by the enthusiastic crowd. Coldplay’s onstage demeanor also effectively debunked the notion that they are, in Martin’s words, a bunch of ”miserable bastards from England.” Belying the music’s surface seriousness, Martin reveals himself to be a regular cutup on stage, singing snatches of Nelly’s ”Hot in Herre,” goofing on drummer Will Champion’s ostensible resemblance to Justin Timberlake, bouncing and pogoing and reeling around with a strange sort of spastic grace. When he sits down at the piano and starts pumping and jumping, his manic leaps and lurches make him the logical successor to Elton John, if not Jerry Lee Lewis, in the ranks of orgasmic piano pounders.