There’s only one way to adequately describe this gig: It glowed. The visuals, the music, the vibe…it all GLOWED. This was one of the most gratifying live sets we’d ever experienced, beginning to end, and it was miles beyond what we experienced at the 2003 show. The live set was generous, greatly entertaining, and emotionally satisfying. This tour was in support for their latest colorful offering, A Head Full of Dreams. The tour also served as the proper tour for Ghost Stories as well, released 2 years prior with only a handful of promotional concerts booked. We couldn’t NOT see this concert, as my wife and I were big fans of the previous 3 albums, and it had been over a decade since we last saw Coldplay in concert during the Rush of Blood Tour. Chris Martin had said in an interview that Coldplay was finally at a stage in their careers where they could construct a more than solid setlist. “I think we’re just about at the point in our career where we can get through a concert without playing anything shit. Only now. If we put all our amazing songs together that covers about 20 minutes. Then fill the rest with just pretty good ones.” I think he was still downplaying the quality and staying power of their material, because almost all of those 22 selections were anthemic, emotional rollercoaster sing-alongs. There were several points where we were either misty eyed or fully wept like sissies. Only Morrissey has been able to do that to me in a live setting. These sentimental songs and this stage production were made for stadiums. It was a big show, yet intimate, refreshing, colorful, vibrant, and kaleidoscopic. It’s like we were bathed in color throughout the whole show. It had all the bells and whistles of an riveting outdoor gig. Add energetic yet earnest performers, plus 2 hours of emotionally and spiritually satisfying music and you’ve got a unforgettable concert, easily in my top 3 gigs of all time up to this point. To those with little familiarity with this group, what is the music of Coldplay you might ask? Imagine hugging someone you care for. It feels comforting, warm, secure and serene. Corny as it may sound, for my wife and I, that’s the music of Coldplay.
Levi’s Stadium in Canta Clara, near San Jose and San Francisco, is a gleaming venue and new home of the San Francisco 49ers. It’s shiny, gigantic, posh and state of the art. Max capacity is listed at 75,000 when all space is fully utilized. I’d venture to say this crowd was around 70,000, as there was no 360 degree seating. It was a sell out and we got the full effect of a sell out stadium crowd at night with the xylobands in full use. The xylobands are the wristbands handed out to every audience member. Different colors and blinking sequences are activated according to song selection. It was impressive and breathtaking, it was like a sea of blinking color rising up into the sky, a tsunami of colorful LEDs. By sheer luck we scored seats at the club level and fairly close to the stage, row 7 in section 135, perpendicular to the main stage (thank you, Amex pre-sale). We had a nice side view and up close. We were going to see fireworks, figuratively and literally. The group utilized three stages in total: the main stage, the b-stage with a runway connecting to the main stage. And finally a tertiary stage at the rear of the venue. “A Head Full of Dreams” was the first number in the set, preceded by an extended synth intro and a recorded speech by Charlie Chaplin. It’s an excerpt from the film The Great Dictator. The excerpt goes “…we all want to help one another. Human Beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness. Not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good Earth is rich and can provide for everyone. That way of life can be free and beautiful but we have lost the way…” and the group began the familiar rhythmic rumble and soaring melody. The sequence opened the show with celebratory and explosive bang, complete with vibrant color patterns on the video screens along with synched fireworks and confetti. The explosions from the confetti and fireworks rattled us, we could feel it in our chests. The Chaplin monologue and the song made for a cathartic opening. The song bounced it’s way along and the group and the acoustics sounded GOOD. We couldn’t help but look at the stage, up and all around the ginormous venue and smile. At the close of the song, the crowd continued the ‘ohh oh ohhhs’ of the outro as the group burst into a vibrant version of “Yellow.” Martin strummed along on an acoustic guitar while the stadium followed along ‘…look at the staarrrrrs…look howww they shiiiine forrr yoooouu..’ Martin grinned as the group continued to play and the crowd kept up the euphoric sing-along. At song’s end, the stadium dimmed to pitch black, and then the opening keyboard lines to “Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall” began, and the stadium slowly flickered on, the Xylobands were activated and a sea of blue-violet LEDs materialized throughout the stands. Neon violet trim outlined the stage and Martin began to sing ‘I turn the music up, I got my records on, I shut the world outside until the lights come on, maybe the streets alight, maybe the trees are gone, I feel my heart start beating to my favorite song…’ and the energy level continued to rise as the xylobands increased in intensity, becoming brighter and more numerous as the song progressed. The song gained momentum and hopped into action, bouncy and exuberant. Will Champion laid down a thumping 4 beat on the bass drum and the song thumped and chugged along. The sing-alongs continued throughout the chorus. Chris Martin was going at it full power, loud open throated singing and easing into his falsetto. A cluster of violet fireworks and a fiery burst of pyro ended the song in a triumphant crash. The energy level was brought down for the delicate and sentimental “The Scientist.” The xylobands took a rest and the main stage was illuminated with house lights only so the crowd could see the group with none of the flash, frills or gimmicks. Martin sat at a colorfully decorated upright piano and the sing-along continued as the crowd filled in during the entire song, especially the ‘nobody said It’d be easy’ part. The added twist was the addition of a section of “Pure Imagination” from the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory film, in honor of the late, great Gene Wilder. Our son’s favorite Coldplay song, “Birds,” was next. The video screens flickered on, showing an animation of a flock of birds as the intro played. The intro was adorned by a section of “Oceans” off the Ghost Stories album. The song was uptempo and more anthemic, providing an energy boost after “The Scientist.” At song’s end, the stage lights came down, pitching the venue into darkness again as Johnny Buckland began strumming the intro to “Paradise” on his Telecaster Thinline. Martin joined in on the upright and the xylobands were once again activated and the venue became bathed in shades of blue. The intro was guitar and piano heavy, with the string section removed for this live intro. The crescendo kept building as Martin pounded on the keys with greater intensity and Buckland’s volume increased, and then Will Champion and Guy Berryman joined in on the downbeat and the song was off to a dreamy start. That’s one of their newer offerings that gets us every time. As a music piece it’s lush and angelic, those strings kind of whisper their way into the world and then rise and fall, the piano following along with those delicately fingered melodies. And then there’s the lyrics. Those lyrics mean so much to so many people, ‘Life goes on it get’s so heavy, the wheel breaks the butterfly. Every tear a waterfall, in the night the stormy night she’ll close her eyes.’ For a song that can be so melancholy, it’s still uplifting and comforting. The crowd filled in wonderfully on the ‘oh-oh-oh’ sections and the serene brit-pop continued to hit us. To change up the tempo and the mood, the song switched gears and melted into the Tiesto remix for the final few bars, providing an EDM flavored outro. This closed out the first portion of the show on the main stage. The next string of songs took place on the B stage in the middle of the field. More poignant numbers were presented during this portion of the set. Ghost Stories songs were presented, with “Always in my Head” and “Magic” performed spot on close to the original versions. Then a tender and stirring version of “Everglow” was performed. “Everglow” was performed with vocal and piano only. Described as a song about “giving love,” Martin sat at a baby grand piano on the B stage. The stripped down arrangement made it even harder to listen to than usual. It was more melancholy, yet sweeter in a way. I still prefer it like this in it’s purest form, just piano and voice, over the studio original. The song was followed by a video tribute to Muhammad Ali. The excerpt goes ‘God is watching me. God don’t praise me because I beat Joe Frazier. God don’t give nothing about Joe Frazier. God don’t care nothing about England or America as far as we’re aware of. He wants to know how do we treat each other, how do we help each other. So I’m going to dedicate my life to using my name and popularity to helping charities, helping people, uniting people. We need somebody in the world to help us all make peace. So when I die, if there’s a heaven, I want to see it.’
The band transitioned back to the main stage for the next sequence of songs. “Clocks” began the set with the crowd bathed in red light, the xylobands flickering on. The arena lights plus the xylobands made the crowd look like an eerie sea of red, complete with red tracking lazers. “Clocks” sounded like the studio original but with more power from Will Champion, we could feel the kick drum and the power in his snare strokes, and it sounded better than it did during the 2003 show, no excessive sustain from the piano. A section of “Midnight” off Ghost Stories followed, providing a breather and leading to the joyful “Charlie Brown” off Mylo Xyloto, with the xylobands in full swing again. The vibrant groove, “Hymn for the Weekend” followed, getting the audience to shake it and sing along on the “so high” sections. The grooving funk-pop of “Hymn” ended and once again gave way to another breather in the set: the keyboard intro to “Midnight” appeared once again, acting as a kind of bookend. The surprise occurred when Martin began singing the opening lines of “Fix You” over Midnight’s electronic intro, ‘When you tryyy your best and don’t succeeeeeeed.’ “Fix You” has been called the lynchpin song of the X&Y album. It’s ethereal and cleansing, with that church organ intro on the studio original and plaintive lyrics. For this tour, the intro has been reworked. Gone is the organ intro and the first verse is sung an octave lower than usual. It’s a different interpretation, but the same vibe. Chris Martin stepped out from the main stage and onto the runway leading to the B stage. He laid down on his back on the runway and sang the opening lines like that. He went back into his higher register for the chorus, ‘lights will guiiii-ah-iiiiii-ah-iiiiide you hoooome, annd igniiiii-ah-iiiii-ah-iiiite yourr booones…’ Martin quickly popped back up and the group went into the crescendo, leading to the bridge and final chorus. The audience joined in loudly on the final “lights will guide you home” section, ending the song with an elative sigh. A surprise cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” followed with guest accompaniment. The Oakland School for the Arts Choir joined in and provided background vocals, powering the song along with stirring harmonies. It was a stirring and convincing cover song with several Bowie fans singing along. This sequence of tracks ended with the lush and up key “Viva La Vida” and the funky “Adventure of a Lifetime,” which also happens to be my daughter’s favorite Coldplay song 🙂 After the final ‘woo-ooos,’ the band then made their way to the C stage toward the very rear of the venue. There they presented stripped down, acoustic versions of “In My Place,” “Don’t Panic” and “Till Kingdom Come.” The stripped down take on “In My Place” worked, with Jonny Buckland’s lilting electric guitar melodies ringing throughout the stadium. “Don’t Panic” was the second and final song from Parachutes to be performed, and it featured a hilarious backstory from Chris Martin who recounted Coldplay’s beginnings, and Jonny Buckland’s train wreck of a date (tuna salad) that led to this song. Band introductions continued, with Chris Martin teasing bassist Guy Berryman about his “Loreal advert skin and Colgate smile, sponsored by Pepsi.” Berryman had this classic, sheepish grin, bashful and somewhat embarrassed. The group introduced the final song of this sequence as the Instagram dedication. A fan made a video request, expressing that “Till Kingdom Come” embodied and symbolized her feelings for her husband. I had never really paid much attention to TKC in the past, but this performance was great and very touching. The group returned to the mainstage for the final, anthemic numbers of the night, closing the show with the trio of “Amazing Day,” “A Sky Full of Stars” and “Up & Up.” Sky Full of Stars was so appropriate, the clear Norcal sky opened up and provided a natural backdrop for the track, the starry sky appearing like pinholes in the curtain of night. The vocalists from the Oakland School for the Arts rejoined the group and accompanied them on “Up & Up,” their voices fleshing out the choruses and expanding the palette of sound. The combined voices and uplifting quality of the track made for a quasi-religious experience. It was positive and purifying. The whole gig was an amazing experience and worth every penny and then some. Underneath all the technology and glitz, the common denominator remained the music. I personally feel that the group could have performed on a flatbed truck with house lights only and they still would have enthralled the audience. They grabbed us with the music. Touched us with the connection. And blew our minds with the show. Coldplay gets mocked much in the same way U2 gets mocked. Both groups have loquacious and sometimes overbearing lead singers, and to many they’re inherently uncool because they wear their hearts on their sleeves. But I/we have no problem professing love for both groups (yes, you can love both). And there’s something especially charming about the way Chris Martin speaks to the audience. He’s a natural talker with a good sense of humility: personable, witty and engaging, making a stadium gig even smaller and more intimate. It was like he was having a casual conversation over coffee at arms reach. We’ll be returning for the second leg. Thanks, Coldplay. Anyone catch the Highlander reference?