Halfway through Coldplay’s two-hour extravaganza, the band are on the time-honoured stadium rock trudge to a smaller stage in the middle of the audience, when they turn back to see the image of Muhammad Ali making one of his old speeches.
On the day The Greatest died, to hear him say, “When I die, if there’s a heaven, I’m going to see it” provides a genuine lump-in-the-throat moment. The stadium erupts with spontaneous applause; Coldplay haven’t got where they are today without being able to capture personal intimacy and make it work on a grand scale.
With few serious challengers to their own heavyweight title, they remain the world’s biggest band, and the UK leg of their first stadium jaunt in four years includes two nights here, four at Wembley and a Glastonbury Sunday night headline, delivering a planet-sized visual spectacle.
There are enough fireworks to blow up the Houses of Parliament, flashing LED wristbands (given to each audience member), which create spectacles such as turning yellow during, er, Yellow and showers of confetti in the shape of little birds. It’s scarcely believable that they first played in Manchester to what frontman Chris Martin remembers as “three people – one of whom was called Debs” – but they’ve certainly changed along the way.
Moodily anthemic indie rock has given way to the cheerier, equally anthemic pop-meets-electronic dance music of Paradise and Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, and we’re never far from a U2-type chiming guitar or chorus of “whoah whoah whoah”.
There are certainly times when Coldplay’s fondness for universally appealing clichés is comical. We are told that life is a drunk, love is a drug and – cliché bingo winner – “She’d say, ‘Oh-ohohohoh’”. And yet, it’s mostly stupidly enjoyable, because of the visual treats, reasonably steady procession of copper-bottomed hits and their frontman’s oozing charismatic niceness.
Martin may be the sort of rock star who is more likely to offer to repair a television than throw it through a window, but is self-aware enough to thank the audience for “taking all the shit for being into Coldplay” and full of ridiculous but infectious enthusiasm for “the best job in the world”. He doesn’t just jog down a catwalk so much as barrel down it with arms outstretched like a little plane, and even calls off advancing security to treat a wobbly stage invader to a little dance.
The jollity almost covers up the elephant in the room: the suspicion that Coldplay were writing more good songs in the first decade of their career than they are doing in the second. Certainly, last year’s A Head Full Of Dreams has so far shifted a tenth of the 20 million of 2002’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head, and new songs such as Everglow wash around over audience chatter.
Still, there are moments which only a stadium rock band at the top of their game can provide. During Fix You, the crowd sing the “When you love someone, but it goes to waste” line along with Martin, single again after his “conscious uncoupling” with Gwyneth Paltrow, providing a touching moment of empathy between audience and star.
A segue of David Bowie’s Heroes into the fist-pumping, raved-up Viva La Vida sees the stadium fill with balloons. The 50,000 LED wristbands form a beautiful galaxy of stars for, well, A Sky Full Of Stars. In keeping with their status as world’s most wholesome, unthreatening, reasonable rock band, Coldplay ask everyone to kindly recycle the devices on the way out.
- At Etihad Stadium, Manchester on Sunday, then touring. Details Coldplay.com
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