By Brian Ives
When you walk into the Coldplay concert, you are presented with two things: a button that says “LOVE” on it, and a thick plastic wristband.
When I interviewed Chris Martin in March, he thanked me and gave me a similar button; he gave a few of them out to everyone around him. He had a bunch of them in his pocket. It’s just his way of spreading good vibes. There’s something sweet, and quaint, about having everyone in a room having a literal message of love on them. It’s even nicer when it’s tens of thousands of people in a stadium.
And that would be a nice touch for any band playing a stadium. But in a move that must surely be making Bono a bit jealous that U2 didn’t get to it first, the aforementioned wristbands ended up being part of the lightshow; each of them glowed in multiple colors and were controlled by the lighting director, not the person wearing it. In effect, every person wearing one — nearly every single at New Jersey’s Metlife Stadium last night (July 17) — was a part of the lightshow. And being that Coldplay’s lightshow is as essential to them as U2’s, or Pink Floyd’s, it made every audience member a part of the show. Tens of thousands of people glowed with delight, as their wristbands changed colors and pulsed along with the music. It was just another thing to put a smile on tens of thousands of faces, in a concert filled with feel-good moments.
That wasn’t the only cool visual aspect of the band’s show: they played on three different stages, getting as close as they could to fans; there were fireworks that were used as percussion in some songs (most bands wait until the end of the show to shoot them off; Coldplay’s fireworks began during the first song). There were confetti cannons and inflatable balls. These guys spared no expense, but still, all the effects only augmented the music.
Opening with the title track of last year’s A Head Full of Dreams, they then went into their first U.S. hit, 2000’s “Yellow,” as the entire stadium glowed with that color. That was followed by “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” and then “The Scientist,” which led to the first big singalong of the night.
Like U2 — an obvious influence and one the band doesn’t really deny — Coldplay are a rock band comfortable with electronic music and definitely looking to compete in the pop music arena. That is to say, they aren’t “rockists,” or rock purists. That point was driven home during “Paradise,” which morphed from a live rock song into a dance remix of the track; it was a very “Achtung Baby” moment. And it’s moments like that which explain why their appeal stretches from teenagers to 50-somethings.
They moved to the second stage for a brief set, which included “Always in My Head,” “Princess of China” (Rihanna’s vocals were imported from the recorded version; ditto for Beyonce’s in “Hymn for the Weekend”) and “Everglow.” They returned to the main stage for their built-for-stadium rocker, “Clocks,” which was supposed to go into “Charlie Brown.” Alas, a few seconds in, Martin stopped the band.
“This is our favorite part of the show,” he said, sheepishly. “And I messed it up. It was bad ‘frontman-ing!’ I’ll understand if you write to Rolling Stone and complain.” Which is not likely to happen; his admitting his mistake only made him more endearing to the fans.
After another singalong, “Fix You,” they paid tribute to David Bowie via a cover of “Heroes.” It wasn’t the last, or most surprising, cover of the night.
After that, they played “Viva la Vida” and “Adventure of a Lifetime,” they moved to the third stage, where they sang stripped down versions “Trouble” and “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face,” subtly pointing out that they don’t have all of the effects because they need them; they use them because they want to.
Then, Martin said that it was time to take a request from Instagram. Tonight, the person making the request was his son, who asked for a song from “the greatest movie of all time.” That movie, naturally, was 1985’s Back to the Future. (We also know that Martin is partial to another 1985 film, Rocky IV.) The song was not Huey Lewis and the News’ “Back in Time,” but rather the 1954 Penguins classic, “Earth Angel.” And if that wasn’t surprising enough, midway through the song, they were joined by noted guitar enthusiast and Back to the Future star, Michael J. Fox, wearing a Gibson Les Paul.
On tour w/ Coldplay (@oxfamontour) July 18, 2016
Martin then asked the stunned crowd if they wanted to hear one more song with Fox; of course everyone did. And so it was that Coldplay and Michael J. Fox ripped through the Chuck Berry classic, “Johnny B. Goode,” just as Fox, as Marty McFly, did in the film .
“A Sky Full of Stars” and “Up and Up” followed, and then a huge fireworks display. The fans left wowed by the music, the visuals, the entire experience. It’s rare for rock bands who debuted post-2000 to graduate to stadium headlining status. And it’s difficult for bands to play stadiums, keep their personality, and still have an intimate bond with the audience; Coldplay have proven that they can do all of that. Whatever they do next, Coldplay likely has the option of playing stadiums for as long as they want to.
Opening act Canadian singer/songwriter Alessia Cara still seems like the girl next door; she appears to be like your cool suburban friend, albeit one a bit weirder and a lot more talented than you. Her voice filled the stadium and she was able to command the attention of not only her fans, but concert-goers who were not familiar with her. That’s not easy to do. Her overall message: that you should love yourself, and not worry about pandering to meet anyone’s expectations but your own, clearly resonates with the younger, female fan base. It’s no surprise that she’s doing her own headlining show in the fall at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
The first artist was Foxes, a female singer who first came to fame by singing lead vocals on EDM artist Zedd’s “Clarity.” Like Cara, she has a voice that filled the stadium (only half full for her performance, but it didn’t seem to intimate her at all). Like Cara, she’ll surely play bigger venues as a headliner in the future.