There are four types of records in this world: the bad ones, the mediocre ones, the good ones that grab us from the get-go, and the good ones that challenge us to love them only with patience, repeated listens, or that ‘moment’ when everything is illuminated. For a 16-year old me, Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head was the latter record; an initial distaste, followed shortly by repeated listenings, followed by a decision that it was one of the best records of the 2000s, top 5 at least, and an album that helped birth who I am today. The rest of Coldplay’s back catalogue is a mixed bag of catchy art-pop that I like a lot, but don’t “love” the same way I love Rush of Blood. It is the band’s opus, and the main reason why I’ve paid a combined total of around $200 to see them twice.
That being said, there are three types of shows in this world: good ones, bad ones, and the best ones. And Coldplay’s live show is about the best live show there is.
Some bands play to a room of around 300 people and that experience can be in itself, an intimate love letter to music, a quieted moment of introspection and listening. Some bands play medium sized auditoriums and either rouse them to a state of ecstatic dancing and singalongs or have them sit comfortably and listen to the room fill with the pure sound of blissful live music. Coldplay plays for a room of almost 15,000 people which they have done multiple, multiple times at festivals, stadiums and coliseums all across the globe and honestly, this is what they do best, should do best, and will continue to do best as long as everyone knows that their show is not to be missed, ever, if at all humanly possible.
I like those small shows where you feel like you’re at some kind of magical dinner party with the artist you love as the distinguished guest at the head table. I like to sit in a room with the type of people who are too cool for arena rock and pretend I’m one of them. Sometimes I convince myself that this is true. Then I see a show like Coldplay’s sold-our North American tour kickoff last night and remember that this is not true.
At the first Coldplay show I ever attended in 2009, the band gave out a freebie live CD, a nice little fan thank-you gift and souvenir of a great show. This time, the band handed out mysterious wristbands that we were told to wear repeatedly as “part of the show”. Very quickly, the magnitude of this “part” made itself known; the house lights went off, and like bedazzled magic, tens of thousands of little blinking graffiti-coloured lights on these wristbands sparkled throughout the black arena, waving around on the flailing arms of tens of thousands of Coldplay fans who were suddenly in for the concert ride of their lives.
This show, as well as the last Coldplay show, glistened with all kinds of dizzying effects; insane laser light shows, video screens, inflatable lanterns, beach balls and most importantly, tissue paper confetti! Scads of confetti, shooting out of cannons, raining down on us fans while we jumped up and down catching it in our hands, our hair, our clothes! It’s moments like these that turn a rock show into a rock ‘experience’; we don’t just sing to the music – suddenly, we forget our distaste for “sellouts”, our displeasure with the top 40, and our first inclination to hate the four guys on stage because they represent this big corporate monster. Suddenly, we let go of these preconceived notions for what constitutes the term “artist”; and we’re just enjoying ourselves.
Enjoyment of a show depends on engagement with the material among other factors including, and especially the band or singer’s engagement with us. Coldplay invites us to partake before we even enter the arena. Those bracelets are a warm invitation into the band’s world. Suddenly we’re not just spectators, but participants. Chris Martin himself is a warm, likeable frontman. His sympathy with our typically “shit nights” on Tuesdays and his acknowledgment that we’re all clapping at the “right” times and his repeated thank yous demonstrate to me, this is not a band that takes their audience for granted when really, they could easily shun us all and let’s be honest: we’d probably still show up for the show anyways. What I love most about Chris Martin live is his kinetic energy: the running, the jumping, his arms in the air. His movements on stage render him less of a frontman and one of us, one of this community of people who is a part of this whole big ‘Coldplay thing’.
While I found the last time I saw Coldplay to be a more alluring, exciting experience, perhaps because it was the first time I had ever seen them in 2009 and I was enamoured with that adorable little tune that the band sang about Edmonton which made the show feel entirely unique from the other thousands of shows they’ve done (and continue to do), it was still an ‘experience’; in fact, it wasn’t too dissimilar in grandeur and even in the setlist but despite that, the band took the stage and I was over the moon, just as I had been that magical time back in June three years ago (see my thoughts on that show here).
Thhere are some superstars whose popularity I question; simply put, Coldplay isn’t one of them.