Wednesday 8 June 2016

a head full of dreams: coldplay's confident return

remember a few years ago when it suddenly became "cool" to hate coldplay? for reasons still unknown to me, people simply couldn't stand the four piece, perhaps because they had deemed them uncool, or perhaps it was all one big joke created by people who think the only way to be funny is to tear other people down for no reason. even one of my favourite people on the planet, noel fielding, couldn't help taking a stab at them twice (see here and here) during his stint as a team captain on BBC two's now-defunct never mind the buzzcocks (RIP). it's safe to say, i wasn't in on it. 

way before i was an out-and-proud lover of pop, i harboured a secret passion for coldplay. in fact, i think they were the first concert i ever went to. it was either that or girls aloud, but my memory won't stretch that far back to recall the dates; i can hardly remember what happened last week, let alone eight (eight!) years ago when i made my first trip to the MEN arena (now simply titled the manchester arena after a series of name changes over the years) aged 13. my mother originally got the tickets for her and my dad but he let me have his ticket after i said i really wanted to go, and thank god he did. 

the details of this concert are now pretty hazy to me, but i vaguely remember them playing songs from their album at the time, viva la vida, which is still my favourite coldplay album. a quick look on does little to conjure up memories of the songs played, though it was a pretty good setlist. we also saw them in december of 2011, but again my memory of this gig isn't great either. (it was five years ago, okay?) this, and the next gig of theirs i went to, was in support of their fifth (and incredibly difficult to pronounce) album, titled mylo xyloto. according to wikipedia, it's a "concept album" (something i didn't know until now) which you can read more about here

a year later and we made our third pilgrimage to see coldplay, this time at the ethiad stadium. this one i remember a bit more clearly, mainly because of the sheer spectacle they put on. this was repeated again last weekend when we went back to the ethiad for the fourth time to see coldplay tour their new album, a head full of dreams. this was the second of two gigs they were playing in manchester, and as a crowd, i like to think we didn't disappoint. their performance certainly didn't, and was a reminder of why we've been to see them so many times, though it's hard to believe that it was a whole four years since we'd last been taking our seats at the venue. 

let me make one thing clear. a coldplay concert is not a show. it is, as mentioned above, a spectacle (though for £45 a ticket i should hope so), and i defy even the most hardened critics of coldplay to stand in that stadium and not enjoy themselves even just a little bit. there were fireworks, several different kinds of confetti, and balloons, and yet none of it distracted from their performance. both chris and bassist guy swapped effortlessly between instruments, going from the keyboard to guitar and vice versa with no obvious signs of inexperience. they also took a somewhat environmentally friendly approach to the wristbands given out at their shows since 2011, encouraging fans to recycle them after the show was over, though i kept mine for sentimental purposes. it's these wristbands that create a sense of unity among the some 60,000 people in attendance, and i never tire of seeing everyone's wristbands lighting up the entire stadium. 

for me, one of their selling points is that they feel entirely authentic as a group, something my beloved matt healy totally off topic: i just got tickets to see the 1975 for what will hopefully be the third time (leeds festival (!!) being the second) this year in december and i am EXCITED - touches on repeatedly in this interview. now as much as i love one direction, and feel they have proved themselves to be every bit the credible musicians the 1975 and coldplay are, there's something refreshing about the authenticity of the latter's forming in 1996, in their first week at UCL

i get the sense that they continue to tour just because they love performing, not just because their album sales continue to soar, though perhaps i'm just being naive. nevertheless, everything about them seems genuine, from their refusal to have their songs yellow and don't panic featured in adverts for gap and coca-cola, and they continue to give ten percent of the band's profits to charity. it is for all of these reasons combined that i simply can't understand why people have such an intense dislike for this band. if you don't consider it "real music", by all means don't listen to it, but i can guarantee that i'll have had way more fun over the years at their concerts than you will sitting and stewing over their continued success. 

it's clear from their early years that coldplay were destined to be a stadium band. that's not to suggest that they've sold out (an opinion fans of the 1975 have expressed after they announced their headline show at the O2 this december) (did i mention i'm going and that i'm excited?), but more that their music itself was made to be performed in huge venues, with its soaring choruses and electrifying guitar solos. it's kind of hard to imagine hits like clocks and fix you being played in a tiny venue in the middle of nowhere, and despite their ever-evolving sound, that anthemic quality has always continued to run through their songs, an invisible thread tying each album together. these songs demand attention, taking up as much space as possible, something reflected in chris martin's performances as he runs up and down the stage for two hours each night. 

not many bands can deliver a stadium-ready rock song as their second ever single, but they certainly did when yellow was released in june 2000, nearly sixteen years ago to the day. it still retains that magic every time i hear it or see it live, and it kicked off their show this last weekend perfectly. they certainly know how to get the crowd going, with every teardrop is a waterfall and paradise (which was given the tiësto treatment to give it even more of a club-ready kick) getting everyone on their feet. they followed it with one of my favourites and a song i wasn't expecting them to play, lovers in japan, which reignited my love for viva la vida, and i'll no doubt have it on repeat in the coming weeks. this was followed by magic, one of the few tracks from ghost stories they played, much to my dismay, though it certainly lived up to its title. (i guess it's back to endlessly watching the live performance of the album they did for a select audience, which can be found here.)

the band then headed for the "a-stage", a small circular stage at the end of an incredibly long runway, for their next few songs. after launching into charlie brown and their second single from a head full of dreams, the beyoncé-backed hymn for the weekend, they blew us all away with fix you, which leaves me near-tears every time i see it live. (if i hadn't been wearing so much mascara, i most definitely would have cried.) then as if that wasn't emotional enough, they followed it with a cover of heroes by my own hero, david bowie. next came the truly anthemic viva la vida, the refrain of which people were still chanting as we left the stadium, and adventure of a lifetime, the infectiously catchy first single that made me fall in love with a head full of dreams. 

my favourite part of any live show, however, always seems to be the acoustic section. the band ventured to yet another stage, the "c-stage" which was a smaller area in the middle of the standing area, performing don't panic and one of my favourites, in my place. chris also took this opportunity to name-drop, telling us that he'd sent a text to his pal noel gallagher, ending the acoustic section of the show with a snippet of oasis' live forever. then it was back to the "a-stage", where they closed the show with amazing day, a sky full of stars, and up&up, with it's chorus and the refrain we're gonna get it, get it together somehow, still playing in my head after the show was over. i find myself repeating it now over and over in my head, in the hope that it will kick-start me into really getting things together. chris martin said that a head full of dreams may be their last album, and if this was the last time we'll see them, it was certainly a great way to go out

in that moment though, it didn't matter about the future. concerts are one of the few places where i full allow myself to be, and feel, present, simply enjoying the music in the moment, something that can be difficult when living with anxiety. we live in a beautiful world, so said coldplay themselves, and it certainly felt a little prettier watching the wristbands illuminate the stadium that night, a feeling i'm trying to cling onto as time continues to pass, everything slowly changing around me, often without me realising until its too late and i'm wishing i could do it all over again. 

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