Originally published in The Edge
For what would certainly be the pinnacle of my career as an interviewer and the nadir of his as an interviewee, I hope one day to sit down with Chris Martin. Over afternoon tea in a swanky London hotel, we’d talk about how the whole Coldplay thing would have panned out had they never consciously uncoupled from the name Pectoralz when Guy Berryman came along. I’d be armed with the most pertinent queries from their ardent fanbase, such as what the hell Mylo Xyloto actually means, how one should best attempt to pronounce it, and why the 42-second title track that opened the album of the same name wasn’t just properly bundled into the start of ‘Hurts Like Heaven.’ If the venue didn’t have a strict policy against such a thing and the inevitable PR folks in the corner weren’t glaring at me too furiously, I’d present him with a goose to see whether his natural reaction would be to say a gentle boo with a smile or to crouch to its height, leap across it to the nearest pastel-tinted piano, and begin a tender falsetto. Why bother with this palaver? Well, after 16 years of being Coldplay for Martin and his silent accompanists Berryman, Jonny Buckland, and Will Champion, surely the time has come for a little fun.
The Coldplay of 2016, with their seventh and supposedly final album A Head Full Of Dreams alongside, is the only contemporary outfit capable of both being pretentiously derided as “insidiously dangerous” and “something with the sonic consistency of wilted spinach” and packing any stadium of their choosing. For their first Wembley headline shows since 2009, a week before a headline slot at Glastonbury, they reached capacity thrice and the bonus fourth lasted mere minutes. Martin’s recent comment that the band was finally capable of a two hour set “without playing anything shit” almost demands labelling him as the Brit who cried self-deprecating sarcasm. More appropriately, it displays Coldplay abandoning all pretense of being a rock ensemble in favour of life as an increasingly vapid and vibrant pop outfit, whilst retaining certain keys that carried them to such success and remaining entirely delighted with how it played and continues to play out. Their choice of introduction echoes this: attendees waited over three hours between collecting LED-laden wristbands at the doors before the band was first spotted waving backstage to the late Maria Callas’ rendition of Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro.’
Few performers rival Martin’s adrenaline-fuelled dexterity on stage, and his stage entrance during ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’ saw him embrace the sporting spirit with a leap between pastel explosions that, as on the album, set things up nicely without actually going anywhere or leaving an impression. Jumping right back to their beginning immediately after for ‘Yellow,’ the only Parachutes track of the night, was a stark contrast. The wristbands, known as Xylobands after their inaugural outings in the Mylo Xyloto era and inspired by a performance of ‘Fix You,’ jumped into life, illuminating the stadium with a flaxen flicker as certain writers scrambled to mask the first of many tears trickling through. The spectacle of 75,000 devotees repeating ancient and nonsensical lyrics is one to which Martin should have adjusted, yet his modest grin as he retreated from the microphone in time for the first ‘Yellow’ refrain suggested something a little bit special was occurring.
Martin’s strut throughout ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’ with a Union Jack dangling in tow took the interludes to one frontier; the beads of sweat streaming down his face during ‘Fix You’ to the other. On occasion, he would snap from the guise of conductor-cum-ragdoll for snippets of chatter, making even those in the seats that came with a vertigo warning feel wholly included in the band’s newfound world of optimism and vibrancy with pleasant patronisation about their singing. Before ‘Everglow’ and a Muhammad Ali tribute, he gave his colleagues absurd biographies, to which each silently chuckled before returning to their robust routines. Very occasionally, one would sneak a little forward to join Martin in rocking upon light feet and squatting whilst unleashing infectious melodies. Usually, however, Martin remained the showman, endearingly bouncing all over the shop and swinging guitars to his back to allow his knees an easier passage down.
Coldplay’s current touring set-up comprises three stages: a main platform flanked by assorted displays and pyrotechnics, a narrow catwalk protruding through from the centre towards a small circle at centre field, and a yet more diminutive isolated plinth opposite, nestled in the shadow of a speaker tower. Following the grandiose ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime,’ the latter hosted a brief but gorgeous acoustic brace of ‘In My Place,’ a request from Instagram in one of the tour’s few changing variables, and ‘See You Soon,’ dedicated to the victims of the recent Orlando attacks. Taken from 1999’s The Blue Room EP, its lyrics – “In a bulletproof vest / With the windows all closed / I’ll be doing my best / I’ll see you soon” – assumed a touching poignancy as the lighting was kept minimal and the band left one-by-one to return to the structured anarchy, culminating in Martin strolling back through the crowd as his gentle strums resonated.
Similar older records with overt emotional sensibilities were received best, trickling into crevices between euphoric pop eruptions. Ghost Stories’ disconcertingly ethereal ‘Midnight’ arose to introduce both ‘Fix You’ and ‘Charlie Brown,’ tracks located at extremes of the Coldplay spectrum, and yet more baffling were moments when Wembley resembled Ibiza, including ‘Paradise,’ which shifted into its Tiësto remix to end one spell on the main stage, and ‘Hymn For The Weekend,’ where Beyoncé’s uncredited vocal shadowed Martin’s comedic assertions of “feeling drunk and high / So high, so high.” By the time the heavenly view triggered by the final exertion of truth and energy – the Avicii-aided ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’ – had been enjoyed by all, particularly from up above the glistening Xylobands, their latest single ‘Up&Up’ deflated momentum and served as an ideal excuse for those who had relished their trips and fancied avoiding both its tediously hollow lyricism and inevitable queues for the Jubilee line to head for the staircases. With Wembley’s picturesque arch daubed in rainbow hues and its capacity crowd in full voice, not even that brief lapse on Martin’s promise could dampen the grins that the remarkable spectacle had brought.
When picking support acts for their shows, Coldplay has always gone a little bit into left field. Their Viva La Vida tour had 34 in total, stretching from Datarock to The Flaming Lips, and their last shows at Wembley Stadium in 2009 were prefaced by Girls Aloud and Jay-Z waltzing around as if he hadn’t already done enough damage with ‘Lost+.’ Still, there’s a consistency throughout many of the picks: delightful pop. With the band moving further towards that in their own music, they chose to keep things simple for A Head Full Of Dreams, welcoming 19-year-old Canadian pop/R&B singer Alessia Cara and soulful Londoner Lianne La Havas to the tour for the majority of its shows across Europe and the Americas.
Whilst the devoted fans waited for an hour and a half before the first signs of live music, gentle atmospheric sounds echoing everything from Viva La Vida producer Brian Eno to whales having their own fun in lieu of their inability to get into the pre-sale on time. Cara snapped this with a confident waltz belying her years, beginning her first London performance since The Edge attended her March show at the 1,500-capacity Electric Brixton with the throbbing ‘I’m Yours.’ With an outline of her beanied self both as a backdrop and adorning the left breast of her t-shirt, Cara interspersed introverted sentiments from Know-It-All – current single ‘Wild Things’ revolves around the feeling that “the cool kids aren’t cool to me,” while her debut single ‘Here,’ which closed the half-hour set, is a frantic number about feeling awkward at a party she didn’t want to go to – with motivational monologues on beauty standards and heartbreak that overflowed with optimism and teenage naïvete. (Disclaimer: Cara is 135 days older than I am.)
Cara’s career is owed to YouTube, a platform she has used for half a decade to pedal acoustic covers with her superb voice and, more recently, delightful tour vlogs featuring an excellent pre-show ritual. Two videos from July 2012 see her tackle the music of Lianne La Havas, who has also counted the likes of Prince and Stevie Wonder as admirers. She too took to the stage with a captivating presence, albeit heavily aided by her visceral roar of “HELLO WEMBLEY.”
Beginning with Is Your Love Big Enough?’s dreamy ‘Au Cinéma,’ La Havas’ minimal band and ever-changing cast of resplendent guitars spent their 45 minutes of spotlight weaving gorgeous soul with inflexions of R&B both contemporary and classic, back when a guttural bluesy drive was actually part of the expected package. Continuing through material from 2015’s hailed Blood and a minimal cover of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer,’ she continued to charm and impress in equal measure. By the time she reached ‘Grow,’ which sounded just as comfortable on the Wembley stage as it did in her front room with an audience of Adam Buxton, and ‘Midnight’ from that latest LP to close, she had been instantiating clapping sessions and recruited a crowd that may have barely known her name beforehand as a powerful backing choir. As a warm-up for the vivid extravaganza that was to follow, it could hardly have been more enchanting.