With Robyn and Wolf Gang
American Airlines Arena
June 29, 2012
Better Than: The feeling you get from four hours of hot yoga and a good leeching
I first learned of Coldplay two years ago while foraging for burgundy truffles with my good friend Robert Mugabe. My lagatto romagnolo dogs, Thierry and Bechamel, were nosing about when Robert began singing.
Something about those words really connected with me, and I asked him if it was traditional music from Zimbabwe, a country whose name I pronounce the correct way. Robert is a close family friend, and I used to spend part of my summers in his country, reconnecting with the earth and trading dieting tips with the locals.
"No, Gwyneth," Robert said. "It is a band from your country, England. They are Coldplay."
The truffles the dogs were finding were not large enough for the pigs-in-a-blanket we had planned. So to pass the time, I asked him to sing me another song by this Coldplay.
These words would give me strength when I needed it most, namely in international departure lounges when you have dry skin and no access to a humidifier and six ounces of ginger root. To this day, when world-leader friends ask me for advice, I will put a hand on their shoulder and say, "Ooooh-oh-oh. Oh-ohhhh."
Robert then took out his iPhone (which he keeps in a case designed to look like a little leather-bound book -- absolutely essential) and showed me a picture of the singer on his Pinterest page.
I remember thinking he looked very familiar. I'd seen this man around the house for several years, mostly looking after my children and leaving fingerprints on the piano keys. He was, I had assumed, there to polish the wainscoting. He had first caught my eye when I wondered why a man so tall would get into a business that limits him to dealing with only the lowest few feet of the wall.
A whirlwind romance soon followed, and that brought us last night to the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. That's in the States.
I've come to be a great admirer of Coldplay. I know that my husband and I are frequently mocked by people who think that if something is meaningful to many, it can't be that meaningful at all. Or that if someone knows how you should be doing something better and more expensively than you do, she should keep that a secret. The fact remains that there are few groups that can bring the kind of intimate experience to an arena that Coldplay can. The others -- I'm good friends with them -- but Bono is Irish (ick) and Bruce Springsteen is American (double-ick; or as the French say, "ick doubler").
Christopher was very excited to be in the same sporting arena where the Miami Heat won the NBA Championships only a week earlier. He is a big sports supporter. But also he knows that in Miami, the locals call me Heat. I was very touched to see everyone welcoming me back to town with shirts and banners, some in English (which we speak in England) and Spanish (which we speak in Spain).
After playing some of the opening theme to the Superman films, the band walked out with the trademark English humility, going straight into "Hurts Like Heaven." During the song, Christopher threw his whole body into playing the guitar, lunging with each strum for an added calorie burn. He shouted, "Is there anybody out there? Miami, basketball champions of the world, is anybody out there?"
Delerious cheers were out there. And we could see them all, given the special Xylobands created for the current world tour and handed to each audience member upon entry. The bracelets light up in various sequences when controlled by the band's radio signals, and extended the light show into the crowd. As arms waved, fans danced, or hands clapped, everyone became almost as important a part of the show as I was. Lights twinkled all around us like the reflections on the waters of Santorini. (We keep a modest cottage there for when we must simply clear our heads and get away from our house in Santorini.)
It is easy to forget that most of the sound generated on the stage is the product of just four men, three of whom I hope to meet one day. They stand quite close on stage and if you were to take away the laser rigs and catwalk extending into the center of the arena, their show could be plopped into the Camden dives where they began nearly fifteen years ago. But the arena is where this music is meant to be heard. At this point in their career, a song like "In My Place" would almost feel incomplete if giant confetti cannons did not discharge when Christopher, alone on a platform in the center of the arena threw his hands up and sang, "How long must you wait for it?"
The confetti, by the way, came in neon shapes of comets, butterflies, crowns, and flowers, matching the black-lit graffiti that covered the stage, instruments, and the band's clothing. Though the confetti is a low-calorie snack, it does not taste good. I recommend filling your home confetti cannons with kale chips, baked on a low heat to preserve the vital enzymes.
My husband is a gracious host, frequently thanking his guests. Things like, "Thank you for going through the traffic, the ticket prices, the parking to be here. In return and because you are the basketball fucking champions, we're going to try to put on the best show of our lives." He says some variation of this at all of his shows, but he genuinely means it. Eventually, he will reach a moment where he can no longer top his previous show, at which point I will be forced to step in and front the band. But that day is still a long way off, I hope, because I have a reservation next winter at an ashram.
Christopher seemed giddy to be in Miami, entreating us all to "Make some motherfucking Miami noise," and frequently altering lyrics to celebrate a part of the world that he and I have come to consider the Languedoc of South Florida. During "Lovers in Japan", he rhymed "Lovers, keep on the road you're on" with "Miami, you are the champions." Before "Don't Let It Break Your Heart," he dedicated the song to "all the Spanish-speaking people" there and led them in a football chant of "Ole, ole, ole." He thanked the crowd several times in Spanish, using some of the words my good friend, the late Francisco Franco, taught him at one of our pool parties.
I'm so used to seeing Christopher tinkering with the piano in our home that it was surprising to see how little he touched it during the show. Sure, it's murder to get him to use a coaster in our house. But give him a spray painted piano ... And suddenly, all he wants to do is play guitar and bound around the stage. But I married one of the greatest skippers in rock music and I know from some of my post-pregnancy exercise routines that it is very hard to skip while holding a piano.
He spins, he leaps, he crosses the stage in what seems like two strides. The sounds of the crowd rejuvenate him in exaggerated lurches when he falls to a heap at the end of a song. The blasts of sound from his own songs are enough to send him stumbling back a few steps. And yet, he's so much in control of himself and his show that when large paint-splattered balloons were released to be batted about by the punters, he was able to bounce one off his forehead at the exact time he sang "head" in "keep your head down" from "Lovers in Japan."
A semi-circular ramp went behind the drum riser and Christopher ran around it a few times during the show. Starting on the last tour, I had insisted on making the stage handicap accessible, mostly because I did not understand the bassist's issue is actually being Scottish. People often ask me how they can fit exercise time into their busy lives, to which I'll usually lower my ankle from their shoulder, stop doing my one-legged squats, and explain that you just need to fit in fitness wherever you are. If you're a rare books dealer, that means butt clenches at your desk. If you're a homeopathic nutritionist, take the stairs when you can. And if you're an internationally beloved rock star, do some laps of the stage.
But the ramp had the added benefit of allowing Christopher access to those seated behind the stage. He takes care to reach his fans not just with his music, but with his person, leaning over the edges of platforms, stretching toward seats on the other side of the arena as though if he tried just a little bit harder, he could put his hand on the hand of every single person in attendance.
Though the stage was positioned at one end of the arena, the band played three songs ("Princess of China," "Up in Flames," "Warning Sign") in the middle of the show from a smaller stage at center court. During the first of two encores, they set up on an even smaller stage to play huddled together with the drumming fellow on a tiny piano, Christopher and the other two grouped tightly around him. They played fragile versions of "Us Against the World" and "Speed of Sound," dropping away their arena bluster and reducing a part of the former to just Christopher and that drummer singing a cappella.
They returned to the stage to close out the show with some of the biggest, shiniest hits. But not before what was the obvious highlight of the show: Christopher left the tiny encore stage to push through the crowd to where I was standing. He gave me a kiss on the cheek. And even though I blushed with the knowledge that my makeup had been smudged, it was tremendously meaningful to hear the cheers and have people see that the love Christopher sings about is genuine and also to be acknowledged for my role in all of this. And by this, I mean everything.
Despite the fog, the inflatables, the swirling lights, Coldplay has the ability to shrink an arena to the size of a living room when they want. Musically, lyrically and aesthetically, one of their greatest strengths is to make the impersonal into something extremely personal, all the while maintaining high emotional resonance. I am often credited for a lot of that. But really, it's a full-band effort.
As my good friend Joseph Kony told me once while we watched our proxies play badminton: "Just because a lot of people watch your videos doesn't mean you're a bad guy." And the same is true of Christopher and his band. They connect with people through an elaborate show, contagious energy, and dealing in topics that don't just mean something to many but mean everything to most. Their popularity is not a sign of failure or a failure of their audience.
Life is about feeling lost and having a broken heart and the hope that at any moment, there might be some big upswing, a crest you can ride for the rest of your life. That's what Coldplay gives people (not to mention some rather catchy songs) to help carry them through the times that lack and celebrate the times of bounty.
One time, Beyonce, Kim Jong-un, and I were getting blood transfusions at this little boutique in Primrose Hill. Kim Jong-un, who has his father's flair for mischief asked us both, "Do either of you have any North Korean in you?" When we said that we didn't, he asked, "You want some?" We laughed and he had his attendants wheeled out some freshly harvested plasma bags that he had brought from home. What I learned from that day is that being a part of something big is special. Sometimes a crowd just offers ready access to fresh plasma. But other times, such as during a Coldplay show, it means being reminded that none of us is ever really alone.
On the way out, I'm told, the crowd sang their part of the chorus from "Vida La Vida," joining together in the corridors of the arena one more time before returning to the warm Miami night.
Ohhh-oh, oh-oh-ah-oh-oh, indeed.
Personal Bias: I loved it so much, I married it!
Crowd Notes: Teenagers, young urban professionals, aging couples -- people of all types can benefit from moderation, diet and exercise.
Other Celebrity Fans: When the arena lights came on, cheers of "Let's Go Heat!" sprang up from all sections. At first, I thought they wanted an encore of my blushing. But then I realized that the crowd had spotted my good friend LeBron James. One of the arena security guards claimed that Coldplay is LeBron's favorite band. I wouldn't know anything about that. But I do know that like the late Queen Mum, his preferred cocktail is gin and Dubonnet. Before she passed, the three of us used to sit around and moisturize each other until sunrise.
-"Hurts Like Heaven"
-"In My Place"
-"Lovers in Japan"
-"God Put a Smile on Your Face"
-"Princess of China"
-"Up in Flames"
-"Don't Let it Break Your Heart"
-"Viva La Vida"
Encore 1 (From within the crowd)
-"Us Against the World"
-"Speed of Sound"
Encore 2 (From stage)
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-"Every Teardrop is a Waterfall"