Chris Martin is a ham. Fans have long known this. Like his fellow Brit, the knighted bassist of history's most famous and fab band, Martin is a crowd pleaser. He asks the road crew to turn the house lights up to "get a good look" at everyone in the crowd, has the cameramen pan to every single section of Hard Rock Stadium, and repeatedly thanks the audience for braving rain, traffic, and the impending buzzkill of a Tuesday morning to come out to his band's concert.
Yet the most significant maneuver Coldplay ever pulled to please an audience was the radical transformation of its sound from acoustic and piano-driven dorm-room soundtracks to millennial-whooping, electro-pop/rock hybrids methodically designed to get the people in the cheap seats dancing at stadium shows. Coldplay's first album, Parachutes, contained some strong indications that Martin possessed the potential to write songs that could fill stadiums, most notably the breakout single "Yellow," which one would think the band would've saved for an encore but played early in Monday night's set, in what was by far the loudest sing-along of the evening.
The band performed some early hits, including "The Scientist," "Clocks," and "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," but largely eschewed quieter selections in favor of more danceable numbers off the albums Ghost Stories, Mylo Xyloto, and the latest, A Head Full of Dreams. Surprisingly, the third album, X&Y, in which the band pivoted to an electronic sound, went largely ignored save for the delicate "Fix You," which Martin sang while lying on the runway between the main and center stages.
With brightly colored confetti, a vibrant laser light show, and glowing tempo-coordinated audience wristbands that shone well after the show ended, Coldplay's set was a Technicolor feast for the eyes and felt at times like a mix between a tame night at Electric Daisy and the Holi Festival of Colors in India. At one point, Martin asked the crowd to forgo cell phones and camera flashes in favor of their wristbands, which lit up in bright blues, reds, and greens like suburban homes in viral Christmas-light videos.
During "Adventure of a Lifetime," Martin compelled the audience to get low and jump up when the chorus kicked in. Even the roadies joined in, all while wielding giant pink, yellow, orange, and purple balloons that they later tossed into the pit.
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It was a far cry from the Coldplay of old. At the 2003 Video Music Awards, after a performance of "The Scientist," host Chris Rock broke the somber tension in the room by declaring, "Hope you didn't slit your wrists to that one!" It's a joke you'd never make about the band that packed Hard Rock Stadium Monday night.
Coldplay has taken a page out of the U2 playbook, not only in the outright intent to write readymade stadium anthems for world tours, but also in the realization that at their best, stadium shows should feel like agnostic tent revivals, nourishing the souls of congregates via designer-drug hooks and chords like those on "Something Just Like This," the Chainsmokers' collaboration saved for the main-stage encore.
The saccharine, nearly focus-grouped melodies of Coldplay's later work don't translate into timeless records like, say, A Rush of Blood to the Head, but they sure do make for an exuberant concert experience. The bandmates still allow for reflective moments in their sets, such as the touching "Houston," a country tribute they wrote to the ailing Texas city in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. "I am dreaming of when I get back to Houston," Martin sang, alluding to the tour stop they were forced to cancel in advance of the looming storm.
Monday night was proof that — like all pop musicians — Coldplay's members follow a loose formula, but one that works. If you miss the old records, heed the advice John Lennon gave Beatles fans when the world stopped after their breakup. "It's not some great tragedy," he said. The records will always be around, he knew. In the case of Coldplay, a band that's been around for 20 years — 13 more than the Beatles lasted — is bound to change dramatically over time. Save and listen to the old records, but the newer songs are meant to be heard with 50,000 others, underneath a "Sky Full of Stars" and swallowed in a sea of glowing lights.