Coldplay

support Lianne La Havas + Alessia Cara
author HES date 05/07/16 venue Parken, Copenhagen, DEN

I didn't plan to review Coldplay this season. Apart from stumbling upon the band in different festival line-ups, I haven't felt the need to catch up with the band since around the release of "Viva La Vida" - the album that truly catapulted the band into the mainstream, leading to their now "selling out Parken twice" kind of size. Whereas the pre-2005 releases had nerve, it seems the band has placed themselves solidly in the line of sound that is leaning heavier towards rhythmic pop rather than the atmospheric alternative rock sound of yesteryear. However, in spite all of this setting the scene pretty hardcore out of Coldplay’s favor, there are still the reasons that made me say yes to tonight's gig in spite of my grudges: Coldplay is an amazing live band and in spite of their mainstream ventures, I suspect the band might still have the ability to jerk a tear out of this old wretch.

As I arrive in Parken, the typical crowd of beer-drinking, fan shirt-wearing, sausage-eating people greets me with the loud obnoxious sounds of hard-working people on their one night out, looking a bit too heavily down the bottom of their glasses. On stage the young Alessia Cara is already performing. I will not be reviewing her efforts as her soulish pop rock borders too much on the fringes of this magazine's readerships. It's not really like the crowd notices either and she is barely awarded a light show, let alone a dimming of the lights.

The second warm up artist Lianne La Havas is a fairly unturned leaf to me, but she is at least awarded a little more focus by both light and soundmen tonight. Her style is an eclectic mix of heavy latin rhythm sections, but also steady Fender-playing combined with a crooked melody composition. All in all, it actually makes for pretty impressive funk rock on a level I did not expect to meet tonight – albeit still fairly making it past the “only rock”-barrier for this magazine's coverage. Her voice is soul slick, yet edgy on the choruses of “Is Your Love Big Enough?” for example. The most impressive song, however, is still the brilliantly composed “Forget”. Some songs do however fade into blandness like the funky “Tokyo” that is only really carried by La Havas vocal improvisation. The show then kind of disappears into a sea of dull compositions only to be briefly lifted by a decent rendition of Aretha Franklin's soul-hit “I Say A Little Prayer”, showcasing La Havas’ beautiful voice and engaging the now well-grown crowd.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank Thor Straten.

Coldplay

I feel like it has become a general theme of my authorship to discuss the balance between entertainment and music. I have myself come to the conclusion, as a music critic and not an “experience critic” that I review from a very conservative place of mind: If a show has musical merit, a grand light set up will only add to a combined positive musical experience. However, a great production does not suffice for me to lift up a show that lacks musical merit. So why does it matter? Because that is exactly what Coldplay are delivering here tonight. If you value the parts differently, then I completely understand this and you will probably wholeheartedly disagree with the following words. Consider yourself trigger warned.

The show starts with the Puccini soprano aria “O Mio Babbino Caro”, that even though it sounds grand is merely an opera version of “Papa Don’t Preach”. The severity of the song, however, does set a mood for the 46.000 people anxiously awaiting the opening procession of their heroes. They must, however, wait a little while longer, as a great part of Charlie Chaplin’s monologue from “The Dictator” now instead fills the air. But finally, the tension is released as Chris Martin and company enters the stage to the tunes of the title track of the band’s newest album “A Head Full of Dreams”. And in spite of the entire audience singing along to the obvious “oh oh oh” refrain, it is apparent that song construction is not the forte of the latest edition of Coldplay’s more up-tempo stylings that have been prevalent since the release of “Viva La Vida”. Almost in acknowledgement of this fact, all the stops are pulled to convince the already convinced audience that a party is to be had, in the shape of rainbow color confetti down on a huge catwalk which Martin energetically runs up and down. Thousands of bracelets light up on the arms of the 46.000 visitors, turning the giant venue into an inverted disco ball. It’s all very impressive and hard not to be taken-a-back by, but the mesmerizing effect wears off quickly.

Fittingly the wristbands turn yellow for the next song, the 2000 hit “Yellow” from the band’s first release “Parachutes”. However, the production of the song is far from the simplistic version of the album, as the song is lifted from simple guitar to symphony by use of backtracks – almost as if to fill up the space that could have been filled with intimacy if the band had dared to chance that. Production is again amped up for the synth-heavy party anthem “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall”, however showing welcome glimpses of Jonny Buckland’s guitar in the recognizable, high-pitched riff. Then again, we go a little “back to basics” for “The Scientist”, that, fortunately, is kept more or less gimmick-free, relying on the original, great composition. A pattern is emerging: For the newer songs more heavy means are put in to keep the crowd dancing and the more well-known, more well-composed songs fare with training wheels more or less off.

Some songs, however, don’t make it through all that well, even though much money is spent on them in the shape of on-stage fire, giant balloons or repeat confetti. Among them are the lazy ballad “Everglow”, the un-inspiring “Birds” that seems to inspire the band even less than us and “Adventure Of A Lifetime” that bastardizes an otherwise decent Buckland-riff by forcing the up-beat mood of the song upon it. A small stage acts as an addendum “acoustic”-ish stage at the end of the runway, but the success of the band’s trip to it is questionable because of the choice of songs: “Always In My Head” proves its own lackluster melodiousness (or lack thereof) along with a Rihanna-less version of “Princess of China”. It is unfathomable that a band with a back catalogue of such size and quality choose to comprise a setlist of songs where Chris Martin is barely singing half the song.

Chris Martin wearing the Danish flag

The second trip to an acoustic stage even further into the crowd, however, proves a sight for sore eyes and ears, as the band lets fireworks be fireworks and play understated (I guess as understated as Coldplay can be these days) versions of “Till Kingdom Come”, “Shiver” and “God Put A Smile Upon My Face”. A redeeming moment that would almost have me believe that this band still likes to make music rather than productions.. shows.. essentially charades. But it’s fairly hard to keep focus, immerse oneself into the music, as it always seems like the show is on its way, full steam ahead to the finish line. Chris Martin is serving as a happy conductor on a train that never truly halts anywhere, but jumps from song to song, section to section, and choreography to choreography. And its grand and it’s impressive – but it holds very few of the virtues I at least appreciate in musical performances; Intimacy, immersion, time-haltering blows to the soul. So I start thinking to myself “You silly old woman, have some fun will you?” but I can’t. I review music, not choreography and not confetti-timing.

So what is the general verdict on the music? Well, it seems flawless but flawless in the sense of machinery – at this point, it doesn’t really appear to me whether the whole show is backtracked or just run-through so many times that it has lost the nerve of being “live”. Regardless, it’s dull. At any chance where the band could have chosen to scrape away musically, they have chosen to add on with synths, computer-generated violins, piano chords that the band doesn’t play themselves and the list goes on. A great example is the otherwise organ and voice driven “Fix You” that somehow morphs into a symphony rather than a raw, emotional catharsis. Did the band sincerely doubt whether a little guitar, a little organ, Martin’s voice and 46.000 people knowing every word wouldn’t be enough to create a magical moment?

Confetti

I guess it’s hard not to be blown away by the mere gimmickry of the show. Over the 1½ hour show I count most of the effects we usually see one of during a standard stadium show: Giant balloons, glittery confetti, regular confetti, leaf-shaped confetti, pyrotechnics, the “Slipknot”-style “sit-down, jump-up”, the call-and-response, coordinated audience bracelets, laser lights, regular lights, custom effect video feeds on custom made stage screens, drone-ish recordings by a line-operated mid-audience camera, the band clad in custom design t-shirts with album-cover inspired patches, a Danish flag in the pocket of Martin throughout the show and the band even had to cancel the fireworks because of bad weather. But what does it all mean when the band plays all but three songs from their latest, mediocre release that at best is as tasty an experience as sticking your tongue out the window? The great songs are either too few or hidden in production. I think the nakedness of tonight’s set would be apparent if we were to strip it of all the extraordinarity that is secondary to the music, and that is after all what I am here to assess; The music. These emperors are butt-naked.

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