Coldplay uses strange technology at Bay Area concert

Coldplay uses strange technology at Bay Area concert

No one has ever referred to Levi’s Stadium as “Santa Clara on the Frisco Bay!” but Chris Martin said it with such enthusiasm last night he sort of got away with it. 

Coldplay brought their Music of the Spheres sold-out mega-tour, which has already moved 3.2 million tickets, to the Bay Area on Sunday. The event marked the first concert at the 68,000-capacity venue since the pandemic began. 

Decked out in his trademark neon-strewn stretchy pants and T-shirt, Martin bounded around the stage like a very excited toddler. One second giving his bandmates reassuring bro shoulder slaps, the next sprinting down the catwalk into the crowd and punching the air, then back again for some brooding piano time, meanwhile always thanking the crowd profusely.

“We’ve been coming here for 22 years because the Bay Area is f—king awesome, it’s a bowl of love,” Martin beamed, “We’re just a group of friends like you, but with more fireworks.” 

I first saw Coldplay in 2000 at Glastonbury, where they played at 3 p.m, a lower billing than David Gray, Elastica and 50 long-gone Britpop bands you’ve never heard of. This maybe shows two things — one, I’m old; two, Coldplay have come a long long way. Before playing “Yellow” back then, a song that hadn’t been released yet, Martin said, “Hopefully next year you’ll sing along with it ‘cause it will be a hit.”

It was, and 100 million album sales later, by most metrics, Coldplay are the biggest band of the 21st century. 

The set list for this tour, which culminates in a staggeringly impressive six already sold-out nights at Wembley Stadium, is composed of high-energy crowd-pleasing greatest hits — “In My Place,” “Paradise,” “Clocks” and “My Universe” all get an outing. For the latter, BTS appeared digitally.

The crowd at any other ’90s British rock band’s show these days usually consists of around 100 IPA-sipping beardy men remembering the old days in a small beer-soaked city club, but Coldplay aren’t like other Britpop survivors. The crowd at Levi’s, seemingly a split between young pop fans and tech bosses sipping on chardonnay, hung on every word Martin sang. There are too many giant hits to reference, but the highlight for me was “The Scientist” leading straight into “Viva la Vida” — two of the best pop-rock hits written by anyone in the last two decades. 

Coldplay, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, May 15, 2022.

Courtesy San Francisco 49ers

For a planet-themed show named Music of the Spheres, with the stage and giant screens adorned with celestial bodies, it was pretty funny that Martin didn’t seem to notice the actual lunar eclipse happening right behind him. He may have been concentrating too hard on his timed jumps. Martin does a lot of timed jumps on stage (although none as well-timed as Billie Eilish’s iconic jump). Sometimes his jumps trigger fireworks, sometimes giant balloons, and sometimes they remotely control the crowd’s LED wristbands to form a giant red heart sweeping over the stadium. Everyone’s little lights turned yellow, for, well, “Yellow,” which felt a bit on the nose, but as Martin hoped 22 years ago, everyone did sing along. 

Beyond all things spherical, the tour is also themed around sustainability, and the band claim that every show is powered by renewable energy. To accomplish this, fans are asked to ride power bikes and dance on a big trampoline — aka “kinetic dance floors” — to power the beaming light show between sets. It felt a little audacious asking fans who had paid around $100 a ticket to also literally power the event, but the trampoline looked fun. 

Before Coldplay, Vallejo’s own H.E.R opened proceedings and looked at home at the giant venue. “I never thought I’d be opening for Coldplay,” she said in some wonderment before tentatively asking the crowd if any of them actually wanted to see her. Thankfully the crowd gave a rousingly positive response. 

“This is basically my hometown,” she said to cheers, “well my area, the Bay Area,” before ending her tight set on a mazey, glorious version of “We Made It.”

H.E.R. may have a mantel’s worth of Grammy trophies, but the crowd was clearly there to see the Coldplay machine, a plastic neon euphoria monster worth billions of dollars, now existing a galaxy away from that muddy field in England. And while it may be a stretch to say they were ever cool — even in the ’90s, Oasis’ manager famously referred to them as “bedwetters’ music” — they were exciting. They sampled Kraftwerk, they covered The Buzzcocks, they even got experimental with Brian Eno. And they had a truly natural songwriter (the footage of Martin recording The Scientist first take the day after he wrote it is pretty special.) They were a band who deftly moved the mainstream world on from tired Britpop and grunge while avoiding the hellscape of nu metal. A lot of that excitement has been lost in what is now a mega-pop extravaganza, but it’s sure hard to hate them for it. 

Coldplay, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, May 15, 2022.

Coldplay, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, May 15, 2022.

Courtesy San Francisco 49ers

It’s also true that when plastic-pop era Coldplay do try and make something truly unique and critically lauded — see 2019’s mesmeric spidery “Arabesque” — no one listens to it. Besides, selling out is OK now, something I tried to remember when the 50-foot high screen instructed me to scan the QR code on my wrist to buy merch. 

For all my cynicism, Coldplay’s show was a joyous, bright, cathartic post-pandemic triumph. “Fix You’s” euphoric peak — “The tears come streaming down your face, when you lose something you can’t replace” — may be the most manipulative tear-jerking moment ever written, but as attested by the thousands of blubbing fans at Levi’s, it still works. 

The most poignant, and quiet, song the band played on Sunday was introduced very awkwardly by Martin. “Give some love, to Ukraine, your grandmother or Buffalo,” he said before finally deciding to dedicate “Sparks” to the mass shooting in Buffalo. That song, the fourth track of their brilliant debut album “Parachutes,” is as pretty as anything they’ve written … and doesn’t work in a giant stadium at all. 

During it, Martin looked a little beaten up, staring down at his feet for the first time instead of beaming a 100-kilowatt renewable-energy-powered smile into the crowd. Maybe he was thinking about the next timed jump he has to pull off, or how to keep a billion BTS fans happy while also pleasing old cynical fans like me who remember Glastonbury, call him a sellout, but will always love him anyway. Nobody said it was easy. 

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