Coldplay frontman Chris Martin was charmingly apologetic, as if the rain was his fault. “I know this is extremely terrible weather,” he bellowed from the Emirates Palace stage on Saturday night.
But in fact, the rain never mattered. The British foursome bounced on stage with sparklers, opening their storming Middle Eastern debut with the instrumental Life in Technicolor from their last album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, followed by Violet Hill from the same album. From the happy enthusiasm shown by the band, you would never have guessed it’s a show that they’ve already performed more than 100 times worldwide. As forks of lightening streaked the sky, a sodden, enraptured audience of 15,000 whooped back at them.
Musically, it was a strong, well-constructed set list of upbeat new tracks from the recent album, produced in part by Brian Eno, along with a smattering of oldies. Having worked their way through Clocks and In My Place, it was during a rendition of the band’s early hit Yellow that the rain really started coming down.
Martin looked disbelievingly skywards and laughed with his three band mates, the guitarist Jonny Buckland, the bassist Guy Berryman and the drummer Will Champion. “I’m singing in the rain,” he quipped. Three giant orbs twirled above their heads, yellow balloons floated across the stage and a backdrop of multicoloured laser beams shone out into the audience.
It wasn’t a mere visual spectacle, however. From start to finish of nearly two hours of music, it was a magnificent effort in which the crowd were given a true taste of Chris Martin, the entertainer. He didn’t just sing. He also played the guitar, tinkled on the piano, cracked jokes at the audience and apologised for his bad Arabic before, at one moment, swaying around while puffing into a harmonica. All of this while skipping around stage, sweat pouring down his face. “We’re staying in a palace,” he said incredulously while waving his hand at the hotel behind him, seeming genuinely grateful to be there.
As he launched into a soaring rendition of Fix You, the rain stopped and the crowd were encouraged to sing along. Martin flung his Sergeant Pepper jacket out into the audience before launching into the opening guitar chords of Strawberry Swing, an Afropop influenced track that Martin attributes to Zimbabwe, where his mother grew up. “It’s such a perfect day,” he sang as the crowd collectively wiped rain water from their eyes.
The highlight, for one girl, came when Martin called her up on stage for a birthday treat. Having moved to a platform in front of the stage while frantic bodies mopped the equipment behind him, Martin invited the 23-year-old Sarah to sit beside him while he played the piano through The Hardest Part. “Just turn the pages,” he said. “I probably don’t smell so good but just sit back and relax. I’ll do all the singing.”
For others in the audience, their moment came when the four moved to a small platform in the middle of the standing section. “Remember, it’s Earth Hour,” instructed Martin as the lights went off and a sea of mobile phones and cameras were held up instead while the four swept through The Monkees’ I’m A Believer. Champion left his drums and took over for Martin with a rare vocal performance of Death Will Never Conquer, a song penned during writing sessions for Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends but which never made it on to the album.
The evening’s pinnacle came just afterwards, when having moved back to the main stage and performed Politik, the band struck up their wistful anthem to the East, Lovers in Japan. To a screened backdrop of Japanese images, thousands of multicoloured paper butterflies showered down on the audience. It was a truly breathtaking moment.
Tricky, therefore, to follow it up, but this they did with aplomb, performing the lullaby-like Death and All His Friends before taking a bow and leaving the stage. A brief encore, including The Scientist, was swept through before Martin had one final parting shot for the grateful crowd. “The ratings are back,” he said, “And we’ve played a few gigs, but the Abu Dhabi is audience number one.” On such a night, we happily believed him.