Playing in huge arenas before thousands of people has been known to alienate musicians seeking to establish a connection with their audiences, but Coldplay has taken steps to keep things on a human scale.
"Our relationship with the audience is really quite intimate at the moment, because if you bought a ticket way in the back, we'll be coming out to you," bass player Guy Berryman says from home in London, before starting the U.S. leg of a tour that stops in Hartford Saturday.
Indeed, shows on the English quartet's tour last year included a segment where the band raced to some distant section of the venue to perform a couple of acoustic songs. Coldplay plans to reprise the feature this summer, provided the group figures out a way to modify it for the amphitheaters it's visiting. "I'm sure we're going to be running to the back of the amphitheaters if we can," Berryman says. "We're kind of trying to break down the barriers of a conventional rock performance, with the band at one end of the venue and the audience all the way to the back."
Keeping that sense of intimacy with the audience is important for a band whose members regard each other as family. It shows in the way Coldplay has evolved over 11 years and four full-length studio albums together. The most recent, last year's "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends," was the top-selling album in the world in 2008 and won the Grammy for best rock album in February. It was also the first album on which Coldplay collaborated with producer Brian Eno, who has also worked with Roxy Music, Talking Heads and U2.
"Working with Brian Eno has really helped us quite a lot, and everyone is contributing ideas more and everyone is singing more," Berryman says. "We've spent so much time living together and traveling together, we just know each other better than ever, and we all have a good relationship and are very open-minded to everyone's ideas."
Each of the four members — Berryman, singer/pianist Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland and drummer Will Champion — contributes to the songwriting, which has become a free-flowing process that adheres to no set formula.
"Sometimes a song will be something that Chris has written one night on his own on piano, and he brings it in, and we all try and work out some parts to play on top of it, or it could be a studio-based session where Will is playing a certain drumbeat or Jonny is playing a riff on his guitar, and we kind of build things up from that side," Berryman says. "There's no specific way it functions anymore, which is really quite exciting, because it means everything is coming from a slightly different place."
In some ways, writing "Viva la Vida" was a reaction to stinging criticism from New York Times music critic Jon Pareles, who described Coldplay as "the most insufferable band of the decade" in a blistering review of the band's 2005 album "X&Y."
"It was a big deal. It's the first real attack on your band, and from a publication we all respect," Martin told Rolling Stone last year. "I agreed with a lot of the points. It was like, 'Yeah, I do sometimes go for the obvious, and I do sometimes fall back on old tricks.' So, in a way, it was liberating to see that someone else realized that also."
Berryman says he doesn't remember any specific talk about the Times' review while recording "Viva la Vida," but allows that criticism can be a motivating force.
"Sometimes somebody has decided they don't like you for no other reason than that you're popular, but then sometimes, if there's negative comments, you can read them and go, 'Do you know what? I agree with that,' and you kind of use what people have written about you in a positive way to make constructive changes," he says.
All the same, it doesn't take outside criticism to make the members of Coldplay self-conscious.
"We're a band that's riddled with insecurities anyway, so it doesn't really help us that much to be written about in a negative way," Berryman says. "We just never believe that we've done anything good, and whenever we set out to make a record, we always have it in our heads that it has to be better than the last one. It's those insecurities that drive us to keep going back into the studio and to keep trying to improve our live show and to try and become better musicians and better writers. It's the driving force behind why we're still here doing what we do."
•COLDPLAY performs Saturday at the Comcast Theatre (formerly the Meadows) with Pete Yorn and Howling Bells. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show are $97.50 and $79.50 for reserved seats and $35 for the lawn. Information: 860-548-7370.
Guy Berryman at Cruzan Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach: