It was a surprisingly low key return for the biggest band in the world, if you can ever call performing an internet broadcast to an online audience of tens of millions low key, writes the UK's Daily Telegraph, in a review of Coldplay at last night's iTunes Festival at SXSW in Texas. More discussion on Coldplay's performance is at the Coldplay Live forum now.
The Telegraph continued: Coldplay took to the stage casually attired in their trademark student garb of trainers, black jeans and tight T-shirts - only singer Chris Martin standing out in a pristine white top. An array of instruments were clumped together centre stage, and band members focussed moodily and intently on setting up a gentle, swaying breeze of slow bass, shuffling drums and tinkling guitar as Martin crooned sweet nothings about someone always being in his heart. Given the hype and expectation, it was like opening the Super Bowl with a lullaby.
Dispensing with the paint-spattered costumes, flashing wrist bands, graffiti set and batteries of multi-coloured special effects that marked their triumphant 2012 Mylo Xylto tour, the stadium superstars seemed intent on presenting themselves as the house band at a chill- out club. Four new songs were all characterised by a quality of undemonstrativeness, gliding gently in the shimmering, supple textures of spacey ambient pop, sounding like music to do underwater yoga to. There was not a stirring, singalong anthem amongst them. Even the stage lighting was muted, blues and reds bathing the band in washes of single colours. Last time round, Coldplay threw everything they had at the audience with a conviction that sometimes bigger really is better; this time the guiding principle might have been less is more.
Even in stripped-back form, the songs proved powerful and persuasive. Delivering rousing versions of half a dozen of their biggest hits with Martin’s enthusiastic charisma focussing the band’s intense drive, Coldplay ensured the audience was reverent and attentive for quieter, more intimate new songs like Magic and Another’s Arms.
I’m not convinced this understated new direction is an entirely accurate picture of their forthcoming album, Ghost Stories, though. Coldplay are an extremely self-aware band, and they are not about to reveal their whole hand before a big game. The Moody Theatre in Austin, Texas is an intimate venue that holds under 3,000 but Martin was acutely aware of the potentially vast internet audience beyond, even inviting them to “singalong world!” I’m not sure that was ever going to work under the circumstances. I have previously attended the iTunes festival in person in London, but for its American debut I tuned in from my living room in London on AppleTV. It meant I had the best seat in the house but audience participation routines don’t have quite the same effect when you are hunkered down on a comfy sofa.
Coldplay closed their set with the epic Fix You, rather awkwardly introduced with a reference to “everyone involved with the Malaysian airplane”, as if this uplifting anthem required a disaster to lend its compassion context. It was the only moment when I wondered if they might really be losing touch with their everyman instincts. If so, encore of new song Midnight represented a tantalising glimpse of a possible future, with Martin hunkered down, duetting with a tremulous emotional intensity to his own vocoder shadow while his band mates conjured up a luscious electronic pulse from a trio of synthesisers. It was enough to demonstrate that Coldplay have the skill and confidence to dispense with all their usual songwriting tropes and still shoot straight for the heart.
1 Always In My Head*
2 Charlie Brown
6 Another's Arms*
7 Viva La Vida
9 Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall
10 Fix You
(* new songs from the forthcoming album: Ghost Stories)