There is no true ending, but just a new beginning. Bromides like that one, hackneyed as they may be, are the stuff of Coldplay lyrics, and the self-proclaimed “biggest band on earth” has put them to excessively effective use for the past two decades. Last night at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium, in the penultimate Oceania show of their A Head Full of Dreams tour, they brought that one to glorious life in Technicolour—three songs into the show, an audience of 51,000 had already been dazzled by their first monster hit (“Yellow”), a sparkling sea of Xylobands, a storm of confetti, a practical marathon run by lead singer Chris Martin and enough pyrotechnics to power a small country town’s New Year’s Eve celebration.
Excessive? Oh, sure. But Coldplay’s ambition—arena-sized, polarising, admirable even to their most begrudging of critics—has always been tempered by its earnestness. You don’t achieve global fame without actively courting your fans; anybody who has sloughed off a Coldplay concert as dull, insipid or uninspired surely hasn’t experienced them in the flesh.
By the time those fireworks fell to earth, it seemed as if Martin had already run a full marathon across the stage and down the lengthy catwalk into the crowd; if you’re wondering how he stays so whippet-thin when the band ostensibly spends much of their lives in aeroplanes and tour buses, you need only watch him leap, somersault and bound in time to the show’s perfectly timed bursts of razzle dazzled to understand his metabolism at the age of 39.
Martin has spoken openly about his role as a kind of tent-revival evangelist on the stage, about the power of the unabashed audience sing-along, about why he chooses empathy over cynicism. (To wit: the badges each attendee received that read “LOVE”, the ‘V’ shaped like a bird, echoing the cover of that, ahem, decisive ’70s navel-gazing novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull.) And it is hard to deny his efficacy as a performer—plowing through the band’s catalogue, a heavy dose of it from their glorious 2002 album A Rush of Blood to the Head and the more recent A Head Full of Dreams, which is both perfectly serviceable and somewhat forgettable.
Casual fans got what they came for—Martin gave hits like “The Scientist”, “Viva La Vida”, “Paradise” and “Clocks” his all. There were personal touches, too—twice, he broke into what he cheekily called Australia’s national anthem (actually John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice”); he kept the Australian and the Australian Aboriginal flags tucked into his jeans throughoug the show; the band covered David Bowie’s “”Heroes”” and during a too-short acoustic set, he sang their devastating ballad “Green Eyes” to guitarist Jonny Buckland.
Throughout, Martin engaged the crowd in endearingly daggy stage patter, willing them on to prove they would be the “best crowd we’ve ever seen” and at one point claiming he’d received a message from the head office of the Guinness Book of World Records, noting they had achieved his command. But he was also willing to own his mistakes—at the start of one song, he admitted “I just fucked up” and demanded a do-over; despite effortlessly rattling off the opening acts’ names as he tinkled away on his piano, he blanked on the date, simply referring to “this Tuesday night in December in Sydney” as he smiled knowingly.
A week prior to the show, Coldplay entertained a crowd of 200 at Nova’s Red Room, situated just beneath the Coca-Cola sign at the X Studios in Kings Cross. It was a short set—just 40 minutes—and the band, nodding to the season, chose to end it with their 2010 ballad “Christmas Lights”. To hear Martin tell it, the band rarely plays the song live. Prescient fans could have predicted it a mile away—last night, the band huddled at the end of their encore and, as a “Christmas gift” the crowd, closed the show with the same song.
As white confetti drifted over the crowd, aping snow on a night of record-breaking heat in Sydney, Martin crooned as the audience swooned. Then, a heartfelt bow from the quartet and—fitting for a show of this magnitude—the credits rolled, as if an epic film had just reached its climax. A fitting ending for a show by a band that, twenty years on, feels like it is only just beginning.
Coldplay is at Allianz Stadium in Sydney tonight (Wed 14 Dec). Tickets available at ticketek.com.au.