“We just want to thank everyone for being here”. Yadda yadda. Chris Martin is sat at his piano in the middle of Croke Park, offering what seems to be the usual platitudes to some 80,000 people. Sure he’s reminiscing about Coldplay coming here in their early days and playing to virtually nobody, but it’s the kind of schtick you’ll hear at any gig. Except that he’s not quite finished. He appreciates us being here, not only because his band have been away from Ireland for six years, but because he knows that shows like this can, now more than ever, be a right pain in the backside. He lists all the reasons – the sheer hassle of getting into the venue, the cost of a bottle of water, not being able to see anything and, specific to this show, the rip off ticket prices to be found once the gig had sold out in the blink of an eye. Now this is something we haven’t heard before, an admission that by playing to this many people in one go a band like Coldplay aren’t exactly offering them the best experience.
You might wonder, then, why they’ve been playing these sort of shows solidly for nearly ten years. They don’t really have a choice to be fair, such is their continuing popularity despite the odd potential commercial banana skin. Despite creative left turns such as the Ghost Stories album, they’ve never been too far away from the kind of crowd pleasing anthems that nights such as this were made for and thus are about the only band touring at this level playing new songs that people actually want to hear, as opposed to drawing on the distant past to sell tickets.
One more thing actually. Coldplay are really very good at this. It’s a massive production that draws on every trick in the book to provide a spectacle – from the coloured confetti explosions down the central walkway at the off to fireworks, flame throwers, giant balloons, an Irish flag draped on the mic stand, the syncopated wristbands that turn the stadium into an extension of the light show, a second stage in the middle of the pitch and Chris Martin running up and down like a mad thing. They’re clever moves but nothing you wouldn’t expect on this level. The set list is hardly risky either, sticking to their considerable catalogue of hits rather than delving into seven albums worth of curios and rarities.
What makes a band like Coldplay work at a level where so many fail is the fact that they are indeed a band. Their gear is arranged neatly front and centre of the huge stage (you’d probably fit them in your garage) and they appear to recreate everything onstage themselves give or take the odd moment, meaning that even their most shiny newer songs are given a kick that sits them nicely from when they still sounded like four musicians in a room. It creates a sense of humanity that cuts through the huge space and makes this a uniquely massive, intimate experience. Which takes us back to the start and Chris Martin’s honest assessment of the night ahead of us. If we would have liked to have heard more of the genuinely interesting stuff (Viva La Vida, the album that perhaps saw them best crash the experimental, classic and pop, is represented only by the title track), it doesn’t really matter. A Coldplay stadium show has frailties (the singer messes up the start of ‘Fix You’ so badly that he has to call a halt to proceedings and start again), opinions (they stop ‘Charlie Brown’ so that Martin can ask everyone to put their phones away for just one song and enjoy the moment) and the unexpected – we certainly haven’t seen a wheelchair using member of an audience crowd surf to join a band on stage and then play harmonica on an improvised song about Dublin that mentions hurlers and the GAA before. You don’t get that at Justin Bieber.
Perhaps the last forward looking band standing on the stadium circuit, Coldplay – seventeen months since they started this tour and with another four left to run – have set the standard for all of those that follow.