Fourteen years on, Coldplay brought a spectacle-drenched tour to Thailand for the biggest headline concert by an international act the country has seen.
I’m not Coldplay’s biggest fan. I didn’t grow up idolising the men behind today’s polarising records like Parachutes and A Rush of Blood To the Head. My first Coldplay album was X&Y; I enjoyed its tighter progressive sound and thought “Fix You” was the most brilliant love song ever written, but by then my interest had extended across so many bands and genres that I felt no more intimately about them than I did other “Essential Anthems”, also the title of my high school iPod playlist (minus Japanese emoticons) comprising the likes of The Killers, Green Day and Muse.
That was very much the sentiment as I stepped into Rajamangala National Stadium last Friday (Apr 7). No nostalgia, no overpriced merch-buying adoration, just a hunger for a show worth the soul-dampening journey through Ramkhamhaeng’s traffic and that Coldplay were one of the titan bands to see before I die.
And give it to Coldplay to make everyone with their little nuances feel welcome. All 67,000 of them. Of us. From handing out Love Buttons and Xylobands, next-level crowd engagement LED wristbands that would come to life and change colour according to the music, giving shoutouts to tripper fans from all of Asia, to playing an audience-oriented 23-song set that sees to all preferences, alternating between older hits, stripped down B-sides and current chart-toppers confidently delivered with a touch of Tomorrowland.
After opening the show with “A Head Full of Dreams”, made more of a blast-off by generous explosions of confetti and fireworks, the buoyant Chris Martin quickly noted it had been fourteen years since their first and last visit and thanked the crowd for spending Friday night with them. Then down we were “Yellow” memory lane. I suspect the early millennials to my right belting out every word had their coming-of-age memories tied to the 2000 anthem of unrequited love, but as you saw the vast sea of marigold before you, maybe the past wasn’t worth recollecting so much.
As the stadium burst into technicolour again in “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”, henchman Jonny Buckland and derriere Will Champion stole attention with soaring guitar and gargantuan drums. While the spotlight didn’t last long – in two minutes’ time we were echoing Martin’s melancholic voice in “The Scientist” – it was enough for me not to tiptoe in anticipation of reportable antics every time the frontman pranced onto the 45-metre runway.
Not to say I didn’t catch any. During “Clocks” I was left just as confused as the song’s protagonist as Martin repeatedly thrusted his pelvis at the piano. Some of the less blush-inducing quirks include petting a fan’s plush panda which he later appointed a totem on Champion’s drum set and dancing like nobody’s watching in “Hymn For The Weekend” before melting away with the chromatic visuals on B Stage.
It’s clear by this point Coldplay enjoy sending fans on an emotional roller coaster. Tears followed the euphoric acid trip with Beyoncé (her voice, at least) as the set progressed to “Fix You”. It was too much. If the final moments of the music video give you goosebumps, imagine actually being there with nearing 70,000 others.
(Suddenly I had this romantic picture of a 70’s crowd waving cigarette lighters at a Bob Dylan show juxtaposed with what we had: software-controlled flickers and a clammy choir of office workers singing back to a band once named Starfish. “Cool” isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind though I doubt we’d have it otherwise.)
Other notable, if mildly political, moments include “Don’t Panic”, an Instagram request from a Chinese fan whose first trip abroad was here for the concert. “We hope to play [in China] one day. We look forward to so please allow us to come,” said Martin, alluding the Chinese government’s history of barring artists linked with the Dalai Lama or who, like Coldplay, have publicly supported Tibet’s independence from performing in the country. The quartet also dedicated “Everglow” to late King Bhumibol. The soft ballad has always segued into Muhammad Ali’s 1977 speech about universal love but being local I found it especially poignant knowing the monarch was a unifying figure in a divided Thailand all through his reign.
“I’m going to dedicate my life to using my name and popularity to helping charities, helping people, uniting people,” avowed Ali. “People bombing each other because of religious beliefs. We need somebody in the world to help us all make peace.”
My energy graph dropped somewhat towards the finale but I came to realise it’s for the best. “’Til Kingdom Come”, a “we’re in a good mood” treat replacing what many thought would be a made-up song about Thailand, was a moment of reflection. For all the lasers and pyrotechnics, the concert was foremost a visit to this weird and wonderful El Dorado of pampering. Sent off by “Up&Up” with Buckland’s catharsis-like solo, we trudged back to reality, hoping one day we’re courageous enough to become the person Chief Chris thinks we already are.
“The four of us were talking backstage, just saying how grateful we feel that we’re able to come to such a beautiful country with such beautiful, kind people and play this amazing stadium to all of you,” Martin said. “It’s a privilege of our lives.”
Presumably somewhere along the course of our modern time humility and optimism were conflated with straight-up Loserville citizenship. I’ve heard jokes about Coldplay’s “dullness” enough times to know I’m supposed to laugh. But we’ll see how that plays out next time, friends, colleagues, and late night TV. I still might laugh on behalf of the band because they would. Though let’s not pretend they’re not the ones orchestrating a rush of blood, dreams and joy to millions of heads.