The Rose Bowl
Oct. 6, 2017
What are we supposed to do? Not go to concerts any more?
That was a question posed on Billboard's Pop Shop podcast earlier this week following the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas last weekend. The show must go on, they say. And shows do go on. This particular show — one of the final stops on Coldplay's Head Full of Dreams Tour, which has spanned five continents over two years — is probably one of the most noteworthy in the world since last Sunday's mass shooting. Coldplay are among the biggest and most recognized bands on the planet. The Rose Bowl Stadium has a capacity of 92,000 — though reported attendance for this show is a mere 60,000. Still, the level of caution surrounding the gig's continuation is almost debilitating.
It takes over two hours just to get into the surrounding area due to heightened security. It's disappointing to hear the electronic thuds of support act Tove Lo's "Disco Tits" across the parking lot, knowing it's too late to make it in time for her set. It's almost too late to make it in time for the start of Coldplay as thousands of audience members attempt to make it through intense and extensive security screenings. Even once inside the venue's inner grounds, police swarm with bomb-sniffing dogs.
The atmosphere is notably flat as a nervous vibe looms large in the air at the bars and stalls just outside the main stadium. The lights in the arena seem brighter than usual, too. There's zen-like ambient sound and opera playing before Coldplay's set, providing a notably calming experience — kind of like when you board an aircraft. There's advice for how to start planning your exit from the venue on the big screens – kind of like when you board an aircraft. And by the way, there's no good way to plan your exit here, except to leave as soon as you can and hope for the best. I left three-quarters of the way into Coldplay's set, walked an hour from the site and paid highly surged Uber prices to eventually make it back home by 1 a.m.
Given all these circumstances, putting things to the back of your mind is a challenge. There are simply too many visual prompts and too many circumstantial obstacles to remind you that concert attendance is becoming more complex, nerve-racking and perhaps unsafe.
None of this is Coldplay's fault, of course. In fact, tonight frontman Chris Martin uses military language to address the crowd. “I salute you,” he says to his fans, repeatedly thanking them for coming out. Presumably most indie rock outfits don't consider themselves to be soldiers when they're embarking on a career in music, but the act of performing at a concert in the wake of recent events in Las Vegas and Manchester has necessitated a fighting spirit. You believe in the sanctity of a live music space? Well then, what are you prepared to do for it?
Tonight it feels like the patience and good will of the audience are put to the test. You can see it on Martin's face, too, though he does everything to brace himself for the journey.
If anyone can comfort you like a father and make you feel like you're receiving the sonic equivalent of a ginormous hug of reassurance, an ice cream with extra sprinkles and a day out at Disneyland, it's Martin. Throughout the night, he runs up and down the middle of his huge catwalk under a bright white spotlight, unguarded and exposed to every emotional and physical vulnerability. He notably never turns his back on the crowd, even when making his way back to the main stage. Either his eyes keep swiveling, or he backtracks his steps. His focus on the people here is unwavering.
Martin keeps an American flag out the back of his jeans all night, wearing the stars and stripes as his own badge of honor. He changes some verse lyrics on "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" to accommodate audience participation with “whoops” for the ladies and “screams” for the fellas. We know it's cheesy, he knows it's cheesy. But Martin — a man whom Liam Gallagher once described as looking like a “geography teacher” — is a character we've all welcomed into our family because he just seems like such a nice guy. During the show, he reveals that all proceeds from tonight's ticket sales will go to disaster relief efforts for Mexico.
At the show's opening, we hear the voice of Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator declaring, “The people have the power to make this life a wonderful adventure.” If Coldplay had a generator, it would be powered by the human collective. With custom-made activated wristbands handed out to all who enter, the shows are as much about the crowd as they are Martin, Jonny Buckland (guitar), Guy Berryman (bass) and Will Champion (drums). It's a symbiotic relationship and it doesn't work if the audience isn't relaxed.
Escapism is therefore very much on the menu. As firework cannons explode everywhere from the get-go and rainbow confetti bursts over the floor, it's pure joy on the sea of faces. “Oh my god, Coldplay are so extra, this is the first fucking song!” says someone within earshot. Extra is right. Martin is already bashing his chest with his fist, smiling wide on the opening number. When the wristbands turn yellow and the early strums of an old favorite ring out, it's obvious that "Yellow" is about to send the whole place into their first tear-jerking moment of the evening.
The catalog is full of such moments – whether the happy tears of "Charlie Brown," or the lamenting tears of "Fix You," there's no shortage of goose pimple-inducing chants shared by couples, friends, parents and small children. On "The Scientist," Martin says, “Everyone says that nobody in Los Angeles sings along, but I think that's bullshit.” When the crowd perform an extra chorus back at him, he stops and marvels. “Ho ho ho,” he says. “That's very good.”
Repeating the phrase “there's no place like home” three times, Martin makes a promise for the evening before clicking his heels together: “We're gonna play the best show we've ever played in our lives.” He keeps assuring us it was worth our while. Between the lines, however, it seems what he's really saying is that it's worth the risk.
Every boom of a confetti cannon feels anxious, even when the explosions only ever produce paper birds or ticker-tape spanning every color of the rainbow. When the tracks descend into mad rock raves, like the extended version of "Paradise," there are tension-relieving, hedonistic dance-offs. At other junctures, songs take on new significance — like "Magic," for instance, which Martin performs with the whole band gathered around him at the end of the catwalk. “If you were to ask me, after all that we've been through/Still believe in magic? yes, I do; of course I do,” he sings.
The foursome do everything four men can do to produce magic. Reality, however, keeps getting in the way. “Thank you for making the giant effort,” says Martin again, in another address. “I know it's a fucking nightmare to get here. The traffic is crazy. The lines are crazy. The drink prices are crazy. At least the moon is out reminding us of the glory and nature of the universe.” He sits at his piano in the middle of the vast epic space by himself and talks about “a week like this when your faith can be shaken.” He asks for everyone to send their good thoughts out to Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Tanzania and beyond. He dedicates "Everglow" to the just-passed Tom Petty. (He'll later cover "Free Fallin'" towards the end of the show, bringing on special guest James Corden).
“I don't give a shit how I look,” he tells the crowd, asking them to put their phones away after stopping and restarting "Charlie Brown." “I dance like an idiot. And I make a living from it.” "Charlie Brown" is one moment of pure euphoria. It lights up the whole stadium in multi-colored tones. Everyone puts their devices down and releases their pent-up energy for a few minutes, dancing like idiots, too. “We'll run wild, we'll be glowing in the dark," they sing together. Rather than a moment of celebration or a homecoming victory lap, tonight feels like a display of courage.
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Set list below.
A Head Full of Dreams
Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall
God Put a Smile Upon Your Face
Always in My Head
Hymn for the Weekend
Viva La Vida
Adventure of a Lifetime
Us Against the World
Free Fallin' (Tom Petty cover)
Something Just Like This
A Sky Full of Stars
Up & Up