Coldplay at Glastonbury review – Chris Martin takes tens of thousands on the adventure of a lifetime

Estimated read time 4 min read

It is, as Chris Martin points out, 25 years since Coldplay’s Glastonbury debut, a silver anniversary they commemorate tonight by unexpectedly dusting down an acoustic version of Sparks from their debut album Parachutes. Perhaps more pertinently, it’s the fifth time they’ve headlined the festival, and they’ve got the hang of it to such an extent that it increasingly feels like the job the quartet were put on earth to do.

Since their last appearance in 2016, they’ve completed a 180 degree turn from earnest stadium balladeers to purveyors of relentless, balls-out, more-is-more visual overload: their gigs are now effectively a 21st-century equivalent of U2’s Zoo TV shows, albeit without any of U2’s accompanying theorising about the media or the relationship between art and commerce.

Coldplay.View image in fullscreen

This gig is played amid the eye-popping, ongoing Music of the Spheres tour, and everything that appeared to be cranked up to 11 when I saw it two years ago is now cranked up to 12. The end result makes Dua Lipa’s performance on Friday night look like the dernier cri in shy understatement.

Pyrotechnics and confetti cannons are used not as a special effect, but as a regular punctuation point, not deployed to signpost the climax of the show, but the arrival of choruses. Inflatables roll over the crowd, while equipping the audience with illuminated wristbands remains the best idea anyone’s had at a giant-scale gig since they worked out how to turn the big stage-side screens on: it’s both visually dazzling and dizzily effective at turning even the fringes of what looks like it will be the biggest crowd of the weekend into part of the performance.

Shamelessly unsubtle crowd-pleasing stuff … Chris Martin and Coldplay.View image in fullscreen

It is shamelessly unsubtle crowd-pleasing stuff, from the obvious singalong anthems that precede their appearance – Don’t Look Back In Anger, Smells Like Teen Spirit – to a drone flying overhead broadcasting the vastness of the assembled masses back to them, to the level of flattery Chris Martin lavishes on the festival and the audience itself: “Amazing wonderful people from all over the place… the greatest city on earth … the most important engine room in the world”.

Still, in the middle of the crowd, it would take a quite extraordinary level of churlishness not to be swept along in its wake. Whatever reasonable objections you might lodge against Coldplay do seem to melt away in the face of such cartoonish good fun – at a festival where there’s theoretically always something else going on to divert your attention, it’s a smart idea to continually give the audience something to look at – and a set toploaded with a relentless bombardment of greatest hits: Yellow, Clocks, Adventure of a Lifetime, The Scientist, Paradise, Viva La Vida, Higher Power.

Messages of love … Chris Martin.View image in fullscreen

Indeed, it’s so relentless that the middle section, during which they start rolling out the special guests feels like a respite, simply because the songs they’re guesting on are album tracks: Laura Mvula sings Violet Hill from Viva la Vida – intriguingly the solitary genuinely angry anti-war protest song in Coldplay’s catalogue – Little Simz raps on And So We Pray, from the forthcoming Moon Music, and Femi Kuti and Palestinian/Chilean singer Elyanna appear on an impressively powerful version of Arabesque, the highlight of 2019’s decidedly mixed bag Everyday Life.

The final part of the show occasionally skirts with a slightly cheesy daffiness as it attempts to find further stops to pull out: Chris Martin gets the cameras to focus on individual audience members and makes up songs about them on the spot; he invites the crowd en masse to send out private messages of love to the world (the dispatch of said messages is marked with more fireworks).

Coldplay on the Pyramid stage.View image in fullscreen

But he still succeeds in carrying the crowd with it. For a finale, he unexpectedly brings out Michael J Fox, and then performs Fix You. The latter is arguably the most slender of Coldplay’s patented Big Tunes, but it feels noticeably bulked up by being sung en masse, to a backdrop of their trademark wristbands glowing a warm orange. Onstage, the cameras briefly focus on drummer Will Champion, who, rather sweetly, seems to be moved to tears. But even if it doesn’t leave you moist-eyed, Coldplay’s performance is the kind of Glastonbury set that no one present is likely to forget in a hurry.


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