The first photo I’m posting on this blog (thoughtfully grayscale header notwithstanding) is eight years old and one of the worst I’ve ever taken. Part Two (concision is not my strong suit) of this particular reflection will have some prettier ones, so sit tight.
This, taken with a Samsung V-Cast on precipice of the smart-phone era, is one of my most important.
Concerts were not a part of my schematic of the universe for most of my life, and it wasn’t until 2008 I came to know I was missing anything.
By that time it had begun to cross my mind — the advent of the Palladia channel did much to agitate this curiosity — but felt like more trouble than I could bear. I worked during the hours concerts were generally held, I was terrified of cities, I was terrified of people and I was terrified of spending money. And I had other ends on my mind — how could I find time for such things on the way to becoming the greatest sportswriter in the world?
In the summer of 2008 my longstanding favorite band released their fourth studio album and my devotion to them was approaching critical mass. By the mid-oughties I had branched out to a half-handful of other key-crushing British musicians, but Coldplay was my band.
From the late summer of 2000, when I heard “Yellow” on the late, great paragon of alternative rock, Y100, and in my first weeks of college found a new home for my mind in the pensive ethereality of their debut LP; to 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head entirely shifting what music meant to me (in short, from background to lifeline); to their X&Y being a much-needed friend in the detached pocket I fell into during my first year of the “real world” — Coldplay stayed with me everywhere.
Through all that, all I needed were the songs.
When Viva La Vida came out, I started, for reasons I can’t pinpoint, to notice faces in the crowdshots of live footage. My old Live 2003 DVD, the Fix You video, TV appearances, anything — I became aware of the human beings watching them in person, whose expressions suggested they might feel similar to the way I did about the music.
I kind of started to wonder if it might be a nice place to be.
In the week before the band came to Philadelphia, the closest arena-qualified city to me, my manager at the time (before our little sports desk was depredated by the first of many layoffs, taking him with it) asked if I was going to the concert. I dragged my feet and said I shouldn’t, I couldn’t, it was too hard and I had to work.
He put me down for a vacation day, and said I should go. So I did.
From the bloodiest of nosebleed seats I felt doors I didn’t know existed blow open.
I don’t remember many details. I remember the lights, the sound — oh that sound, you could feel it — the crowd energy, Chris Martin’s unmistakable voice and inimitable ability to make the sort of dancing I do with the curtains pulled look cool, the jolt of holy shit they’re real people when the four of them walked out on stage, the rush when every song, any song, started — Yellow, oh god I can’t believe it’s really Yellow! — and how it felt like I was watching someone hand-craft all my emotions in real time. I remember hearing The Scientist, to this day one of my three favorite songs ever written by anybody, played in a little pocket of the crowd in the back, which was still far from my rafter but felt so close.
I knew that night that I needed to do this more, that I had to be back here, whenever I could. I found my world.
But right after that, the bottom fell out, and I didn’t find my way back for a while. I returned to listening to Coldplay alone at 3 a.m., on underwhelming sound devices in dark places. I listened also to my second-in-command Keane and to a band called Muse who were slowly claiming a larger territory on my iPod.
When the lights came back on, Coldplay weren’t on tour anymore. While they were working on another album, I got deeper and deeper into the heavier, slightly angrier and exquisitely cathartic offerings of Muse.
In 2010 I went to see Muse, and then did it again, and then did it in England. I made friends. I went from the rafters to right in front of the stage. I became part of something and I became blindingly driven to stay part of it.
By 2011, Coldplay wasn’t my favorite band anymore. Their incarnation of that era on some level left me behind. It was brighter and poppier and I was too entwined in the avarice of angst to find a place for myself in most of the Mylo Xyloto world.
Then I got into the explosive folk-punk planet of Frank Turner and relegated Coldplay a little farther down my depth chart.
Even in the middle of all my infidelity, Coldplay was still some kind of home. I knew it every time I put on an old album, every time I saw a livestream or an interview or just remembered something, anything. Hell, even when I listened to MX, which had its high points and only grew on me.
I only saw them twice on that tour. Tickets were expensive, there wasn’t GA, and I’d just lost my job. I knew from the moment they hit the stage for the first of those two shows that I’d wish I’d gone to more.
I knew I belonged there, with my old friends, even with their new songs and dayglo livery. I didn’t know it was going to be so long until I could be there again.
After quietly gracing the world with the brilliant but tourless Ghost Stories, an album that was right back in my wheelhouse, they went back to the studio.
So I chased around other bands and tore up the road and forgot, until that all fizzled in the face of dwindling funds and the weight of starting a whole new career. I lost the freedom and I lost the spirit of pursuit and I missed the old days — “a glory from it being far” and all that, if I may borrow from Tennyson.
And then Coldplay came back.
I was for a while still somewhat on the fence about their new album, which I dutifully bought the day it came out but hadn’t yet decided whether my anguished soul could find a place for all its colors. But I watched with pride this year as they played the Super Bowl Halftime show, won NME’s Godlike Genius Award, lit up Glastonbury, and looked as happy as I’d ever seen them.
I read all the setlists and watched all the YouTube videos and waited, and started to fall in love with the vibrant Head Full of Dreams palette.
And then one day in July, a week and a day shy of eight years since the first time I saw them and a little over four years since the last, I was finally headed to a concrete collosus in New Jersey, to see my band.
(continued in part 2)