(continued from Part 1)
Even having lamented my inexplicably short live tally for Coldplay — at three shows, leagues behind bands I’d liked not half as long — I only planned to see them once on the first round of their exultant Head Full Of Dreams tour.
That financial dubiety again, my third go at joblessness since they toured last, kept me from a heavy trigger on Ticketmaster, but I had no doubt I’d be there when they came back to the Philadelphia Sports Complex to play the stadium beside the revolving-bank-name arena I first saw them in.
Then someone hired me. And after a month shouldering the humility of trying to switch from journalism to welding at age 34 and wishing to any heaven for a way back to something that felt like myself, I decided I was not going to wait until August to see the band I knew would bring me just that.
I bought a ticket for the closer of their two-night tour-opening swing through New-York-but-really-New-Jersey, trusting the concert-goers’ axiom of second-night preference. Two days before the first show, I deferred to my personal axiom of just going to both shows because why wouldn’t I, and bought a ticket to the tour kick-off.
The day came and I carefully unshelved my otherwise-retired Viva La Vida tour shirt. My first concert shirt has grown ragged after years of wear, but I felt it the only sartorial choice for this occasion.
Despite my usual taste for the road, the three-hour drive felt interminable if only for the challenge of sitting still that long under the influence of unmeasured giddiness.
I arrived early, of course, even though I had a seat and no particular reason to be in it hours ahead of the show. I just wanted to be there.
The element of surprise that came with my first gig shouldn’t have really been in play in 2016. I had Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and every other window into exactly what was coming. I knew what the stage looked like, knew what they’d play save a couple wild-card slots, knew who’d be where during what part of what song, and, after studying seat maps, stage angles and stadium photos as if planning a space expedition, had a pretty good idea what my view would be.
It didn’t matter. I still damn near cried when I looked down and saw the expanse of it all before me. Not many artists can fill stadiums in the U.S. — to see the guys’ stuff all laid out in one felt momentous.
I delicately affixed the blue Love Button handed to me at the gate above the crazing Delacroix masterpiece on my chest and made sure my Xyloband was in position for maximum hand-flailing potential.
Excellent sets from support acts Foxes and Alessia Cara helped the passage of time, and then the wait was gone.
It didn’t take 10 minutes for Coldplay to run through the gamut of human emotion and flex the beauty in all of it — moving from the majestically plaintive aria “O mio babbino caro” into a worldly compilation of elated fans introducing the band, into a supercut of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic Great Dictator speech, right into Chris Martin power-pogoing onto the apron as the band punched out the opening notes of their seventh album’s title track.
When the band had announced they were playing stadiums on this tour, I worried I’d feel detached, and that it might be compounded by the fact that most of the songs from my heyday were gone from the setlist, given way to ones that, no matter how much I liked them, still felt a little unheimlich.
If my fears hadn’t already been overthrown by explosive joy during the opening number, they certainly would have been done-in as soon as the first notes of Yellow rang out.
However many times I hear it — and I’ve heard it a lot — Yellow simply never outgrows the particular romance of having been the song that got me into Coldplay, which I can say without histrionics led me to almost everything that brings me happiness in my life now.
Looking out over a vastness of 50,000 yellow lights all flickering in time to the song was a cosmos I wouldn’t have even had the capacity to imagine when I first found comfort in its soft melody 16 years ago in my tiny dorm freshman room.
It wasn’t lost on me that some portion of the crowd weren’t yet school-age in the days that moment carried me back to.
I could see, or hear, others transported to some beginning of their own at the opening notes of the next song, Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall.
Mylo Xyloto’s lead single, on its release in 2011, was the first Coldplay song that felt like it wasn’t written for me, ultimately more a lesson in perspective than it was a disappointment. One of the great privileges of loving the same band for 16 years is watching them reach not only people just like yourself but also those who are moved by different forces. Every Teardrop, never a song I gave much pause, felt radiant to me that night because I could tell it was someone else’s Yellow.
I managed to lose myself in it enough that at its end I was caught off-guard by the moment I could never have sufficiently steeled my emotions for anyway, when the lachrymose embrace of The Scientist kicked in before the lights came up.
The right song is a companion for life, and that’s what The Scientist has been for me since the day I bought A Rush Of Blood To The Head. I’m fortunate my most-beloved ballad has hung tough in the setlist for 14 years, because every second of hearing it played in my presence is moving beyond the conveyance of words.
After just the right allowance of simultaneously basking and wallowing in my own sentiment, the throwback ambiance of Ghost Stories’ Oceans segued a dozen years ahead into the more energetic measure of new tune Birds and less-new adrenaline-pumper Paradise.
In another moment that, for entirely different reasons, I would not have imagined in the early oughties, Paradise tailed off into the fiercely fun Tiesto remix of the song, turning the concrete bowl into the only nightclub I’d ever want to be in.
It had felt something of a shame to me that I wasn’t able to make it to either of the only two Ghost Stories-era concerts held on the East Coast of America, a regret in part placated when one of my favorite tracks from the album, Always In My Head, opened the three-song B stage set.
On and on Coldplay bounced seamlessly from the melancholic to the jubilant, from the songs that were part of my soul to the ones that were just part of my summer, somehow making it all fit in the same story.
There was enough vibrant color and friendliness and love and positivity and humor and humility to take me, for a night, away from a self that hadn’t become very good at seeing any of those things in the world outside that stadium.
There was the resolute affection of Everglow, with a prefatory call for nothing more than love and kindness, serving to remind that those things are actually effective.
There was my old college companion Clocks, and captivatingly buoyant Hymn For The Weekend, and increasingly nostalgic Viva La Vida.
There was everybody’s anthem for something dear to them, Fix You, the only song I know that can be at once so deeply personal and powerfully collective.
If there was a moment of suspense, it was the little sojourn to their tiny C stage near the back of the floor — as ever, giving the non-high-rollers a moment in the sweet seats and also rolling in various oldies in acoustic form.
One of the few — the only, really — downsides to loving a band so long is that the necessary attenuation of older material from the setlist will invariably knock off some of your favorite songs. And In My Place, one of the cornerstones of my development as a music fan, was a victim of that on this tour.
So it was a kind turn of fate that it showed up on the C stage in New Jersey, in an acoustic version that for its duration seemed to erase both temporal and physical distance.
After its album-mate God Put A Smile Upon Your Face and a touching solo cover of Bruce Springsteen’s cover of Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl, it was back to the main stage with the serenade of my most anticipated new song of the show, Amazing Day, which delivered all the sentiment I’d loved about it all year.
From there it went all too fast to the end, marked by a fittingly uplifting finale of Up and Up.
Then I hit the highway home for an overnight intermission before getting right back on the same ride — giving myself no chance for withdrawal back to earthly worries.
From a new seat I watched it all again; let it carry me back to 2000 and forward to the present and find the one part of me that hadn’t changed in that interim.
This night my second-favorite song made a rare appearance — as if by fate, Trouble again found its unlikely way into one of my few shows. It had also, on fluke, done so four years ago when I saw them in Philadelphia. I needed it then and I needed it now.
While I’d hoped my fan request video pleading for A Rush Of Blood To The Head might be chosen, I could hardly feel duped when instead the band uncorked a two-song Back To The Future tribute — requested by Chris’s son Moses — complete with appearance by Michael J. Fox. It was worth, too, the bumping off of Amazing Day to make time for it.
I only had to suffer reality, which now seemed more sufferable in the lingering light of those two nights, for a couple weeks before I was back on the cloud, right near where it all began, in South Philadelphia.
Aside from the self-kicking I had to endure after missing a soundcheck that would have allowed me to hear, albeit not see, my Rush Of Blood request, it was another dose of all the same comfort I’d found up the turnpike.
It came with another throwback to my foundation as a fan, Don’t Panic, another chance to clutch all the memories that go with In My Place, the warmth of X&Y denouement Til Kingdom Come, and even its own Springsteen cover.
It came with all the same awe and reverence and gratitude I’d felt on that very expanse of concrete and tarmac in 2008, and alone in a little cube of white drywall in 2003.
It wasn’t the end of my summer run. After contently watching my idols from rather far-flung perches all these times, I finally had a chance at the holy grail of a general admission Coldplay performance in the United States, something they haven’t often done since I found my show-going stride, as the band came back to Philly for the Made In America Festival on Labor Day weekend.
That story is probably best told in photographs, of which I took shamefully many in every wave of silly excitement that swept over me whenever Chris swooped out onto an apron that was about 10 feet from my face. And I’ll tell it and show it in another post I promise won’t be as prolix or self-indulgent as this one.
I can’t say on the surface I’ve ever been the best Coldplay fan, or even a very good one. I nicked Parachutes off the student-share servers two years before I bought it (I’ve bought everything since, and you should, too). For eight years I didn’t know you could go to shows. I only lurked on fan forums and never participated. After a decade I bumped them off the top wrung of my favorites list when I decided to instead chase the crown of world’s biggest Muse fan for three years. I only have four Coldplay shirts after 16 years, while accruing about 15 Frank Turner shirts in a two-year span.
I don’t have any great badge of loyalty to show-and-tell. Just my own memories, and my own love, and a decade and a half of holing up in song after song.
I’ve stayed in love with Coldplay longer than I’ve stayed in love with anything else.
Whenever I go back to them, whether it’s a show or just a song in my head, whether it’s every day or wedged around whatever other band I’m cavorting with, I know where I am.
In solitude or in a stadium, they’re where I belong.