In a world where it often feels like too much all the time, Coldplay know they can’t fix you. But on a night when 50,0000+ fans packed into Soldier Field to see the group land their interplanetary pop spaceship during the first of back-to-back stadium shows in Chicago, they did everything they could to crank the joy meter past 11, if only for 2 hours.
The band reached that level on Saturday night (May 28) with the help of trippy puppet duets, silly dances in custom space helmets, brightly blinking bracelets that lit up the cavernous home of the Bears and a surprise cameo from hometown hip-hop hero Lupe Fiasco, who was so taken in the moment that, like the audience, he just didn’t want it to end.
With so much uncertainty and pressure in the world amid war, inflation, waves of mass shootings and lingering COVID pandemic anxiety, singer Chris Martin told Billboard before the show that mounting this kind of massive production, “Is like a big Squid Game in a way, it feels like we’re running the gauntlet.” But, he said, it’s one that they’re willing to sprint because all that unpredictability “makes it [touring] more precious… there’s an increased fragility to it that makes it all the more energized.”
The “Music of the Spheres” tour that has the band pledging to cut touring emissions by 50% by incorporating innovative greening initiatives including stationary bikes and a kinetic dance floor that help power a satellite stage feels like a super-powered exhale during troubled times. An exchange of energy that the band said they craved, but which the audience clearly needed as well.
“There’s no negativity on display,” Martin said, explaining that it’s easy to be pessimistic, so Coldplay are determined to provide an antidote to that and push against the things that divide us. “Just be you and don’t hurt anybody else and we love you,” he said, reciting the band’s maximum merriment maxim.
He clarified, however, that it’s not about “forgetting your troubles,” but rather “accepting the variety of color that being a human being brings.” Martin said it’s okay to sit with two different, seemingly opposing emotions at once.
So, if accepting joy and pain is part of the Coldplay experience, so is sensory overload, which they provided from the very first moments with their current album’s high-energy first single, “Higher Power.” The opening song was accompanied by an explosion of confetti, fireworks and pulsing colorful LED wristbands that flashed in unison like a sky full of stars. It also marked a welcome return for Coldplay, whose last show in Chicago, in July 2016, was cut short by a massive storm that forced an evacuation of the stadium.
The sprawling, Pink Floyd-inspired stage set framed the band between two enormous round screens, with four suspended, planet-like globes playing videos of dancing aliens as they segued into the thumping “Paradise.” Martin then took a moment before “The Scientist” to pay tribute to “anyone affected by gun violence” in the first of two nods to Tuesday’s horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that took the lives of 19 fourth-grade children and 2 teachers. “We don’t take it for granted we can gather like this.”
“Nobody said it was easy” fans shouted along with Martin on the chorus moments later, “no one ever said it would be this hard.” And then, in a beloved tradition that the capacity crowd would spontaneously repeat several more times during, as well as after the show on the streets and in hotel lobbies as they were headed home, they sang the “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” refrain from “Viva La Vida” together in what has become the unofficial Coldplay national fan anthem.
Bassist Guy Berryman told Billboard that there was some nervousness about whether they would be able to mount such an ambitious tour without “the whole thing collapsing” in this not-quite-post-COVID world. But looking at the tens of thousands of fans waving sunshine-colored (compostable, of course) light-up bracelets during the band’s breakthrough 2000 hit “Yellow” as a giant disco ball bathed them in warm light, drummer Will Champion’s worry about whether “anyone would show” up in uncertain times was plainly unfounded.
On the floor of the stadium, couples kissed and hugged, danced and released what felt like long-pent-up energy during “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” before things got super weird with a cameo from a Jim Henson studios-created galactic puppet named Angel Moon. The glittery gnome-like vocalist dueted with Martin on the Music of the Spheres ballad “Human Heart” as a nimble puppeteer shrouded in black worked her mouth and hands. It’s the kind of big, potentially landmine-filled swing the band has always been willing to take, and it seemed to charm the audience and, sure, bring a smile to their faces.
But not nearly as much as when the stadium transformed into a massive, laser-filled rave for “The Lightclub,” a trippy section during which each band member danced and played on a catwalk in the center of the field wearing custom robot helmets. Martin in particular seemed to relish the moment, as pink and blue beams cut through the sky and he ran in place wearing a cyclops head with two flashing antenna while guitarist Jonny Buckland ripped off a solo while bobbing around in an oversized three-eyed headpiece.
Though BTS were not on hand to help sing their Spheres Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit “My Universe” with the band, they appeared via video and Martin sang some of the Korean lines on stage before the band brought out an unannounced guest during a mellow set on a small stage near back of the floor. Sending out all his positive energy to the people in Uvalde and Ukraine — the singer wore blue and yellow strings around his wrists in a nod to the war-torn nation — Martin invited hometown rapper Fiasco to join them for an acoustic run through Lupe’s 2007 hit “Superstar”
Wearing black shades and a green sweatshirt and matching pants, Fiasco dubbed himself the “biggest” Coldplay fan as he rapped the song’s verses while Martin crooned the choruses. The crowd predictably went nuts and Fiasco surprised his heroes by “calling an audible” and insisting on trying another song to stretch the moment out a bit longer. The rapper suggested they freestyle a bit of 2003’s A Rush of Blood to the Head single “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face,” which caused a momentary scramble as the four musicians huddled to find the arrangement as Fiasco smiled like a genie had just granted his wish.
The show then crashed to a close with a swaying “Fix You,” the stadium bathed in a warm orange light from the waving wristbands, which twinkled and thrummed like a collective heartbeat. Puppet Moon came out one more time to sing the falsetto bits on the Spheres song “Biutyful,” as the night ended with thousands of fans holding up the heart hand sign amid the final burst of fireworks and confetti.
“And it’s so beautiful,” Martin sang, “and you’re so beautiful.” Fans shuffled out into the streets on the crisp summer night, once again singing “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” a cappella, and it felt like Martin’s final thought was just right. For a few hours anyway, it was.
Check out the full set list and a picture of Angel Moon below.
Coldplay Soldier Field May 28 set list:
“Music of the Spheres”
“Adventure of a Lifetime”
“Viva La Vida”
“Hymn For the Weekend”
“Let Somebody Go”
“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
“People of the Pride”
“The Lightclub/Something Just Like This/Midnight”
“A Sky Full of Stars”
“Superstar/God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”