On the way in each gig goer was handed an electronic wristband: a present from Coldplay, we were told. Its purpose was revealed as the band took to the stage. At the opening chords of “Hurts Like Heaven” all the wristbands lit up in different colours, turning the arena into a constellation of 20,000 flashing lights. Taken with the song’s charged tempo, a Coldplavian gloss on the darker-tinged anthems of Arcade Fire, the effect was exhilarating. “It’s so beautiful,” marvelled the youth next to me. The O2 Arena had been transformed into a place of rapture.
Coldplay, more than any other band, treat stadium rock as an act of worship. Song lyrics mimic the form of prayers (“Give me heart and give me soul/Give me love, give us a kiss”). Chris Martin, one moment stopping a song to joke about the rarity of hearing drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman sing, the next earnestly delivering choruses about being lost, projects a good-natured, evangelical kind of charisma. In contrast to the band’s reputation for weediness – “music for bed-wetters” – as they were once derided – he has become a muscular, athletic frontman: the result perhaps of life with Gwyneth Paltrow – all those macrobiotic diets and visits to the gym. Guitarist Jonny Buckland, too, has beefed-up, sonically at least, fluently interspersing chiming chords with intense scribbly riffs.
The flashing wristbands were deactivated after the first song but the quartet continued to pull out the stops. They front-loaded their signature hit “Yellow” to the top of the set, played “Lost” with huge balloons bouncing around the venue and illustrated the opening line of “In My Place” – about, you guessed, being lost – with a whirling storm of confetti.
After a start like this they were in danger of using up all their ammunition but the imaginative staging – in the round, all the better for Martin to commune with his audience – and the strength of their new album Mylo Xyloto ensured the pace didn’t flag. “Paradise” had a big R&B-tinged bustle while “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” brought the evening to a close with pounding euphoric beats as the 20,000 pairs of wristbands flashed along, a high-tech coup de theatre. At the end Martin fell to the floor and kissed it, like a pope anointing the tarmac after a flight, giving thanks for the wonders of modern life.