It is probably impossible for a stadium band to tour the world in a way that’s environmentally responsible, but Coldplay have really, really tried. Before they take the stage tonight, for the first show on home soil since a staggering six-night run at Wembley Stadium last year, screens relay footage of locations from around the globe where money from this eco-conscious Music of the Spheres tour is being reinvested, from reforestation projects in South America to sustainability initiatives closer to home.
The standing floor apparently recycles kinetic energy to help power tomorrow’s show, as do stationary bikes dotted around the stage. It is hard to imagine that 240,000 people descending on the same corner of East Manchester over four nights is going to be a net positive in carbon terms, especially with the first night blighted by rail strikes, but Coldplay have done their best. More than most bands would.
This is an attitude that extends to the show itself. By now, the group could long since have activated cruise control; they have been one of the biggest bands on the planet for the better part of two decades, making their name with anthemic indie rock but transitioning seamlessly into poppier territory in more recent years and keeping themselves at the business end of the charts in the process. But this is a show littered with special touches. Chris Martin talks the talk – “This is the 84th show of the tour, because we knew we needed 83 rehearsals to be good enough for Manchester” – but he walks the walk, too.
Once a slightly gawky and awkward presence, he is now the consummate frontman, one deeply engaged with the audience. After an opening salvo of soaring classics – “Paradise” and a gorgeous “The Scientist” among them – he and his bandmates decamp to a B-stage in the middle of the standing crowd for the next few, and he brings an audience member on stage to duet with him on “Green Eyes”, a fan favourite that’s been aired only sporadically over the years, apparently because his ex-wife objected to it. The lucky fan’s husky tones don’t suit the song, and she looks embarrassed. “You sound amazing,” says Martin, “like Marianne Faithfull.” It’s affecting.
He’s an incredibly likeable showman. He beams through a tribute to Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”, on which Lauren Mayberry of support band CHVRCHES joins him. He insists, politely, that devices are put away for an epic take on “A Sky Full of Stars”, which sees the stadium transformed into a twinkling galaxy of its own by the glowing wristbands issued to attendees, a staple of Coldplay shows for a decade now but every bit as ingenious as they were on the Mylo Xyloto tour.
He nods, too, to the band’s storied history in Manchester. Taking to a C-stage located at the opposite end of the ground to the main one, ensuring those in the cheap seats get a good view for a handful of tracks, he talks of the long-defunct Cuba Café on Port Street as he introduces “Sparks”, which they played at that venue on the night of their Manchester debut in 1998. Hardly anybody showed, he says, but at least two of them are here tonight.
More recently, Coldplay’s love affair with the city has been marked by tragedy; perhaps the defining moment of the One Love Manchester concert, organised in the wake of the bombing of Ariana Grande’s arena show, was a particularly cathartic “Fix You”, which Martin led into with a cover of a local classic, James’ “Sit Down”. He does the same tonight, covering it in full, and mentioning in passing that a special guest was prevented from joining him for it by a case of Covid – Tim Booth, perhaps?
The song’s most famous line goes, “If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor,” which perhaps explains this unassuming band’s ongoing love affair with stadium shows. In theory, they might be just as happy playing to a handful of people in the Northern Quarter. In practice, the thrill of euphoric singalongs is nearly impossible not to be swept away by, for both band and audience.