Viva La Coldplay: Chris Martin & Company Reclaim Their Rock Throne at SXSW
photo: Associated Press
They say everything is bigger in Texas. And that old adage certainly applies to South By Southwest, the Austin music festival that once primarily showcased rising and unsigned acts, but now serves as a promotional platform for superstars like Kanye West, Justin Bieber…and even Lady Gaga, who plans to perform inside a giant Doritos vending machine this Thursday night.
But perhaps even bigger than all those acts is Coldplay. Although it's been three years since their last album, and they maintained a fairly low profile throughout 2013 aside from one cut on the "Catching Fire" soundtrack, they're still The Most Massive Rock Band on the Planet. (Sorry, U2, Stones, et al.) When they pulled a Bowie/Timberlake/semi-Beyoncé last week, suddenly announcing the May 19 release date for their sixth album "Ghost Stories" and dropping the new single "Magic," it was major news. So where better to give "Magic" and three other "Ghost Stories" tracks their proper live debut than SXSW, the music industry's most major festival?
"We've been away a long time, and I can't think of a better place to come back into the world," affable Coldplay frontman Chris Martin proclaimed, when his band made a rare SXSW appearance on Tuesday night.
[Related: The Most Massive Acts Playing SXSW]
However, by Coldplay standards at least, this was an intimate show. Kicking off the Music portion of SXSW (and its new fest-within-a-fest known as the iTunes Festival), the group played the 2,750-capacity ACL Live Theater — a far cry from the Glastonbury-sized audiences to which they're accustomed. (Suffice to say, they did not perform inside a giant Doritos vending machine.) As they made an unassuming, shuffling entrance (20 minutes late) and started the show with the mellow, moody "Ghost Stories" song "Always In My Head," this almost felt like a warmup gig, or a flashback to those long-ago "Parachutes" days when Coldplay regularly played clubs, not stadiums.
The entire show was relaxed, maybe a little too relaxed (three songs in, Chris chuckled self-deprecatingly when he flubbed the piano intro to "Paradise" and had to start the tune over), but as the 50-minute set chugged along, the band soon overcame any rustiness and raised the energy in the room. After performing the especially crowd-rousing "Viva La Vida," Chris grinned and quipped, "We've been in the studio a long, long time, and we've forgotten how much people like to sing along!"