ATLANTA—I only imagine what sorts of emotions would proceed a live performance were I in the “world’s biggest band.” Coldplay have bested their critics a great majority of the time, and no greater testament to their ongoing, colossal popularity was the packed out Phillips Arena on Wednesday night; all races, genders (including some ambiguous ones), creeds, age groups, and artistic and political demographics stood closer together than many had in their whole lifetime, and when the lights went down, the air tingled with something magic.

Opening the night with the instrumental warm-up “Life in Technicolor” and Viva la Vida’s lead single “Violet Hill,” Coldplay began with business as usual. Both were mostly by the book, stripped of improvisation or extra live grandiosity. Even so, those around me took belted out “If you love me, won’t you let me know?” periodically, eliciting (if nothing else) the laughter of band mates Martin and Buckland, who it seems have completely adopted a Bono/Edge relationship–only without the intimidating strides, gentle kisses, and damnable sunglasses.

Breaking up the introduction with audience participation and one laughable conversation between Martin and an adoring (presumably female) fan who cried “I love you, Chris,” the always-smiling front man launched into a diatribe detailing the band’s struggle to adjust to the Georgia heat. Martin removed his jacket, revealing his underarms to a squealing gaggle of teenaged girls and (oddly enough) used the moment to segue into “Clocks” and “Speed of Sound,” which I will finally admit sound so similar I couldn’t definitively indicate where one began and the other ended. With an impressive laser display and a light show harkening back to 80s new wave, the night took an unpredictable turn.

Walking off stage directly into the crowd, the band wielded electric guitars and a handheld drum machine, performing a self-described “techno” fusion of “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” and “Talk,” with pulsing dance beats and elaborate, wailing string parts. The experiment was immediately lost on the crowd, who could not identify the opening of “God Put a Smile,” eventually catching on in time to hum along with the Kraftwerk sample at the center of “Talk.” Another surprise came in the form of drummer Will Champion’s acoustic performance of “Death Will Never Conquer” in the “nosebleed” section, preceded by the band’s volley through the crowd, shaking hands and clapping high fives to brave fans forceful enough to make their presence felt.

Coldplay closed the night by redeeming a track that, for me, never quite took off on the album (“Lovers in Japan”), the band rained flurries of glowing paper butterflies folded to hover over the crowd and eventually becoming so thick in the air that the stage became nigh invisible.

Epic is an understatement, and not simply because of the extravagant sums Coldplay must invest to make their live highlights possible, but mostly due to Chris Martin’s joyful swagger and jovial references to Barack Obama’s election victory and a prevailing sense of relief in such trying times. In the evening’s small moments—the band’s interaction with their adoring mass, streamlined presentation of their latest album, Martin’s classical piano interludes, and a foray into dance music—Coldplay had defended their reputation in the popular music canon, shining new light on Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. It was a great day in Georgia.

 
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John Wofford

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