Coldplay brought to an end their series of four sold-out nights at Manchester's Etihad Stadium on Sunday night with an exhilarating live show featuring many old favourites from their back catalogue as well as significant chunks of their Music Of The Spheres album along with a guest performance from Tim Booth of James. Support came from Porij and Chrvches.
Porij tell us a few songs in that they used to rehearse within sight of this stadium in a derelict mill, one we suspect is in the process of being turned in luxury flats. They talked of it being a dream to play here having started in Manchester and they give a very strong representation of themselves in an opening set that in bright sunlight as the stadium fills up is always a difficult one. They very quickly get the crowd on side though, Eggy's personality shining through in the between song chat and movement around the stage whilst their chilled out electronic sound is perfect for the warm Manchester early evening. She dedicates Nobody Scared to all the queens in the room and the "tender garage" of new songs Ghost and Don't Talk To Me win them over a whole new set of admirers.
Chvrches are older hands at this stadium game, their ten-song set pretty equally spread across their four albums to date, opening with He Said She Said from their most recent album Screen Violence through to finishing on Every Open Eye's Clearest Blue. Lauren makes enthusiastic use of the walkway down to the B-stage to get closer to the crowd, encouraging them to join in which plenty do as their electro-sound, which is more suited to hot dark sweaty venues, reverberates around the Etihad. Crowd favourites Forever, Miracle, Leave A Trace and The Mother We Share ensure that the audience stay connected with them and fully appreciate them.
Stadium gigs though are always about the headliner. A quarter of a million people have paid some eyewatering prices to see Coldplay over these four nights and looking round the stadium it's a real mix of ages - young couples to who Coldplay were the soundtrack to their love, families with their children, both young and grown-up sharing a moment and older heads who picked them up right at the start of their journey at the start of the Millennium and have followed them on the journey to being one of the biggest bands in the world from humble beginnings and having spent their formative years on the circuit that young bands dream of escaping.
Right from the start you sense the joy that they still get from performing, regularly the cameras will zoom in on Chris Martin and that look of bewildered excitement at doing this for real in front of so many people is the same one as those early formative years as they broke out of the London gig circuit, got signed and Parachutes brought them to the attention of the world. That excitement transmits itself to the crowd as he encourages everyone from the very front to the very tops of the Etihad to join in and lose themselves in the music with the wristbands given by everyone lighting up the stands and pitch. At points, on older songs like The Scientist, Clocks, Yellow and Fix You, sixty thousand voices come together as one. On the newer songs that sense of communion still exists, the usual stream to the bar when a newer song gets played not in evidence tonight. Around the fringes groups of people lose themselves at their moment in the set, their song and looking around us in the seats each one of those is a different time in the night.
The stage show is spectacular yet, given their commitment to make touring as eco-friendly as possible, not overblown. At moments there's fireworks in the sky, at others we could be in the biggest intimate venue in the world. Chris invites a woman called Jackie holding a banner up near the B-stage up to join him and to tell the story of her banner - that her Mum Denise is in hospital and was going to come to the show. Chris asks her to choose a song to play and she picks Up And Up, which they haven't played for five years and he plays it solo with Jackie singing along before he changes the lyrics to include both Denise and Jackie. It's an astonishing thing to do in front of sixty thousand people, stopping to allow Jackie to compose herself while everyone waits even more so. When they finish with Sky Full Of Stars, after a pause to ask us to put our phones in our pockets so we can be one in the moment, the lift when it hits the chorus is almost overwhelming.
The encore starts on the C stage with a stripped down version of Sparks and a reminiscence about their first Manchester show at Cuba Cafe in 1998 as part of In The City. Chris then introduces "our hero" Tim Booth from James to sing what he calls "one of the best songs of all time" Sit Down joined by a chorus line of sixty thousand. It's a magical moment and a nod to a band that has influenced Coldplay in many ways - their insistence on playing new material heavily, changing the set around and the need to create a connection with the audience. As if to prove that point the final part of the encore back on the A-stage features two tracks from Music Of The Spheres - Human Kind and Biutyfull - alongside Fix You - without diluting the atmosphere.
Coldplay are often seen as an easy target because of the phenomenal success they've achieved and Chris Martin's often outspoken views yet there have few, if any, peers in this environment, creating a bond between band and audience that feels unbreakable and magical. Tonight is a celebration, a reflection, a series of moments, some tender, some a coming together of people from all walks of life as one, proof that big can be beautiful and that music can be a powerful tool for unity.