Something Beautiful (Godfatherecords G.R. 726)
Dingwalls, London, UK – 6 December, 2011
Mylo Xyloto, Hurts Like Heaven, Yellow, In My Place, What If, Major Minus, Us Against the World, God Put A Smile On Your Face, The Scientist, Up In Flames, Viva La Vida, Charlie Brown, Paradise, Clocks, Fix You, Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, Christmas Lights
Bonus Track: iTunes Festival, Roundhouse, London, UK – 22 July, 2011: Moving To Mars
On 6 December 2011, Coldplay returned to Dingwalls, the Camden venue hired by manager Phil Harvey for a show on 25 May 1998. The money raised that night helped pay for the recording of the band’s first release, the Safety EP, produced in just five hundred copies and essentially a demo. (Only fifty copies found their way into shops, the rest being distributed to record companies or given to family and friends.) The show, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 In Concert and hosted by Jo Whiley, was therefore described as, “taking them back to kind of where they came from,” by BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music head of music Jeff Smith. The show was also filmed and made available via the Red Button (which gives access to additional material on UK digital television) and the BBC’s website.
The band’s website caused some confusion by announcing that this “special Christmas show” would be “broadcast live on Radio 2,” despite the band being due to play a concert in Germany on that day. Some fans, posting on the coldplaying.com website, guessed that the show was in fact the “private event” listed by the venue for 6 December, and the band’s website then modified its statement to read that the show, “will be broadcast on Thursday, 15 December (having been recorded a few days earlier).”
The concert was unsusual in taking place in such a small venue. The website of Music Week refers to Dingwalls as an “intimate London venue,” and the Belfast Telegraph, which calls it, “a venue no bigger than a small village hall,” gives the size of the audience as a mere four hundred. This was small enough for singer Chris Martin to quip that it was like the band members playing for their families, asserting that his cousins were more numerous than the audience. (However, this was around ten times the size of the audience at the original gig.) One hundred pairs of tickets were given away via the BBC’s website, and successful applicants were fortunate indeed – The Sun newspaper reports that there were sixty thousand applications. Apparently some equally fortunate ticketless fans who turned up were admitted to the show.
The show opens with Mylo Xyloto the three-quarters-of-a minute instrumental which acts as an intro to the album of the same name, and which segues into the album’s first proper song, Hurts Like Heaven. The versions we hear were performed at the end of the show due to problems at the beginning. Frontman Chris Martin was unhappy, as Gordon Smart of The Sun newspaper reports, due to, “several false starts before opening tune Hurts Like Heaven.” Similarly, New Musical Express states that, “in something of a shaky start, the ‘Mylo Xyloto’ four-piece made mistakes during opener ‘Hurts Like Heaven’, prompting laughter from Martin. ‘This is worse than 14 years ago,’ he said. ‘We fucked that up as well. Come on, we’re a professional band for fuck’s sake.'” One fan of the band, Mimixxx, posting on the coldplaying website is rather blunt in his or her criticism, stating that, “they messed up MX/HLH so badly at the start that they played it again at the end so it was perfect for broadcast.” However, another poster, stickyfiddle, attributes the early problems to technical issues, contending that, “we got MX/HLH twice as they had a half- broken synth at the start,” and Mimixx does state that Martin, “walked on three times and each time he couldn’t get the MX track to start. Guess it could’ve been a fault with the trigger on the keyboard.” During Mylo Xyloto Martin wordlessly sings a snippet of another song from the new album, U.F.O. SuperFitz, posting on coldplaying.com, argues that, “hearing Chris singing during MX made me realize how much they need to play UFO live.” Hurts Like Heaven is given a wonderfully vibrant performance which makes a splendid start to the show as heard here.
Next comes what Rolling Stone writer Matt Diehl calls the “unrepentantly romantic” Yellow, from Parachutes (an album which Diehl says, “ultimately rises above its influences to become a work of real transcendence”). The rendition heard here is is a little faster than the original. Prospector states on coldplaying.com that, “I love this speeded up version of yellow, much better than the original.” Although this performance is most enjoyable, I would nonetheless express a preference for the song taken at a slightly more sedate pace. Perhaps this is partially because a slow and acoustic Yellow was the standout song on an EP distributed free with The Independent newspaper in 2000 which constituted my own introduction to the band’s music. I bought Parachutes on the strength of this, though the album failed to ignite a love of the band at that time.
In My Place, from A Rush Of Blood To The Head, is simply lovely and a highlight of this performance, and the small audience reacts accordingly at the song’s conclusion. The mellow, and somewhat melancholy, mood is maintained by What If, from the X&Y album. The band then returns to the new album for Major Minus, which Q magazine writer Niall Doherty calls, “the most darkly playful thing they’ve done since Daylight.” The latter part of the song features guitarist Jonny Buckland and ZZZ, posting on coldplaying.com, argues that, “Jonny’s guitar is so great in the live version.” Like the earlier part of Major Minus, Us Against the World, also from the new album, features Martin’s acoustic guitar. Drummer Will Champion gets to contribute from the piano rather than the drum kit, and he also provides extremely effective backing vocals. “UATW was as beautiful as ever,” asserts stickyfiddle. Before the song Martin refers to the earlier problems, telling the audience, “you might have noticed it took us a few minutes to reacclimatize to playing…we got so used to lasers and arenas and all that posh stuff that it takes us time to remind ourselves , God, we’ve gotta play just with nothing except our instruments and our handsome bass player.” This reference to Guy Berryman elicits laughter from the audience. Referring to that first, distant Dingwalls gig, Martin goes on to say that, “we were even worse than we’re playing tonight, if you can imagine such a thing. Although after the first song today we got a bit better.”
After a brief gentle beginning, God Put A Smile On Your Face, much to the delight of the audience, sees the band rock out with Martin now on electric guitar and Champion thrashing his kit relentlessly. Then comes another number from A Rush Of Blood To The Head, the piano-driven ballad The Scientist, which features some extended singing-along from the audience and is given a wonderful performance that is another highlight of the show. The new album then reasserts itself with the equally beautiful Up In Flames, a song which the BBC website reviewer Martin Aston compares favourably with the “gorgeous” Everything’s Not Lost from Parachutes. Champion contributes electronically here, rather than utilizing a traditional kit.
The splendidly melodic and anthemic Viva La Vida is one of my very favourite songs. I find it difficult to imagine how anyone could fail to succumb to the song’s charms after repeated listening. It burned itself into my consciousness due to constant pre-match airings at Stonebridge Road, home ground of the football (soccer) team I support, Ebbsfleet United, and this prompted an appreciation of Coldplay’s music which Parachutes had initially failed to inspire. Unfortunately, Viva La Vida is the one significant disappointment here. Bill Lamb sums up the effect of the song effectively on about.com: “‘Viva La Vida’ soars in with a grandiose instrumental arrangement and sweeping lyrics detailing the pain of being deposed from a lofty position. The big sound of the song constantly verges on becoming overblown, but Coldplay know how to walk the tightrope perfectly. Bells and chimes and orchestral swells are all there on the chorus, but Chris Martin’s voice still pierces through like a clarion call.” Unfortunately, in this performance the song fails to soar or swoop, and a major reason for this is Martin’s vocals, which sound horribly laboured at times. Even the audience’s enthusiastic singing along cannot save the performance. Mimixx states that Martin, “messed up VLV (although I don’t think it was him, but rather Jonny and Chris was covering for him) and had to stop and start that too.” There is no sign of that on this recording, however.
Next up is a spirited rendition of Charlie Brown, the first song recorded for Mylo Xyloto and originally intended for a complementary acoustic album. Played live often in latter half of 2011, it was third single from the album, released in January 2012. Doherty praised the song in his album review, stating that, “the standout from their headline summer slots sounds even [more] monumental on record; Charlie Brown is one of the best things Coldplay have done. Jonny Buckland‘s hypnotic guitar lines lead the way.”
Then comes Paradise, the second single from Mylo Xyloto, released in September 2011. According to Smart, “tracks from their album Mylo Xyloto pack an even bigger punch live, especially recent single Paradise.” What makes this live performance so effective, in my opinion, is the fact that it is a little rougher-edged that the beautifully hypnotic album version. This is followed by the Grammy Award-winning Clocks from A Rush Of Blood To The Head, and then the band goes straight into Fix You, from the X&Y album. Ashley Hames writes of this performance on the Huffington Post website, that “their songs do seem to make people happy and as I stand there listening, I too feel happy. Fix You is an anthemic triumph. It makes me feel warm and cosy.” It is hard to disagree with his assessment. The final song from Mylo Xyloto to be heard here, and the set closer, is a rousing performance of the album’s anthemic lead single Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, a song which draws on Peter Allen’s 1976 Australian hit single I Go To Rio. Critics have compared some of Coldplay’s output, usually unfavourably, with the ouevre of U2, and it must be said that Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall invites such comparisons (Rolling Stone critic Jon Dolan notes a similarity to Sunday Bloody Sunday). Listening to the lyrics, with their reference to singing “a rebel song,” suggests that the resemblance is, in this case, entirely deliberate. The multi-talented Champion plays acoustic guitar at the beginning of the song before returning to his drums.
The show concludes with a single-song encore, a gorgeous rendition of Christmas Lights, the band’s festive download single from 2010, the performance of which stickyfiddle rightly considers “a great treat.” However, the CD does not end here as there is a very nice bonus in the shape of Moving To Mars from the iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse in July 2011.
It seems that the band were unhappy with their efforts at Dingwalls, and not just with the start of the show. Denise, on coldplaying.com reports that, “we waited for them after the gig and got to meet Chris, Jonny and Will. Chris said it was one of their worst gigs ever because they made a lot of mistakes.” Fans were generally impressed, however. Andy Welch, referencing Martin’s comment during the show, tweeted that, “without their lasers and posh extras they’re… still an amazing band.” Stickyfiddle writes that it was, “my 5th time seeing them and best by far. All 4 were on top form.” Tonsu’s comment on coldplaying.com is that it was a “stunning gig.”
This release is derived from the radio broadcast and it has excellent sound. The disc is housed in Godfather’s usual tri-fold sleeve with several very attractive onstage and offstage shots of the band, though there are no notes or booklet. Godfather here presents us with a show, which, while it may not (by their own admission) represent the band’s finest hour, is a great-sounding record of a unique and very enjoyable performance, and those attributes will surely make it attractive to Coldplay fans.