Coldplay’s position as a mainstream pop giant causes it to stand out from my iTunes library, which I’ve filled predominantly with music by tiny, often unpopular indie bands. My concert-going experiences are similarly biased towards intimate venues filled with eclectic audiences. Precisely for this reason, watching Coldplay perform in The Hague in front of an audience of 70,000 was especially magical. I found myself especially fascinated with the aspect of seeing a worldwide sensation in a foreign country. Would the experience remain universal or would they tailor their performance towards a Dutch audience?
After maneuvering our way through several train stations, we immersed ourselves in the crowd of fashionable young locals that filled the gigantic park where the show would occur. I began to pay attention to the music drifting from the stage. Coldplay had selected Marina and the Diamonds as the final performer in their sequence of opening acts. I knew one song of hers, which was probably more than most of the crowd could say. Wearing a funky fur coat and clashing geometric skirt, Marina belted out a series of poppy songs, all with similar and simple melodies. I found her tune called “Hollywood” especially notable, as its lyrics included the phrase “I’m obsessed with America”, which Marina happily proclaimed as she waved around a plush hamburger the size of her head.
After Marina (it remains unclear exactly what the “Diamonds” refer to) finished, we had a solid 55 minutes to observe our surroundings and how they changed in anticipation of Coldplay’s imminent arrival. As the sky gently shifted between shades of orange and red, my gaze wandered, finally resting where I would have seen the stage had I been approximately two feet taller. If I stood on tiptoe and craned my neck at the right angle, I could see the five huge circular screens that made up the set. I became resigned to the fact that seeing the performers themselves would be a hopeless endeavor—my situation as an average-sized American shrub among a forest of towering Dutch redwoods would not vary much no matter where in the crowd I stood. Conversation buzzed all around me as the minutes ticked by. A lady next to us recalled when Rihanna had arrived an hour late to her concert in the Netherlands and the entire crowd had booed her as a result—apparently all performers here now knew to actually start on time. I realized any gaps left in the crowd had disappeared by now. The sunset finally finished and the background music drifting through speakers, which had been undistinguishable chillwave notes up to this point, suddenly switched to “99 Problems” by Jay-Z and increased several notches in volume.
Right on cue at 9:02 pm, the tingly sparkling sounds from the first song on Coldplay’s most recent album began to play and a series of fireworks rivaling most July 4th shows shot upwards from the stage. Everyone in the audience had received a thick, brightly colored bracelet upon arrival, and these now lit up across the crowd in a variety of hues, to the delight of the multitudes present.
Each album of Coldplay’s feels distinctly different, and the colored lights and videos playing on the five screens varied accordingly. “Mylo Xyloto”, the most recent album and the name of the current tour, retained the multicolor theme from the introductory song, creating sense of continuity as these songs were ultimately sprinkled throughout the rest of the show. Their earlier works, such as songs from the albums “Parachutes” and “X & Y”, were performed alongside lights of only one color, mostly red or white, to mirror the starker, less flashy sounds of these songs. The vast resources of the band quickly became apparent with the numerous props including further firework shows, showers of colored papers, huge beach balls and butterflies covered in glow-in-the-dark graffiti, and real-time video footage with matching multicolored filters flashing across the screens.
Unlike past shows I’ve seen, the artist played no covers, unreleased songs, or tunes that weren’t at least minor hits –unfortunately this meant they did not perform a couple of personal favorites. So despite the wide variation of visual supplements across songs, I noticed the unusual effect of most of the show blending together into one comfortable mass of music, perfect for head-bobbing and singing along. I noticed that the lead singer, Chris Martin, held the microphone out to the crowd more often than other performers that I have seen. However, I did not find this crowd-pleaser as annoying as I usually do, because a group of that size all simultaneously humming the same melody does have a quite impressive effect, especially when combined with a sense of floating in a sea of flashing multicolored lights.
Chris Martin stumbled his way through several phrases of Dutch during one song’s chorus, much to the amusement of everyone around me. Although I felt left out of this inside joke, I still found it hilarious when later he shouted “Make some NOISE! Make some mother-&@%!-ing Dutch NOISE!” Despite a fixed set list for the tour (the precise timing that the fireworks required and the distinct lack of an encore, to the crowd’s dismay, made this fact quite clear) the band had definitely spent time creating a distinct show precisely for this audience.
As we clambered through the crowd, literally sprinting so we could squeeze like sardines onto our train for the hour-long ride back to Amsterdam, I had time to reflect on the unusual experience I’d just had. I found it both amusing and frustrating that all the music I had heard came through a speaker—I was too far back from the stage to even hear the actual notes, let alone see the people making them. That being said, I could not have been happier after such a truly authentic experience. A third of the way around the world from home, I stood next to complete strangers and shared a sense of gratification in the form of music. And that is precisely what big concerts are all about.