NEW YORK — One of the best things about summer in Houston (and anywhere else for that matter) is live concerts. And this is a big summer with Beyoncé and Jay Z, One Direction, and Lady Gaga planning Houston stops. One group that won’t be hitting the big arenas this summer is Coldplay, despite the upcoming release of their first album since 2011’s award winning Mylo Xyloto.
This lucky business traveler happened to be in New York last week when the band performed at the historical 2,800-capacity Beacon Theatre to promote their sixth album, Ghost Stories, which will be released May 19. Tickets to the minimally-publicized concert were available only by signing up with the band’s website, and there are only six small concerts in five countries planned to promote the album. The crowd was a mix of high-powered business types (it was, after all, sponsored by Citibank) and a younger, edgier and more diverse group.
While the adoring audience would have been delighted to just enjoy prior hits, the concert was not about reliving the past.
Performing under stars hanging from the ceiling of the stage with a laser show as good as I’ve seen, the 70-minute set featured 16 songs—including the robust euphoric singalong songs — "Clocks," "Viva la Vida" and "Paradise."And like all Coldplay concerts, lead singer Chris Martin danced wildly, twirled, gyrated and gratefully thanked the audience which he always does — “thank you for spending your Monday night with us.”
There were reams of confetti that seemed to come from every angle after "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall." The band did not perform perennial favorite "Yellow," but any disappointment was assuaged when Martin offered a heartfelt version of "Fix You"— a song of healing — which he dedicated to Mick Jagger, whose longtime girlfriend L’Wren Scott, recently committed suicide.
While the adoring audience would have been delighted to just enjoy prior hits, the concert was not about reliving the past. The band performed seven of the nine tracks on its upcoming album, and here is where the difference lies. The new songs are a more somber, stripped down acoustic sound, much of it seemingly inspired by Martin’s troubled marriage with actress Gwyneth Paltrow (they have since announced their separation or “conscious uncoupling”). These songs lack the urgency and excitement of the band's earlier top tunes. They seem melancholy — so raw and intimate you feel like you are eavesdropping on a confession.
The seven songs from Ghost Stories don’t fit in at a large arena or baseball field — but the smaller audience at the Beacon cheered rapturously while someone yelled, “Hang in there Chris.” The band performed "Magic" and "A Sky Full of Stars," which they did last week on Saturday Night Live. Martin’s voice has never sounded better with a much wider range. The band as a whole sounded great, too, and only get better after nearly 20 years of performing together.
For the final song, Martin introduced "True Love" — a song the band was performing for the first time. “This is our most favorite song we have written,” he commented while asking the audience to “put away your camera phones and let this song be between us and you.”
It was not the upbeat ending of a concert I had expected or a belief in love despite the loss of love. It was Martin at his most vulnerable, lamenting the loss of a love with a chorus of begging, “If you don’t love me, then lie.” But is this song better than "Clocks?" Better than "Speed of Sound?" Ah, well. To each his own.
This ardent fan is waiting for Coldplay's seventh album when Martin finds the love and happiness that it appears will be missing on this CD. Currently the band plans no other U.S. concerts (besides LA later this month) to promote the album. For those fans who are hankering for some Coldplay this summer, you can catch their one-hour performance Sunday night (May 18) on NBC (Channel 2) as they promote Ghost Stories.