It’s Saturday night in Amman, Jordan, and 600 Coldplay fans are preparing for their own sermon on the mount from, arguably, the world’s biggest band.
We’re at the Citadel, an ancient site occupied by a succession of civilisations since around 1200BC. There’s an atmosphere of hushed reverence here, high above the city, with views for miles, as ambient music plays in anticipation of the band’s arrival. It has the feel, almost, of a vigil.
Amman, in the Middle Eastern kingdom of Jordan, is where Coldplay have seen in the release of their excellent new album, ‘Everyday Life’, in splendid isolation.
“This is the longest I’ve not been on NME for,” Chris Martin tells me, when we meet. I’m slightly baffled – we’ve been writing about him non-stop. Then I realise he means actually clicking on NME.COM himself. “Normally I’m on there every day checking the latest news so, it’s rare for me, but I have no idea what is going on. So I don’t know how the album has gone down at all, and honestly I really don’t want to know. Please don’t tell me.”
For what it’s worth, there’s been no critical consensus on ‘Everyday Life’, which speaks to the bravery of Coldplay’s weird and wonderful eighth album. It was released into the wild the day before this gig and promoted with two audience-free performances broadcast live from the Jordanian capital, one at sunrise and one at sunset. Reviews have vacillated between deeming ‘Everyday Life’ a flawed experiment and a work of genius-level perfection. Our own four-star review deemed it “proof that Coldplay are more adventurous than they’re often given credit for”, and the spectrum of opinion is testament to how Coldplay have – after years of threatening – really pushed the boundaries, delivering their most pointedly political and varied album to date, taking in gospel, rockabilly, jazz and instrumental interludes.
With its Arabic song titles and globally-minded lyrics that capture slices of life in Nigeria, the US, the Arab diaspora and more, ‘Everyday Life’ could be seen to be a bit of cultural tourism, a gap year flirtation with the exotic. But actually, there’s a moment halfway through tonight’s spectacular show when the threads of two decades of the band’s career seem to magically tie together, as if everything has been leading to right here and right now. And it happens during a glorious one-two punch of ‘Viva La Vida’ and new album song ‘Orphans’.
The former, with its lyrics about “Roman cavalry choirs” and “Jerusalem bells“, as rung out on stage by drummer Will Champion, has probably never been performed in such apt surroundings. We’re right by the ruins of the Roman Temple Of Hercules and just 40 miles to the east is Jerusalem itself.
The latter, ‘Orphans’, a song which alludes to the refugee crisis in Jordan’s northern neighbour Syria (“Rosaleem of the damascene/Yes, she had eyes like the moon/Would have been on the silver screen/But for the missile monsoon”), mines a similar vein of quasi-religious euphoria, and connects with the Jordanian crowd in such a stirring, effusive way that Martin stops the song to have his own vocals turned up in his monitors, having been drowned out by the audience’s whoops. “The fact that you’re singing that bit already makes us feel a billion, trillion dollars,” he tells them. “It makes us feel so fucking awesome I can’t tell you.”
The ever-present flirtation with religious imagery, the social conscience, the environmental interests Coldplay champion – they all feel more apt than ever. And these latest songs, blended in with older material tonight, speak of the constant tension in a band split between delivering a quota of sky-scraping stadium bangers and scratching an itch to experiment.
The group’s recent announcement that they won’t be taking this album on the road – and indeed, that they won’t tour again until they work out how to make it carbon neutral – places them not as outliers this time, but as part of a growing movement, with The 1975, Radiohead, Foals and more waking up to the environmental impact of touring. I ask Chris if it feels good to finally see other artists sticking their necks out, too.
“I’ve been banging the drum on that sort of thing, environment sustainability, for a long time – and getting some flack for it along the road – so yes I’m pleased other artists are starting to get on board with it too. But listen, really, taking flack is what we do – it’s OK, I’m cool with that,” he says.
“Taking flack is what we do – it’s OK, I’m cool with that”
– Chris Martin
So with the environment in mind, tonight’s gig forms a whopping 50 percent of what Martin jokingly refers to as their “World Tour”. The remaining half will take place in a more familiar city – London, albeit in the similarly grand surroundings of the Natural History Museum – on Monday November 25.
This show, however, is their first ever in Jordan, and it’s clearly not the easiest place to stage a major concert. NME arrives on site for the 5pm soundcheck to find members of Coldplay’s team exhausted by a fraught few days ploughing through the logistics of staging a huge show on an ancient ruin – including having to push a piano up the steep hill with manpower alone. It’s an audacious undertaking – their ‘Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii’, if you will.
In soundcheck, Chris Martin is being exactly as you might expect him to. He’s meticulous and exacting, with a breeziness that masks the fact he’s demanding perfection. When he’s told he has six minutes max left, he decides he wants to test another three songs out. “Six minutes? That’s an eternity in soundcheck time,” he quips.
In one of those songs, he and a barbershop-style vocal group run through the song ‘BrokEn’, but with Martin changing the call-and-response lyrics to improvised nonsense – “I started smoking/I started smoking weed/I started toking/I started smoking speed/I love drugs/But I’m not sure if they’re doing me good” – and the group corpse in laughter.
The backstage area in the beautiful 8th Century Umayyad Palace is decked out with rugs and hookah pipes. “We had this amazing place built for us last week. Do you like it?” quips Martin, as he fits his in-ear monitors. Apart from the Arabic touches on the album, it’s not entirely clear why we’re here in Amman, of all places. Now is the chance to ask.
“I think we’ve come here because it’s in the very middle of the biggest zone that bands like us seem to feel they can’t go to – and because it’s in the middle of this region which we are taught and told to be a bit scared of at the moment,” explains Chris.
“So we kind of thought, ‘Let’s go there, right to the middle of it’, to break some of that thinking. Most people in our experience seem to only think about or hear about the very extremes of society – and obviously that’s especially true of this area – but when you come here what you find is that, really, most people just want to live their lives like anyone else.”
“Jordan is in a region we are taught and told to be a bit scared of at the moment. So we kind of thought, ‘Let’s go there, right to the middle of it’, to break some of that thinking”
– Chris Martin
Moments later, the band take to the stage and play ‘Sunrise’, ‘Church’ and ‘Trouble In Town’, the reflective trio that opens ‘Everyday Life’, the latter coming minus the profanity-filled recording of US police making an arrest that makes it such a shocking listen on the album. It’s a strangely muted start to the show – possibly because it’s a dry gig (alcohol is strictly banned on site, even backstage) and possibly because the crowd, quite literally, need some warming up – it’s a cold night in Amman, where cloudless skies see temperatures plummet.
After ‘BrokEn’, Martin talks to the crowd: “When we decided to come and play here we thought we’d play without an audience because I don’t know if anybody likes us in Jordan,” he says. “So, yesterday, we played all across the world from this beautiful city, and it was so fun so we felt what we’d like to do is stay here and play one show.”
“We’re recording this to broadcast across America,” he adds. “In the spirit of getting people across the world to be friends with each other, this is our first little attempt.”
Cue the crowd-pleasers: first ‘‘The Scientist’, performed with a string quartet and sounding suitably epic. But the crowd have their own ideas. “Fix You! Fix You!” they shout. “FIX YOU!”
“Were you just asking for a song called ‘Fix You’?” asks Chris. “I’m sorry, that’s by another band called One Direction – you’ve got the wrong guys. But we’ll see what we can do.” They kid, of course. That mega-ballad, clearly their calling card here in Jordan, follows ‘Lovers In Japan’, and the gradual loosening of the crowd picks up pace.
More new ones follow – ‘Daddy’ and ‘WOTW/POTP’ (after which Chris says, ”It’s kind of you to clap, I only finished the lyrics for this yesterday, and the album already came out”) – then there’s the first truly jaw-dropping moment of the night, as Femi Kuti, the Nigerian sax player and son of Fela Kuti, takes to the stage with a four-piece brass section for the brilliant, ‘Fools Gold’-like ‘Arabesque’.
Horns blasting in unison at the song’s climax, Chris adding heft to the line “same fucking blood”, it’s an experience so visceral you feel almost breathless yourself. After, Femi remains for a jam, in which he issues acrobatic jazz melodies and scats about oppression and suffrage while Chris whirls his jacket around his head.
If the audience are loosening up, so are the band: towards the end of the first set, they assemble in the corner for a huddle. “We’re just having a meeting, hold on,” says Chris.
In a divergence from the pre-planned setlist, Chris plays ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’ solo, on the piano, as the band’s crew hurriedly rearrange Will’s drumkit. They’re only gonna go and play ‘Yellow’, much to the delight not just of the frenzied audience but to Chris himself, who grins throughout. “We usually have fireworks and all sorts for this,” he says.
The unrehearsed tracks are that bit shakier and more ragged, and it all adds to the feel of this performance being a party – a real moment in time.
As does the second stage, which turns out to be a wooden box, right in the heart of the crowd, allowing the audience to be mere inches away from Chris. So much so that when one of the fans holds up a sign saying “If you cut me I bleed Yellow” right in front of him, he thanks them for making it and says they can put it away now he’s read it.
Later, he spots another sign asking him to stand up for a particular group of people, which is sadly out of NME’s eyeline. Martin, with some seriousness, addresses the message. “Yeah I will sing this for those people. I believe that everybody has equal right to go anywhere on earth, and that’s what we stand for. We don’t agree with oppression or suppression of any kind, and we stand for love and for peace, and for brotherhood.”
The songs he sings on that platform are fittingly exposing – ’Guns’, in particular, an acoustic song that flirts with a mid-60s Dylan sound, is the most direct political statement the band have ever made.
Back with his band on the main stage, they play the brilliant ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime’ – the song that reveals Coldplay do disco better than Boney M. Chris messes up the piano intro (“FUCK!”) but the next song, ‘Champion Of The World’ proves its chops as a new Coldplay standard.
It’s been two years since Coldplay last performed together, and that was at a 53,000-capacity stadium in Buenos Aires. This gig may have seen them do some shrinking to what they describe as a “Citadel-sized” version, but it feels no less a moment in time; a momentous, monumental occasion.
Coldplay’s resolve not to tour on environmental grounds is admirable, but bittersweet too. On stage is where Coldplay come alive, and where they make the most sense. The band’s positivity and crusading has seen them in the firing line in the past, but it feels like the world needs them more than ever right now.
After the show, crowd members are reeling from the experience. “It’s the biggest thing that’s happened in Amman in a very long time,” one tells me. Another says the band can have honorary citizenship which, given the Prince of Jordan is in attendance, might just be possible. Another says she’s torn – she had the most wonderful night, but feels guilty as her friends weren’t able to get tickets. Happily, Chris Martin vows to return. “I know we’ll see you again some time,” he says, on exiting the stage. We have a feeling he really means it.