If there's a way you can be the world's biggest pop band and still be underrated, well, Coldplay have figured out how. Their five albums, which always manage to be solidly artistic and hugely accessible, have sold tens of millions of copies, no small feat in the age of the crumbling music industry, and yet their detractors say that they're boring and dull, two charges that cannot be leveled against "Coldplay Live 2012." A new concert documentary that charts their tour in support of last year's Mylo Xyloto album, 'Live 2012,' like this year's other two great concert docs ("Shut Up and Play the Hits" and "Katy Perry: Part of Me") is a boundlessly energetic, utterly endearing chronicle. Hands in the air, people.
Running a brisk hour long, this documentary combines footage from the band's performances at Paris' Stade de France, Montreal's Bell Centre, and their headlining gig on the Pyramid Stage at England's Glastonbury Music Festival. Combining these various gigs is a great idea for a number of reasons, and not only because we get these nifty, Google Maps-on-acid flashes where the camera zooms into some new location through a fog of zippy haze, but because we get to see things like Rihanna show up in Paris to perform a rousing rendition of the beautiful, brilliant "Princess of China," and watch how the band's vibe and energy subtly changes as their location shifts.
You can also see the evolution of the stage show particulars, especially from the prototypical version at Glastonbury (this performance was actually captured last year, before the tour had really begun). The band's stage set-up is simply mind blowing, with a runway that extends into the middle of the crowd with a big "X," pyrotechnics, lasers, giant pulsating screens, and every inch of equipment painted in bright neon splashes (the entire concept behind the album has to do with a dystopian future disrupted by outbursts of vivid color). It's outré writ large.
In between songs, there are interviews with various band members, which aren't exactly insightful but do allow you into the creative process a little bit, and add to the aw-shucks, these-guys-are-great vibe. When lead singer and band leader Chris Martin, who's married to a woman who, in the movies, is married to Tony Stark, bashfully says, "It's exciting when you're 15 and you throw a party and people show up," well, it's hard not to crack a smile. They all seem to be genuinely thrilled to be doing what they're doing, and that positivity is palpable in the live show.
At one point, one of the band members (you always hear them, never see them), talks about the wristbands that were passed out when people arrived at the venue. It was, according to them, one of the things that closed the gap between the performers and the audience. Then we see Chris Martin, imploring the crowd to stick their arms in the air. A switch is thrown and all of the wristbands, previously blank, light up in blinking neon colors that strobe to the music. It's one of those holy shit moments that only a huge-ass band like Coldplay could elicit, an Imagineered marvel, and even the band's most hardened, cynical critics would be hard pressed to think that it was anything but totally fucking cool.
The songs themselves sound even bigger and more universally rousing than do on record. There's something about hearing an audience sing along to a song like "Hurts Like Heaven" that gives the it an added scope and makes you appreciate the Coldplay machine in action – when they were writing these songs in some cramped English recording studio, you can't help but think they knew that 30,000 screaming, crying, dancing fans would be singing along to it one day. These songs are massive; built for stadium-sized sing-alongs. And while, honestly, nobody needs to ever hear "Yellow" again, watching them perform it in the context of this documentary, which is nothing if not boundlessly enthusiastic, brings the song to life once more. The band remains tirelessly professional, and each one of them is both a skilled musician and an electric performer, embracing the shtick with real energy and commitment (nothing's worse than seeing a pop star phone it in). And yes, "Fix You" still tugs on the old heartstrings.
Director Paul Dugdale gets into the spirit of the Mylo Xyloto Tour by occasionally "drawing" squiggles of bright paint on the screen, which adds to the outrageous, overstuffed nature of the experience. But he also knows when to tone it down and let the on-stage visuals speak for themselves. When "Paradise" starts subtly, with a darkened stage that's eventually brightened by glow-in-the-dark graffiti, it's striking enough without any additional flourishes. If anything, the documentary should be longer, should capture more of the live experience, to better replicate the experience of watching the band onstage. But that's a minor quibble. At the end of "Coldplay Live 2012," even a cursory understanding of what it's like to watch Coldplay live is better than nothing at all. Wristbands not included. [B+]
"Coldplay Live 2012" is in theaters for one night only on Tuesday, November 13th. It will air on EPIX staring this weekend. It arrives on home video and CD on November 19th.