Last night in Austin, Texas, a reinvigorated Coldplay invaded an already crowded South by Southwest calendar with new music as headliners of the city's inaugural iTunes Festival. The quick 11-song set unfolded at the 2,750-capacity ACL Live at Moody Theatre, small and intimate by Coldplay standards, but was also streamed live to fans around the world.
It was the first of a week of shows during SXSW hosted by iTunes, and the genre-neutral programming looked like a chart of popular download stars, with nights also headlined by Pitbull, Keith Urban, Kendrick Lamar and Soundgarden. Most intriguing to hardcore Coldplay fans had to be the debut of four new songs from the band's upcoming Ghost Stories album.
Coldplay eased into their first U.S. Show in 14 months with an atmospheric "Always in My Head," the new album's opening song. With "Paradise," it was back to the London quartet's soaring anthemic sing-alongs, as the crowd joined in without any prompting at all from the band. "Charlie Brown" was soon followed by "Clocks," as singer Chris Martin left the piano bench with outstretched hands, knees buckling dramatically as fans shouted along once more.
The ovation that followed prompted Martin to thank fans for reminding the band of the experience of having their songs sung loudly back at them, particularly since they've "been in the studio a long time" working on Ghost Stories. More from that album came in the form of "Another's Arms," and a brief instrumental section accented with wild sparks of guitar from Jonny Buckland.
"Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" peaked with an explosion of confetti streams, burying the musicians under layers of paper strands. Martin still managed a mood-changing "Fix You," which he dedicated to passengers on the still-missing Malaysian airliner, opening to a solemn organ melody and teary vocal, before an emotional guitar climax and Will Champion's driving beat.
The road crew's quick clean-up of the stage meant an encore was inevitable, and Coldplay returned amid surprising waves of electronic sound for the new "Midnight" and Martin's heavily treated vocals, trading the band's traditional flesh-and-blood passions for something icier and forward-leaning. It was enough to send Martin into spins of excitement onstage as the band unleashed an electro-swirl. Then the set was over, at barely 50 minutes something less than a full concert, but a meaningful glimpse of Coldplay music to come.
Second billed were Imagine Dragons, not far from their explosive onstage freakout with rapper Lamar at the Grammys. Last night in Austin, the quartet delivered a slightly longer set than Coldplay, dressed in matching shades of black, their many drums scattered around the stage. They began with an excited with "We Are Falling," erupting with soaring urgent melodies, like hysterical cousins to Mumford and Sons.
On "Tiptoe," the band went full postmodern 80s pop, as singer Dan Reynolds wailed "Nobody else can take you higher!" and drummer Daniel Platzman pounded a fiery heartbreak beat and Wayne "Wing" Sermon chimed like a new wave guitar hero. The decade fit them well, with sounds brooding, hot and bothered.
Imagine Dragons then unfurled the hits, beginning with a festive "It's Time," as Reynolds waded into the front rows and insisted, "I'm just the same as I ever was. . ." A stormy "Kingdom Come" followed, along with "Radioactive," and each player took to the drums amid geysers of fog before returning to their instruments for a full-bodied windout and bits of wailing guitar.