"Welcome to my standup comedy show," Coldplay's Chris Martin joked last night as he stood alone at the mic, thanking 800 invited guests to a live performance of the band's upcoming Ghost Stories album. The show was about to begin.
It was the first of two nights on a movie soundstage at Sony Studios in Culver City, California, where the quartet performed Ghost Stories on camera for a future DVD connected to the album's May 19th release. But for fans in the audience, it was more like an intimate concert experience than a typical TV taping, which can often mean many long pauses and set changes between songs. At Sony, the music flowed.
To warm up the room, Coldplay began with "Paradise," one of the band's most recognizable hits. The sound was crisp and bright, as a fog machine filled the room with atmosphere. It was followed by "Clocks," as laser streams of light and color streaked across the screens that circled the room.
After a brief exit, Coldplay returned to perform Ghost Stories in order, beginning with "Always in My Head." The song of devotion unfolded from a dreamy guitar pattern, as Martin swayed behind the mic. Then came "Magic," the album's first single, and already familiar to fans, who clapped a beat to the newest Coldplay song of tortured love: "If you were to ask me, after all that we've been through, I still believe in magic."
A few songs from Ghost Stories were performed two weeks earlier at South By Southwest in Austin, but this was the first time anyone had heard the full collection of songs. Martin noted the small setting, where the band could see "the whites of people's eyes."
The band then debuted the light, glancing guitar rhythm of "Ink," as Martin sang, "All I know is I am lost without your love . . . so much it hurts."
"True Love" was a song of bright musical colors anchored to a heartbreak beat and a slicing solo from guitarist Jonny Buckland. An understated "Midnight" was set to a brooding electronic rhythm, Martin's voice altered with synthetic but dramatic shadings.
Martin was back at the piano for "Another's Arms," a melancholy love song with chiming guitar as footage of women slowly tumbling underwater filled the screens. "Oceans" was understated but sweeping, with another aching vocal, shifting from tenor to falsetto: "I'm ready for it all."
"A Sky Full of Stars" began with a swell of pre-recorded sounds, as Martin looked up, bouncing on his heels, and sang with increasing excitement. The tune ended with geysers of star-shaped confetti shooting into the air, falling like snowflakes, as Martin sang the closing line, "Such a heavenly view."
Martin then introduced the rest of the band, calling Champion "the musical director — he's the boss." The singer added, "It's a very special night for us. It's a dream come true."
The final song from Ghost Stories was "O (Fly On)," a piano ballad that was energetic but vulnerable: "Maybe one day I'll fly next to you."
The band returned for a few closing hits, starting with "Viva La Vida," which had the crowd back to clapping a beat as Champion stood pounding a drum with a mallet. It was followed by a gospel-flavored "Fix You," and then a repeat of "Paradise" that Martin said was "for the cameras."
Fans were still on their feet as the band left the small stage, marking the end of an elegant night of love songs from Coldplay. A lot of them will be grateful that cameras were there to capture it.