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On the Road With Coldplay

Chris Martin and company are aiming to release new album this year

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Brian Hiatt Jan 19, 2009
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Minutes before showtime in Coldplay’s darkened Dallas dressing room, Chris Martin cracks open a bottle of Jameson. He takes a shot, throws his head back and gargles loudly. At least a dozen pill bottles litter the floor next to Martin’s yoga mat. But it’s all a lot less decadent than it seems: The pills are vitamins, and the whiskey is -mostly to lubricate Martin’s throat for the many quavering high notes to come. “It’s pretty exciting back here, right?” cracks drummer Will Champion, who spends most of his pre-show time playing a PlayStation 3 soccer game. “It’s just like Mötley Crüe!”

Coldplay are in the middle of the biggest tour of their career, and their latest album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, has made them the top-selling band in the world this year. (They have trouble accepting the news: “Most of the time we just feel like losers,” says laid-back bassist Guy Berryman.) But as they hang backstage, reports are bouncing all over that they’re about to break up: Martin, 31, told a British newspaper that he was treating 2009 as Coldplay’s final year. But he didn’t quite mean it: He explains that Coldplay have the ambitious plan of recording and releasing a Viva la Vida follow-up next year (they hope to work again with the production team of Brian Eno and Markus Dravs), and setting an end date is meant to keep them focussed.

“We’re proceeding as if it’s our last, because it’s the only way to proceed,” Martin says. “You’ve got to have deadlines, you know. What that means is we’re going to pour everything we can into next year and not think beyond that. We always say that and we always mean it. But every time we say it, someone writes that it’s over. I don’t think we’ll ever split up, but we have to do a lot before we’re 33.” The band is about to release the last of its Viva la Vida leftovers in a deluxe reissue of the album, so the new record will consist of more recently written tunes ”“ which Coldplay have already begun experimenting with in various studios. “I would like to build on what we’ve just done,” says Martin, “and deliver something short and optimistic.”

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Backstage, the four band members have just changed into the French Revolution-inspired uniforms that provide the visual theme for their tour ”“ and inspired more discussion than Martin would prefer. “The Pittsburgh Steelers wear the same outfit every week, and no one expects them to change,” he says. “But wear the same outfit on both Leno and Letterman, and suddenly it’s an issue.” The band plans to shift to modified versions of the get-ups when the tour continues early next year. “We’re not sick of the theme ”“ just the smell,” says Martin, who actually has six or so near-identical versions of his suit ”“ today’s has Barack Obama’s name written on one of the armbands.

The group members perk up when they hear the distant sound of ”˜I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),’ by Martin’s pal Jay-Z ”“ the final song on their pre-show mixtape. They button their frilly jackets and march out of the dressing room, stopping just outside the curtains that lead to the stage and a crowd of 20,000 people. Their intro music ”“ Strauss’ ”˜Blue Danube’ ”“ swells, and Coldplay gather in a huddle and join hands in a “go, team” gesture.

The band is clearly most excited about playing the Viva la Vida tunes ”“ but it delivers enthusiastic, straightforward versions of old hits like ”˜Yellow.’ Martin used to pull the Dylan move of changing that song’s melody ”“ but then he got some simple advice from Michael Stipe: “Stop doing that. People want to hear the songs the way they know them.”

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The show gets a lot of mileage out of simple tricks, beginning with the illuminated balls above the stage that serve as spherical video screens. And then there’s the bit where the band runs into the nosebleed seats to perform ”˜Politik’ acoustically among the fans.

Most spectacular is the moment during ”˜Lovers in Japan’ when thousands of transparent confetti butterflies spill from the ceiling, glowing in the stage lights. It’s a stunning sight, inspired equally by the Flaming Lips’ showmanship and a trip Martin took to a zoo’s butterfly habitat with his kids. “Even if the show’s going shit, I know that there’s two moments that’ll be fine,” says Martin. “The song ”˜Viva la Vida’ ”“ and when the butterflies glow in the dark.”

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