It might be pushing it a bit to say those left at Glastonbury as proceedings on the main stage draw to a close this year are, as Chris Martin puts it, “brave and wonderful people”, but they’re certainly an impressively dogged and hearty lot.
Today, the previously changeable weather has settled into slate-grey skies and constant drizzle: it looks like an overcast afternoon in October. Even Michael Eavis, a man you suspect would have been the very model of ebullient optimism as the deck of the Titanic started to list dramatically and the band struck up with Nearer My God to Thee, has said that conditions here are worse than 1997, the year that one stage famously collapsed in the mud and Radiohead sounded not like a band given to overegging the pudding where the miseries of life are concerned, but the perfect soundtrack. Moreover, cars are having to be towed out of the car parks: the time it’s going to take to get out of here is currently estimated at about six months.
It sounds a bit like dereliction of a rock critic’s duty to say it, but what is required at this late juncture on the Pyramid stage is not a head-spinningly original and challenging exploration of rock’s bleeding edge. You want something familiar and comforting, the musical equivalent of a baked potato. Enter Coldplay, stadium rock’s answer to Spud-U-Like, to an accompaniment of fireworks and a tape of a voice saying “you the people have the power”.
It’s tempting to go: yeah, and look where exercising it has got us. But a suitable degree of cynicism is genuinely hard to maintain in light of what follows. “It’s our favourite place in the world,” says Chris Martin as he walks on stage: by the conclusion of Yellow, he’s thanking the audience for “restoring our faith in the world”. The audience, for their part, start bellowing along and don’t really stop for the next hour and a half: through Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall, a version of Paradise that now comes with a pounding house coda attached, Viva La Vida and Fix You, the lastsong that always sounds substantially less mawkish when thousands of people are singing along. The trick of distributing thousands of flashing wristbands to the crowd and getting them to wave their arms in time to the music is both shamelessly corny and hugely effective as the night draws in.
It’s the fourth time that Coldplay have headlined Glastonbury: frankly, if they hadn’t worked out how to do this kind of thing by now, it would be time for some kind of public inquiry. Even so, it’s striking how adept a frontman Chris Martin is: at turns a puppyish enthusiastic cheerleader and quietly self-deprecating – “I’m Chris de Burgh,” he smiles, seating himself at the piano.
Coldplay eschew a cover of David Bowie’s Heroes in favour of paying tribute to Viola Beach, the young band who were killed in a car accident earlier this year: showing a video of them playing their debut single, then joining in the song themselves, “creating an alternative future for them”. Perhaps noting that the other Pyramid stage headliners haven’t done anything particularly out of the ordinary, and that it’s down to them to create the kind of mythic “Glastonbury moment” you always hear so much about, for an encore, they first bring out Barry Gibb to sing the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody and Staying Alive, then Michael Eavis to sing My Way. People, understandably, go nuts.
You can, if you’re so minded, mock Coldplay’s innate musical conservatism, their shameless emotional button-pushing – at one point they show a video of Muhammad Ali – but you’d have a hard time arguing that they don’t make perfect sense in a setting like this. What’s the point of Coldplay is an oft-asked question among more waspish music fans and critics. Tonight the clear answer seems to be: well, this.