Coldplay review, Glastonbury 2024: Band deliver the spectacle of a lifetime, with help from Michael J Fox

If archaeologists ever excavate the leyline reputed to flow beneath the Pyramid Stage field, it will likely look like this. A shimmering ocean of 200,000 luminous neon specks, undulating across the vale to the sound of twinkling synth rock.

Tonight’s spectacular preview comes courtesy of the vast array of LED wristbands handed out across the site and waved aloft for 2024’s reluctant record-breakers. As much as Chris Martin copiously thanks “the greatest city on earth” for the chance to play, Glastonbury is lucky to have him.

Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres tour hits Glastonbury almost three years in, having been through the UK twice already. The band reportedly had to be talked into a record-breaking fifth Glasto headline show that might reasonably be considered overkill. The Elton-rivalling crowd who make the utterly glorious “Viva La Vida” one of the most unifying and celebratory moments ever to emanate from this hallowed stage, though, are very much up for being overkilled.

The tour was something of a loose Eras of their own – an hour dominated by early classics, then an hour of their more recent hyper-pop tendencies. Glastonbury gets more of a magnificent mash-up. A 1970s BBC clock counts down to a brazen opening “Yellow”, then the band ricochet between albums, Martin bouncing and skipping around the stage like one of the local druids has summoned a sprite-like embodiment of pure melodic joy.

A pulsing “Paradise” gives way to an early outing for “The Scientist”, played by Martin on a battered “Hey Jude” piano covered in stars and scribbles, but also a quarter of a million heartstrings. “Clocks” – pounding, backlit in green – cues up the electro-pop rush of “Hymn For The Weekend” and effervescent folk rocker “Charlie Brown”. An hour or so races by, as for-the-ages Glasto headline sets tend to do.

Coldplay only ever come close to realising their undeserved reputation for the ordinary when they surrender their anthemic powers to the sonic sinkhole of EDM pop. Now, there’s much discussion abroad this year about Glastonbury’s on-going relationship with pop music. Our own Adam White convincingly argues elsewhere that, beyond the headliners, a genre with such mass appeal here (witness Sugababageddon and the XCXocalypse) deserves prime-time respect rather than being shunted to dangerously overcrowded sidelines.

Their very own Eras tour: Chris Martin during Coldplay’s career-spanning Glastonbury set (Getty Images)
Their very own Eras tour: Chris Martin during Coldplay’s career-spanning Glastonbury set (Getty Images)

But let’s not forget that outside countercultural behemoths like Glastonbury, pop music has always been overwhelmingly popular and forever will be – the clue’s in the name. And good points have also been made about Coldplay’s career trajectory mirroring the festival’s. Both colourful leftfield extravaganzas got so big they had to embrace the mainstream machine in order to maintain their unwieldy success as streaming submerged rock.

With Coldplay adamant that they’ll stop making music in 2025 (a good 10 years after they began flagging up the end of the road) then, it perhaps bodes ill for Glastonbury’s future direction: once you’ve gone full pop, the implication goes, you’ve reached the end of the creative line. There’s nowhere to go but small again.

What can be relied upon though, no matter their genre preferences, is that both will deliver the spectacle of a lifetime. Even when indulging Pharrell-friendly grooves on “Adventures of a Lifetime” or a K-pop collaboration with BTS on “My Universe”, they blow more budget on balloons, confetti and fireworks than Moscow is currently spending on filling your timeline with Reform UK content.

Coldplay headline The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival, Saturday 29 June 2024 (Getty Images)
Coldplay headline The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival, Saturday 29 June 2024 (Getty Images)

For “Something Just Like This”, their sci-fi rave collaboration with The Chainsmokerz, they don cartoonish alien heads. Martin stops “A Sky Full of Stars” just before its Balearic blast off for a “band meeting”, asks everyone to put their phones away and “consider yourself part of the performance for this one song”, then drenches the Pyramid in aurora borealis.

They also signpost some ways back. Mid-set Little Simz emerges to add grainy verses to a premiere of rap pop new track “We Pray” – presumably set to appear on forthcoming 10th album Moon Music – marking a far darker direction than the glossier fare of late. “Arabesque” comes accompanied by a video guest spot from Femi Kuti and a swampy horn section of no little voodoo, while a white-clad gospel choir appear on the stage’s rim for a soul chorale of “Violet Hill” led by Laura Mvula. A soul noir coda to Coldplay’s career awaits? Colour us intrigued.

Chris Martin performs with Michael J Fox on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury (BBC)
Chris Martin performs with Michael J Fox on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury (BBC)

Both band and festival also know the value of “event” moments. Following a stripped-down run through the debut album’s jazzy ballad “Sparks”, Martin grabs an acoustic guitar and begins inventing songs on the spot, describing members of the crowd that pop up on the screen: a man with a model Pyramid Stage on his head; Michael Eavis, “the world’s greatest farmer”; surprise guest guitarist Michael J Fox.

Then the stage fills with players for a jubilant “Humankind”, a none-more bombastic “Fix You” and another new song to close the evening, “FeelslikeImfallinginlove”. Each one competes for showstopper of the festival.

“You make my world light up,” Martin sang earlier; one hell of a note-to-self.