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Coldplay - Live in Buenos Aires Music Album Reviews

Though it includes some of the band’s least memorable songs, their latest live album makes a strong case for Coldplay as one of the 21st century’s most enduring arena acts.

The difference between Coldplay’s hits and misses is so elusive that Coldplay themselves have never quite figured it out. The most uncanny scene in their new documentary A Head Full of Dreams—which, for the record, includes footage of Chris Martin coaching Beyoncé on recording vocals—comes from the writing sessions for 2005’s X&Y. Martin is penning a tender new ballad about how it feels when someone you love is grief-stricken and inconsolable. His working lyrics read as follows:

Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you can not replace
Tears stream down your face
And I-I-I-I-I-I will try to fix you

“Is that shit?” he asks shyly. His bandmates are unimpressed.

Cut to a performance at Buenos Aires’ 53,000-seat Estadio Ciudad de La Plata in November 2017. It’s the final night of the third-highest-grossing tour of all time, and the audience tells a different story. Herein lies the magic of Coldplay. The same way that no one wishes on their deathbed that they spent more time at work, nobody screaming in an audience of thousands wishes the lyricist workshopped the hits a little longer. And so, Live in Buenos Aires might feature some of Coldplay’s least memorable recent work, including more than half of 2015’s A Head Full of Dreams plus their jingle-in-search-of-a-product Chainsmokers collaboration “Something Just Like This,” but the 24-track album makes a strong case for the legacy of one of the 21st century’s most enduring live acts.

This trio of new releases—the documentary, the live album, and a concert film from São Paulo—coincide with the band’s 20th anniversary. Unlike the arena trailblazers they’ve always idolized, Coldplay have spent these two decades more or less following a linear path. Their few experiments have gone down smoothly as either commercial triumphs (2008’s Brian Eno-produced Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends) or at least coherent narrative moves (2014’s Ghost Stories, released after Martin’s separation from Gwyneth Paltrow). Even when they seem to take a left turn, it feels somewhat superficial: a software update, a new seasonal flavor at Starbucks. But it’s also this brand consistency that allows their retrospective releases to feel uniquely unified, victory montages as opposed to sprawling artistic surveys.

While their recent studio work reflects a somewhat depressing glut of ideas, the stage is where Coldplay reap the benefits of their headliner status. Like U2, they make sure each tour is its own dazzling, light-up spectacular, and it’s generally fantastic every time. They’ve released four live albums in the past 15 years, and there’s a good reason for it. Somehow, Live in Buenos Aires marks their first complete concert released officially. This means you get to hear all of Martin’s between-song banter, said almost entirely in Spanish. There’s also a sweet throwaway song written for that night, “Amor Argentina,” and a spirited cover of Argentine rock band Soda Stereo’s “De Música Ligera.”

Otherwise, Coldplay aren’t the type of band who like peppering their sets with surprises or deep cuts. Instead, they construct setlists like karaoke nights; the goal is to keep up the momentum and make sure everyone’s having a good time. This occasionally means stapling an EDM drop to the end of a song, as they do in “Paradise.” Mostly, it means constantly asking for auxiliary whooping just to keep spirits high, as they do before launching into “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” and throughout pretty much every other song.

The crowd responds with an omnipresent roar that makes each track seem like the centerpiece. The opening “A Head Full of Dreams” plays here like a rousing call to action, despite sounding more like the theme song for a Coldplay-centric game show on ABC. If songs like this get the crowd going, then the big singles are veritable explosions. Hearing a massive audience scream through “The Scientist” still brings chills, no matter how many live versions you’ve heard. It’s Coldplay’s most patient and unguarded ballad, highlighting the strange intimacy they’ve maintained as they’ve ascended to larger stages through all of rock’s expansions and retreats.

At their best, Coldplay are both the cozy rom-com you watch on your laptop before bed and the big budget IMAX focus-tested to get your heart racing. In concert, even their weaker songs speak to this power. It’s a testament to both their dedication and the Cirque du Soleil-levels of professionalism involved with their live show. On Live in Buenos Aires, their quietest moments feel like massive group hugs and the anthems come off as celebrations. Still, a sense of humanity is missing. They sound like a band on top of the world, but they’ve also never seemed further away.

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