Why U2 Were Right & Coldplay Were Wrong

It seems that along with talking about the weather, and wondering when the British man will get knocked out of Wimbledon, discussing the headliners for Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage has become an annual summer tradition. A few years ago Jay Z really got  the ball rolling, before knocking it out of the park, making the Eavis family look like geniuses, and Noel Gallagher look very silly. This year all the fuss was about U2’s slot, but I think the shouters should have been complaining about Coldplay.

U2 may have a rather hypocritical relationship with tax collecters considering the fact that their lead singer constantly hectors governments to give more in aid (I wonder where he thinks they get the money that becomes aid?), but they defined rock music for the better part of a decade, and have maintained a pretty consistent level of output ever since, as well as defining just how far stadium rock can go, in terms of spectacle.

One is pretty much the new Imagine now, in terms of its ubiquity, even though its not their best slow track, whilst their light-show and sheer chutzpah when it comes to what they pull off at their own gigs has left millions breathless (me included, and I’d never put myself as a serious fan of theirs). And, of course, they had never headlined the show – it was an omission as glaring as the one that saw Paul McCartney bring the house down a few years back.

Coldplay on the other hand haven’t released a new album since 2008 (U2’s was 2009), and the quality of their output has been on the wane since their debut: my friend Mark Hadfield once drew a lovely little diagram* showing how quality of output often drops off as a band’s success increases – think Oasis from Definitely Maybe to Be Here Now, or, obviously, Coldplay from Parachutes to Viva La Vida. Coldplay haven’t defined anything for years, other than a trend for overblown, piano-led indie-lite, that saw a rash of shit coat-tail bands blighting the mid-noughties. If Hallmark made music…

On top of that, they’ve already headlined twice before, and if memory serves, the last one was a bit of a damp-squib, as they tried to force new tracks on an audience that just wanted to sing Yellow & The Scientist. Now, by all accounts, last night’s show was a storming success, possibly more successful than U2 (if anything U2 should have piled the spectacle on more – whilst the message from the space station, with a subtle David Bowie lyric, brought a tear to my eye, it couldn’t compete with Coldplay’s pulsating pyramid).

And many people would undoubtedly say that 100,000 people can’t be wrong, though the circulation figures of many daily papers highlight how false that assumption is. But there were two other bands how gave rabble-rousing sets last night, and either would have been more worthy headliners.

Elbow are a band who have worked their way up. Besides Jay Z, they stole the show in 2008, went on to win the Mercury, and have since (recently, unlike Coldplay) released another amazing record. They are a true Glastonbury band; warm, infectious and utterly without pretence. Putting them as headliners on the Pyramid would have been a lovely nod to what they’ve achieved, rather than just making it look like Chris Martin only has to ring the Eavis household to get another booking.

Equally Pulp would have been a nice touch. They showed back in 1995, when they took the headline slot a disbanded Stone Roses couldn’t fill, that you don’t have to be the biggest band in the world/Britain™ to steal a show. They have a back-catalogue that millions would recognise, and in Jarvis Cocker, one of the best frontmen of the last 20 years. Both Elbow and Pulp did play last night, and played very well, but neither in the slot that could, and really should, have belonged to one of them.

But so what right? Tonight it’s Beyoncé and she’s bound to blow the roof off? Well, by my calculations, she has about 5 or 6 decent solo songs (i.e. ones the audience will know, that won’t send them to sleep) as well as a handful from Destiny’s Child days – the rest is pretty much standard R&B schmaltz. If the organisers wanted to take a risk, like they used to when they booked the likes of Orbital, or indeed Jay Z, they could have gone for the artist that Beyonce must wish she could be, Janelle Monae. Her performance last night was nigh-on incredible, something I hope, but doubt, Beyoncé’s will be.

*I’m not for a second suggesting Coldplay ever did drugs, unlike Oasis, but the inverse relationship of their music quality to their fame, is the same.

Wrong is right by Joel Bez on flickr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *