The first thing you notice about “Parachutes,” Coldplay’s 2000 debut, is how easy it is not to notice it. The drums are dampened, the guitars cloaked in reserved, shimmering atmospherics. Even singer Chris Martin’s voice seems subdued as it sneaks into his by-now familiar falsetto, plaintive and pleading in its keening earnestness. It sounds as if Coldplay is trying hard not to wake the neighbors, but that’s likely by design. It’s a deft, almost deceptively cocky gambit by a young band luring you into its seemingly modest but entrancingly melancholy world.
The album doesn’t always stay so sedate, even if it rarely rattles the rafters, but Coldplay effectively and efficiently made its point. Just because something starts small does not mean it will stay small, and these hushed beginnings only barely disguise the group’s ambitions. Though it’s perhaps tough now to square these baby steps toward world domination with the band that would one day anchor a Super Bowl halftime show, among other high-profile appearances, all the pieces were already in place.
To watch the band perform on “Amsterdam Sessions” about a month before the album’s release is to largely see the same band as it is today. Younger, sure, but the same four friends from school and the same band dynamic, three suitable but relatively anonymous guys (guitarist Jonny Buckland, drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman) ceding the spotlight to an eager Martin, who is nonetheless endearingly nervous — jittery, eyes often closed, head tilted slightly — as he unveils songs not yet familiar to millions.
Here Coldplay is nearly as understated as the album itself turned out to be, confident but still slightly cautious, trying to get everything just right for what Martin claims is the first time the band has showcased its music outside of the U.K. Because, after all, what did the band know? On the exact same day Coldplay was recording this session, the song “Yellow” was released as a single, and though the quartet surely knew that they had something good, it’s unlikely they recognized it as something special, a song that would only grow in stature over the ensuing years.
What matters is how the song makes you feel: like the universe itself is giving you a big twinkly-starred hug and a high-five.
“Yellow” is so broadly sentimental and unabashedly romantic, it doesn’t matter that the lyrics mean next to nothing. What matters is how the song makes you feel: like the universe itself is giving you a big twinkly-starred hug and a high-five. Even a cynic would have to work hard to resist such well-intentioned tenderness.
On the day of this set it might have still been just another song, but the passage of time has imbued its performance with the promise of possibility. The same holds true for the band itself. Maybe there was something in the air; just a few months after “Parachutes” was released, U2 (one of Coldplay’s clearest influences) would rekindle its own uplifting instincts on the “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” album.
Maybe Coldplay just didn’t have it in them to embrace the arrogant swagger of Britpop or the fashionable alienation of contemporaries like Radiohead. Or maybe the band understood that there’s nothing wrong with being pretty for pretty’s sake, that even sadness can have a silver lining or that the universal impact of heart-on-sleeve emotions is as powerful an instrument as overdriven guitars and crashing drums.
The music may have been wimpy, but it worked, and the group’s cascading success eventually proved just how well it worked. Call it good timing, call it the triumph of hopeful transcendence over rainy day pessimism, even call it “Yellow.” Snapshots like this performance show the ingredients were always right there, just waiting for a spark.