Sundara Karma at the O2 Institute, Birmingham – 11.02.2017

One day after the conclusion of their support of Two Door Cinema Club, Sundara Karma comfortably shake off the Best Supporting Cast shackles, proving to be more than capable of a rapturous headline show.

The band emerged on the O2 Institute stage to Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl; presumably the foursome had forgotten their entrance music and the only CD at their disposal was NOW 62*. Diving straight in with album opener A Young Understanding, the band certainly showed they had this as the youthful crowd swayed, crushed, moshed and bounced energetically over the next seventy minutes.
*(check it, it’s right)

On their first major headline tour, the glamorous Reading outfit hoped to make this first night a spectacle, dressed to impress, as though they had walked through a Salvation Army shop covered in Velcro; flares, blouses and long hair to boot. Admittedly they scored an own-goal by deciding to deploy large multi-coloured balloons, bought for a giants’ birthday party. They not only disrupted the bands’ concentration (knocking over mic stands, bumping pedals) but scared this reviewer sh*tless, as spontaneous balloon pops were less than complimentary additions to the set.

That complaint out of the way, the exciting opening was followed by latest single, the anthemic Flame. It perfectly demonstrated why they had to upgrade venues from The Rainbow to Birmingham’s O2 Institute, such was the demand for the show. Mark my words they have a sound fit for stadiums, so don’t expect to see them in 2,000 capacity venues for too much longer.

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Sundara Karma fully showcased their debut album, the cynically named Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect. This cynic was very impressed by this strong first effort, one of the best albums of 2017 so far (admittedly we are one month and 14 days into 2017 at the time of writing). However one song I find less impressive is She Said, a blatant Circa Waves rip-off. One Circa Waves is more than enough, fellas.

Ally Baty on lead guitar, Haydn Evans on drums and Dom Cordell on bass all contribute towards Sundara Karma’s tight indie-pop sound, but it is frontman Oscar Pollock providing the star quality. He proved this on Vivienne, losing his guitar before losing himself amongst the crowd during this epic love number. A crowd-surf-gone-wrong turned into Pollock navigating his way around a packed dancefloor back to the stage as though he were a religious icon being mobbed by adoring followers. All the while effortlessly maintaining his grace and poise.

The band closed the main set with their ‘Wonderwall’, Happy Family. A hymn-like harmony over a cheery guitar string plucking intro descends into Pollock desperately proclaiming anything but a happy family.

Swiftly re-emerging for an encore, Sundara Karma unleashed a Luther Vandross-shaped surprise with a cover of his disco classic, Never Too Much. Closing the set in fine fashion (unlike the garments on show), was Loveblood, one of the biggest indie singles of 2016. It’s a song that received much Radio 1 airplay and propelled the band through a stratospheric rise in recent months. Always a strong live act, now with an album under their belt, Sundara Karma prove why they are currently the hottest property on the up-and-coming British indie-rock scene.

Coldplay at Wembley 16.06.2016

Coldplay redeem my faith in the world with a spectral showpiece.

The second of four sold out nights at the home of English failure (football*) saw the London band paint their home town multi-coloured, like they swallowed a rainbow and projectile vomited it across Wembley.

Support acts Lianne Le Havas and Alessia Cara proved to be underwhelming, failing to clear the dark clouds that hovered literally and metaphorically after the horrific events of previous weeks. Despite the former seducing us with her charm and soul, the latter lectured us with her ‘be who you want to be, not what the media wants you to be’, broken-hearted, excessive thanks etc. spiel. Considering the scale of Coldplay’s previous supports (see Jay Z and Girls Aloud circa 2008), the £70 ticket prices perhaps could have stretched further and provided more than just a gazebo to protect their supports from the rain.

Nonetheless the band the 80,000 fans came to see spared no expense theatrically and pyrotechnically. Coldplay’s arrival on stage brought the first of numerous explosions of confetti of the night. Entire forests must have been demolished to supply Coldplay with confetti for their tour; it was possibly the reason why Chris Martin’s ex-wife and renowned environmental nut Gwyneth Paltrow ‘consciously uncoupled’ him. A huge commitment to his trade, dare I say it marital martyrdom. Martin and co. transformed Wembley into a glistening spectacle with an impressive lights show involving LED wristbands; the stadium must have resembled a UFO from afar. The audience thus became part of the show, rather than just spectators. Coldplay clearly weren’t put off by the fact that this same stunt left their Mylo Xyloto Tour completely unprofitable. Nevertheless, the stadium glowed and sparkled beautifully like a psychedelic acid trip from the 60s. Even the band’s instruments dripped multi-coloured paint as though they had fallen into an M & Ms mixing vat. This all distracted from the fact the title track from the band’s latest effort A Head Full of Dreams opened the show rather modestly, despite Chris Martin’s best efforts to lead the procession like a master of ceremonies with the demeanour of an excitable Jack Russell.

Martin gets his fair share of stick but it is hard to deny his showmanship qualities. While the rest of Coldplay stand mute on the grand stage, the band’s lead singer and leader entertains the crowd like a poorly dressed performing monkey (see his repugnant, rainbow-coloured, over-sized basketball sneakers and long-sleeved and short sleeved t-shirt combo) . His energetic bursts up and down the stage runway, solo-spinning like a drunk in a club just before lights go up, not to mention his ability to hold a tune at the same time, renders Martin a real tour de force to admire. However with the more downbeat numbers like Yellow (gotten out of the way surprisingly early), The Scientist, and Fix You seeing mass sing-a longs, it shows involvement takes no persuading. As the lyrics reverberated around North London, it became clear how personal and recognisable they are to each and every member of the audience; a testament to just how ingrained Coldplay have become within British culture.

13450891_10157042234300187_6799952874059811115_nNew, seventh album A Head Full of Dreams was, as expected, heavily showcased this evening. So much so that the Grammy Award-winning debut Parachutes and Brit award-winning and Grammy-nominated X & Y were neglected in favour for the mixed reviewed A Head Full of Dreams and Chris Martin’s sickening ode to his break up with Paltrow, Ghost Stories. Nevertheless it sounded better live, with the likes of Hymn for the Weekend (minus Beyonce, unfortunately) and Jonny Buckland’s infectious guitar rhythms on lead single Adventure of a Lifetime proving that every Coldplay song is made for live performances.

Swapping from the main stage to a smaller podium in the centre of the stadium, the band oscillated to more subdued numbers like 2014’s Magic and the audience Instagram-requested (Coldplay you don’t help yourself) God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, wonderfully harking back to second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Drummer Will Champion, bassist Guy Berryman, Martin and Buckland crowded round the podium in what were nice, stripped-back, understated renditions, particularly compared to the colourful parade that had preceded. A poignant, yet dreadful, cover of the late, great David Bowie’s Heroes, also featured, with the band paying tribute to Muhammad Ali, the Orlando victims, MP Jo Cox and Christina Grimmie, throughout the night.

Paradise was as fun as you’d imagine, until what seemed like the concert had been hijacked by Calvin Harris for an unnecessary nightclub rave-esque ending. Mylo Xyloto’s Charlie Brown provided a highlight of the night, it turned the concert from toe-tapping into full-scale jumping even getting the elderly audience members (sorry father) bouncing enthusiastically. Viva La Vida was the peak, and would later echo along Wembley Way all the way to Wembley Park Station. The encore, however, failed to elevate the concert to new heights with most of the songs you’d expect at the climax used up earlier, instead opting to finish with Up&Up; nice but just that.

Coldplay, love them or loathe them, are currently the biggest pop band in the world. Now veterans of the big stage, having performed the ‘prestigious’ Superbowl Half Time Corporate Circus, and headlining Glastonbury for – what seemed like – the 16th time, their pensions are well and truly secure, please now get back to writing good albums.