The Age MARCH 5, 2009 - by Andrew Murfett


Everyone loves Coldplay, it seems, except the band's famous frontman.

Chris Martin is good at modesty - or maybe just at feigning it. Standing on a stage at Rod Laver Arena before the first of three Melbourne shows, he directs his band through a soundcheck. About twenty fans - all competition winners - are gathered near the stage, savouring the opportunity to watch at close quarters as Coldplay run through their pre-show paces.

After fifteen minutes of adjustments, the band launch into a razor-sharp, ear-splittingly loud reading of their track Glass Of Water. The sound fills the empty arena.

As the song ends, the fans applaud. Martin runs to his microphone, puts his hand over his face in mock horror and tells them, "You don't have to clap if it's shit". After almost a decade in the limelight, Martin's bashful persona is as familiar to fans as is his band's position at the top of the charts.

That paradox is on full display in their giant arena show, which ends its Melbourne run tonight.

It's designed to unashamedly showcase and trumpet the band's wares while self-effacingly keeping its collective ego in check. There's no fist pumping or big showy solos.

, in a room set aside for "family and friends" deep in the bowels of the venue, Martin is offered a couch, but opts instead to sit on the floor, cross-legged. He is considering the question of whether his band has surpassed U2. The Irishmen last year took a break from being the Biggest Band in the World and Coldplay stepped into the void. So what happens now that Bono and co. are back? "That's a good question," Martin says. "We were very happy. But Green Day will be back soon, too. So we're rapidly falling down the ladder. The difficulty of the whole U2 thing is we're on our fourth record so we're competing with people's fifth records. We're coming up to Revolver or The Joshua Tree. We're at a very different stage."

Incidentally, Bono called Martin a wanker recently, though he later said he was only joking. What did he think of that?

"What do you want me to say?" he shrugs. "I always thought he felt that way.

"I think the U2 album is fantastic," he says, as if to show there's no hard feelings. "We respect the ones who have kept going and not changed line-up and always stayed good."

Martin declines to answer any question related to his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow. (Inquiries made with label staff and other members of the band's production team suggested she is not travelling with them.) But the lanky frontman wears the love of his bandmates on his sleeve. Frustrated at Martin's self-deprecating disposition towards the band, they say they often tell him to pull his head in.

Drummer Will Champion, who cheekily attributes his late arrival to the interview to spending time learning John Farnham songs, says he tries to avoid reading Martin's interviews. "If he says we're shit, I tell him off," he says.

The rapport between Champion and Martin off stage is one of equal respect and demonstrates that Coldplay is more than a one-man show. When Martin begins to play with a cap from a soft drink bottle, Champion reprimands him, telling him it will mess up my recording. Martin immediately stops.

"Of course, Chris is the one who takes things to heart," bassist Guy Berryman says, out of Martin's earshot, "because things are usually directed towards him. It's in his nature to worry about that. What's good about our band is we all support and stick up for each other. If somebody is having a rough time, we help."

The band's big-selling fourth album, Viva La Vida, was produced by Brian Eno, who is also on board for the follow-up. The album also saw Coldplay embraced by the Grammys, where they were the big winners at last month's ceremony in Los Angeles.

"It's the first time, personally, I have enjoyed an award ceremony like that," Champion says. "It's often about who has the biggest entourage or bodyguards."

"This time we did," Martin jokes, "so we were the winners."

The band is also looking at giving something back to fans later this year in the form of a free live album.

"We're doing something different with the live album," Martin confirms. "Tickets are expensive and we're in a recession. We're playing huge places so we thought it would be cool to do something like that."

Curiously, Martin is touring Australia with his father in tow. Martin reveals that they hit the Gin Palace on a night out earlier in the week. "I wouldn't say we were causing mayhem," he says. "What's the opposite of mayhem? I imagine there is more mayhem at an old people's home. My dad's more of a rock star than me. He embraces his lifestyle."

Coldplay's final Melbourne show is at Rod Laver Arena tonight.