Kaotican Alphabet

Roadie #42 – Blog #14

#42 tells of unexpected encores in Chicago...

So today we exchange the sun-drenched palms of Western California for the ‘Windy City’ of Chicago. It’s a rudely early awakening for the flight – made no better by the fact that I didn’t really start packing until about 2am. We get to the plane and the luggage van looks like an explosion in a childcare store. You can’t help but wonder whether the huge burst of bright colour and ‘home-made’ artwork that have come along with this record are a result of all the new Coldplay young’uns. I remember Will telling me that in the very early days, they used to sell ‘Official Coldplay Baby-Grows’ on the t-shirt stand. I wonder if they’re thinking of starting again?

The show today sees the band’s old mate Mat Whitecross on site with a full crew to capture the show for posterity. For those of you wondering where he fits into the picture, take a look on the timeline in September 1999. Funny to watch that back and realise that plans changing at the very last minute isn’t exactly a new thing in the world of Coldplay! Currently, the setlist is receiving the force of the band’s tweaking spanner. Every time it changes, the entire crew need to know about it. To this end, production assistant Marguerite prints a heap of setlists and puts them in a folder on the Production Office door, Every time there is a change, the old pile goes in the recycle bin and a new bunch get printed. I can’t help but laugh when I realise there’s been so many versions, that the latest pile has been placed directly on top of the recycling bin ready for the inevitable. Such faith!

To be honest, I’m all for it. When the shows become too set in stone boredom can creep in pretty quickly. Consequently, I’m utterly delighted when tonight, there is a completely unexpected second encore. The show ends as normal and I realise that I don’t know if the band are doing a ‘runner’ (ie getting straight in vans to the hotel and screeching off before the traffic traps them). If they are, I need to be with them, to avoid being left behind. I’m assured though, that Jonny and Guy have left, but everyone else is hanging around for a while. I go back to my world under the stage to grab my things and drum-tech Bash tells me they’re going back on. "They can’t be, – Guy and Jonny have gone". He points to the stage, where true enough, Will and Chris are climbing back up the steps.

The crowd goes understandably bonkers as the stripped down band try to work out what to do. They settle on Green Eyes – Will on piano and Chris on acoustic. It’s funny watching them, thinking that the two of them started off busking together in Covent Garden ten years ago and (literally) couldn’t get arrested. All these years on and all these miles from home, here they are in front of this huge crowd who know every word. Funny how it works out, eh?

Day two in Chicago sees more filming with Mat. Soundcheck is a perfect time for the cameras to get in close, without being all over the stage and in people’s way during the show. The guys bound through Lost! a few times. I have to admit, they do well summoning the enthusiasm, given that last night’s screaming crowd of sixteen thousand has been replaced by about 50 hungover roadies and a bunch of cameras. The soundcheck then opens its doors to a bunch of competition winners who get treated to an impromptu Warning Sign along with a totally unexpected track from the album sessions that I’ve never even heard them play before – I couldn’t even tell you what it was called! Talk about exclusive…

As showtime approaches, Arlene, the band’s lovely management assistant asks me if I want to ‘do some tickets’. I often don’t understand what she’s talking about – she’s Scottish, so it’s to be expected. She explains though, that the front five rows of seats are never sold. These tickets are purposely held by the band to give to fans from the very back of the arena who will appreciate them to the full. What a fabulously mad idea!

I decide to take the stairs way, way up to the "nosebleeds" in the third tier, where I’ll distribute my fistful of tickets. The first thing I feel is vertigo. You wouldn’t want to lose your balance up here! I start explaining to a few folks what I’m up to and at first they simply don’t believe me. Especially as I have to exchange their tickets to avoid them simply heading outside to sell these prized seats. Eventually, once I convince them, they go properly bananas, skipping off high fiving and hugging. Word gets round and suddenly I’m swamped. There’s a crowd gathering and I only have three tickets. Everyone is in fours or twos. I can’t leave empty spaces down in the front rows. Suddenly it’s not quite as fun, but suddenly, someone makes a new friend and a group of three claim the tickets.

I see the front rows filling up as I’m setting up one of Guy’s cameras at the front of the stage. I can see five rows of people who can’t believe their luck, turning round and pointing at seats way up high in the back where they used to be. They’re having a great night and the intro tape hasn’t even started yet…

Tonight sees another unexpected encore. They go back to a track that I believe was called The Dubliners. I guess there’s a pretty strong Irish community in Chicago, so the country tinged folk-stomp goes down a storm. Tonight is a "runner" so once I see that the song is going well, I head for the vans. It seems I’m a little early though. Apparently, they did Green Eyes as well, this time with Jonny, too. Eventually, they dive into the cars and the police sirens start for the escort. Nobody can work out whether soundman Dan Green is stuck in the crowd trying to get out, or if nobody told him it was a runner tonight. Either way, the police escort is screaming up the ramp and our van has to follow. Still, it’s a day off next, so he has got 24 hours to find his way to the hotel….