Kaotican Alphabet

Roadie #42 – Blog #146

#42 stares down the barrel while being fired from a cannon. And Coldplay do too.

So we’re officially slap bang inside the pre-release promo phase. The clearest indicator of this is the proliferation of thousand yard stares and slightly tattered nerve endings visible all around. Every album’s launch phase is its own pinball machine of utter chaos. If the recording process was a year or two of pulling the sprung launcher back, everyone involved is now packed tight in the shiny silver ball bouncing around the schedule at an alarming rate.

Besides the travel and the sleep deprivation, the toughest thing about all this is the lack of consistency. Every day is a completely unique assault course. By the time we’re into the relative calm of “just being on tour”, we’ll have done shows in tiny theatres, a bunch of massive festivals, umpteen tiny TV studios, a few stadiums, a tennis court, an arena or two, a bucket factory and a parking lot. This is just the performance side of it. For the band, there’s an additional layer of interviews. Radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, blogs and websites.

The point we’re at is illustrated beautifully by a conversation overheard in customs after landing in Toronto. Phil Harvey turns to tour manager Franksy and muses, “These few weeks feel a lot like staring down the barrel”. He’s doubtless feeling the weight of expectation, how the press will respond, how the album will be received by fans. The trigger is about to be pulled, but for the moment, all there is to do is look cross eyed at the shotgun and sweat.

Franksy’s reply is lighthearted, but similarly revealing: “I feel more like I’m being fired out of a different cannon every few hours and I still haven’t caught sight of a net”. Whilst it’s chaotic for all of us aboard, Franksy is right at the sharp end – we just go where we’re told, get in the van or climb on the plane. Making sure there’s always a van to get into, a plane on the tarmac, a hotel room to collapse in – that’s Franksy’s responsibility.

Details and plans are changing by the minute and if he overlooks something while he’s attending to another detail, the wheels pretty quickly come off the whole thing. I’m reminded of a scene in an old cartoon where someone is sat on the front of an out of control steam train frantically laying track right ahead of it.

We arrive at MuchMusic where today’s parking lot show is to be held and the chaos is in full swing. The crew left the hotel at 4.30am this morning to fly in from New York after loading out of Letterman late the previous night. Understandably, they’re all a wee bit pooped. The show is outside, so of course it’s pissing down with rain. The stage has little in the way of a roof, so the gear is being wrapped in plastic sheets. Side stage, all the mixing desks, computers, guitars and gear racks are under temporary tents. These naturally, are peppered with holes and pour in at the edges where one tent joins another.

I’m re-programming a bunch of stuff in the keyboard rig in the middle of a torrential storm, while all around me everyone is busily constructing elaborate waterproof homes for the gear out of giant tarpaulins. It looks like one of those survival shows on TV where the first job is to build a shelter. I’m half expecting folks to start foraging for food in a minute – but I suspect they’re all too knackered.

There’s a rumour doing the rounds that one sight of lightning and the whole event will be pulled on safety grounds. I’m half tempted to get a flashgun out of my camera kit and start letting it off under the production office window just to put everyone out of their misery, but I hardly think it’d be fair to the crowd who have already gathered and are getting wetter than any of us.

I finish up and head inside in search of caffeine. Franksy and Production Manager Wob Roberts are on the phone to unknown persons trying to get a sensible answer about the latest flare-up “What’s the story with this juggler?” I watch bemusedly as the conversations unfold. “We weren’t told about any juggler and I just don’t see why it’s necessary before the band go on”.

I’m convinced it’s a wind-up at first. We are after all, on George Zorin’s home turf in Canada. Not even he would be so heartless as to throw a spanner into the works for his own amusement when everyone is already frazzled to a crisp.

Thankfully, this resolves itself fairly quickly as it turns out it’s just the standard TV warm-up guy. Pretty soon, he’s out there doing his stuff and before we know it, the band are up there and the show is underway.

The rain has miraculously shifted and holds off for the whole show. The band are firing on all four cylinders and it turns into a solidly great gig. Reports from all quarters are that it looked great on TV. I’d almost forgotten that there were people watching – my criteria for a successful show was simply getting through the setlist without my gear being submerged by a downpour. It’s being hailed, though, as a huge success. Result.

It’s a microcosm of the whole promo phase really. When you’re in amongst it, you forget that there’s folks at home getting excited by the whole thing. And that’s the name of the game. The fellas have spent a long time pushing themselves insanely hard to make the best record they possibly can. Maybe an album that will become a defining point in their career.

There’s no point doing that and then not telling the whole world about it. Trying to get everyone as excited as you are about this new bunch of tunes. There would also be no point in going through all of this hoopla if you had a mediocre record.

I’ve heard it, though, and can confirm that it’s a monster – and it’s coming your way very soon.