As you get ever more road(ie) miles under your belt, two things start to happen.
Firstly, less phases you. Most things that the crew encounter on a daily basis are a repetition of what’s gone before. I remember on the Rush Of Blood tour, the enormous growth spurt that the band went through meant every few weeks, we seemed to be doing the biggest show that any of us had ever been involved in. It was a steep learning curve and there was always the question nagging at you as to whether you could really cope when the next step up came.
Nowadays, we’re seeing a lot of familiar situations, so we have the lay of the land a little better. That’s not to say that things don’t crop up that throw a spanner in the works, just that we’re more comfortable that whatever it is, we’ll be able to deal with it somehow.
This brings about the second phenomena. Once you’ve a couple dozen laps of the planet and several hundred shows, the excitement level can drop a little. Getting off the plane in Chicago and doing my first shows in the USA with Coldplay felt like walking into a cinema screen. “Look – real yellow cabs..!” Ten years later, though and that feeling can’t help but be dulled a little.
So going to what is (for most of us, at least) completely uncharted territory, is nothing short of a shot in the arm. We land in Cape Town and suddenly everything seems fresh and exciting once again. The air smells different, nobody knows what the currency is called or what it’s worth. People are discussing what sightseeing opportunities there are on the days off. Finally – we’re exploring again!
Come gig day, the band get straight into soundchecking the B-stage. Here, the B-stage is out in the middle of the stadium again. This is a challenge that’s been faced before, but requires some time spent re-adjusting. Being a hundred feet or so in front of the PA system means that there is a distinct time delay between hitting the guitar strings and actually hearing it from the speaker. The effect for the band is a little like when you try to talk on the phone, but can hear your own voice coming back at you with a slight delay. It takes a while, but the old tricks come back and things start to slip back into place.
There is promo to do following soundcheck and the “new ground” vibe continues. The band are discussing with the local journalist what kind of reception they’ll get. They’re thinking at first that maybe a lot of people will have bought tickets just because it’s a big event in town. Chris turns and asks the reporter “Do you think anyone will be – you know – INTO IT?”
This raises a point that I hadn’t considered. They could indeed be something of a curiosity here, rather than a huge band. Perhaps any band that comes sells out stadiums? Perhaps there’s a hardcore of fans, but the majority of the fifty or sixty thousand will have no real idea who Coldplay are, much less know any of the songs. This could make for quite a struggle of a gig.
The answer comes (quite literally) loud and clear once the show is underway.
I’ve always maintained that the best nights out are the ones where you only plan to “show your face” then get to bed – only to find in the wee hours that you’re still up and grinning like a loon. I’m pretty sure that the best gigs are like this too. The ones that have the hugest build up tend to pass in a blur, but the ones you approach with no expectations can really knock you sideways when they turn out to be absolute belters.
And so it is tonight. The crowd are truly astonishing. This fires the band up and the cycle continues. During a brief breather to chat to the audience, Chris thanks them all for turning up and apologises for taking twelve years to make it to South Africa.
“It’s taken us that long to get our Visas…” he explains, possibly not entirely truthfully.
It’s very difficult to quantify “best shows”. The band have done so many that have been special – not to mention the fact that one person can be having the night of their lives and another person will remember things completely differently, having had a struggle with something you weren’t even aware of. Each night is tens of thousands of different voyages – every person having their own experience. The band gather to bow at the end of the show and when Chris kneels to kiss the stage, it’s fairly obvious that it’s not just me that thinks it’s been a truly great night.
It’s been so good that there is word coming over the comms system that they might well come back on for an unscheduled encore. I scramble to set my gear up ready for several things that I think they might do. Unbeknownst to me though, it’s decided that the fireworks and ecstatic exuberance of ETIAW is the right way to close things. The band dive into the vans and the police escort whisks them away.
Regular readers will know that I would normally be in one of those vans. By the time it’s obvious that there is to be no extra tune, I’ve long missed the runner. Oh well. If we were heading straight to the airfield, this would have been a problem, but the hotel isn’t far and we’ve got a day off here tomorrow. I decide to hang around and watch the audience slowly drain from the bowl.
I muse to myself that in terms of exploring new territory, we can definitely call this a very successful mission.