Kaotican Alphabet

Roadie #42 – Blog #169

#42 and the P45 microphone

Sometimes, you’re just better off not knowing.

I was in the van after the second San Jose show, thinking to myself what a great time the fellas appeared to be having onstage lately. I couldn’t help but wonder why that was? Are the new songs more energetic, more celebratory? Have the crowd reactions been stronger? Maybe it’s the fact that after six months of promo, actually playing the songs to huge crowds is like a massive shot in the arm? After all, small rooms full of just a few crew and TV cameras can feel a little vibe-less and flat when compared with 15,000 folks making their feelings very much known.

But as I say, ultimately it doesn’t matter why. The fellas are clearly having a properly great time – and the shows have been total belters as a result. San Jose were a pretty damn loud crowd. Perhaps it’s been like this every night and I just spent more time with my earpieces out, taking it all in.

They’re most definitely in the zone right now.  There have been tinkerings, though with some possible setlist additions in soundchecks. One of the Viva album tracks that only got a rare live outing has had a workout. I really hope it makes it back into the setlist, it’s one of my all time favourite Coldplay live tracks (particularly the ending when Jonny goes off into full on guitar hero territory).

They also played around with something from a long way back. It’s all a sign of a band very much alive and enjoying themselves. The possibilities keep appearing left and right for great additions, but the set right now is so killer that it’s tough to work out where to make substitutions. I’d call that a good problem to have…

Whilst I’m talking of day to day work, I don’t think I’ve mentioned my very exciting new microphone. Now, all of the “backline” crew, who look after the band’s instruments during the show have in-ear monitors (a radio receiver with little in-ear headphones moulded to fit their ear exactly). Woodsy, keeper of the medieval monitor underworld has constructed an elaborate system of microphones that lets us all shout up if there’s a problem or a request and everyone (including the soundcrew) hear it.

There’s also a mic next to Will’s drumkit (separate to his vocal mic) that is routed only to his drumtech Bash’s ears and to mine for song cues. Communication from the band to the crew helps in all manner of situations (Chris shouts to Will that he wants to drop a song and do something else and Will can tell the crew, via Bash or I, immediately)

We’ve had all of this for some time now and it’s become absolutely invaluably helpful as the show has got more complex. Fast communication can make all the difference between a tiny problem and a huge one. It also just makes everything easier. Above all though, the “shout system” is the best source of entertainment for the roadie community since the self-stocking beer fridge.

This is never more evident than in the final minutes before showtime, when the adrenaline starts to kick in and the comms system becomes a comedy free for all. Usually it descends (like any group of five year olds given walkie talkies for the first time) into a combination of insults and seeing who can crack the most inappropriate gag.

Once the show proper is running, it’s all business. Too much chatter is a pain for everyone and breaks concentration. Long soundcheck jams though, are a time when the shout system heats up and becomes a hotbed of nonsense chatter. There has even been threats of a Karaoke competition on the shout system in soundchecks when Chris usually doesn’t sing, in an effort to preserve his voice.

The biggest nightmare then, is that the mics would be mis-routed and end up in the band’s in-ear monitors, not just ours. Apart from the fact that most of the chatter is humour at its most puerile, it would also be massively distracting for a band in mid-flow. It was very much with this in mind then, that when we discussed the fact that none of us could ever talk to the band and make them aware of a problem, there was a *lot* of wary caution.

It was decided that I should get a mic that could talk directly to Will should the need ever arise in a show. This mic became immediately referred to in emails as “The P45 mic”. (P45 being the form that your employer fills out in the UK when they fire you!) Obviously, I was going to have to be very, *very* careful to make sure I didn’t mix my two mics up. Wisecracking roadie banter into Will’s ears while he’s trying to propel the show from the back mightn’t lead to instant dismissal, but it’s definitely to be avoided at all costs.

Imagine my delight then, when I arrived for the first day of rehearsals weeks ago and found that Radio Rocket Scientist Ali Viles had already gone to great lengths with a spraycan to help me differentiate my “shout mic” from my “P45”.

Before I head off for the Hollywood Bowl, I shouldn’t forget to mention this wonderful outfit that someone wore to one of the San Jose shows. There was quite a lot of debate amongst the crew as to whether it was a wolf, a lion or a tiger. (It even went as far as a very confused radio call overheard backstage claiming that “there is a bear in the audience”.)

Whatever (and more importantly WHYever) the outfit had come to be at a Coldplay show, they looked to be having a great time – they even wore their wristband – and they had some great moves to boot.

Never a dull moment…