Kaotican Alphabet

Roadie #42 – blog #24

#42 reports from the first European shows

Well then dear reader, that’s the first week of European touring done. After the US leg finally beginning to feel as though it was settling into a groove, the less experienced (or slightly more optimistic) roadie might be forgiven for expecting this run to be simply a case of coasting along on auto-pilot from where we left off. Obviously though, this being Coldplay, everything is getting a fresh appraisal. New approaches are considered, embellishments added, whole sections dropped and replaced, then completely reworked.

The band have undergone huge growth with this record and it’s clear that they’re continuing on with that trajectory. The tour is like a toddler on a growth spurt. Every time we find it a nice pair of shoes that fits and send it off to school happy that we’ve kitted it out properly, it wakes up taller, bigger and bursting with even more energy. There’s not time to sew the name tags into the shirt before they’ve outgrown it.

It can be overwhelming at times and certainly, for those in the crew who haven’t experienced a Coldplay tour before, it’s taken some adjustment. Much of the job seems to be about anticipating what might come next, or what the band might ask for. It means a lot more work, as inevitably for everything that actually happens, you end up organising and preparing three or four things that don’t. In all honesty though, it’s so much better than touring for this length of time with a show that’s "set in stone". Boredom creeps in easily and tedium can be far more exhausting than anything else. That’s not to say that the panic of hearing "can we make this happen, so we can do this song tonight?" gets any less intense – just that everyone knows that it’s (usually) worth it. Either way, I’m nominating this tour for the "most tweaked setlist of all time" award.

The B-Stage is the epicenter of change right now. It begins the week with the techno tunes dropped completely, to be replaced by The Hardest Part down there at the end of the walkway just on piano. This version of the song didn’t even exist during rehearsals – it just arrived unannounced at the end of Speed of Sound one night, completely out of the blue. This is a good way to push that off-the-cuff moment into a fully formed part of the show and to give it maximum impact.

Later in the week on the B-stage, Talk gets a techno treatment and God Put A Smile gets revisited.

Cemeteries Of London gets its live premiere this week. The European crowds (particularly Spain) grab hold of the flamenco claps and provide a whole percussion track of their own.  There’s a couple of unreleased tracks popping up as well. Postcards From Far Away now bookends the B-stage (at least until the next idea comes along…) They’re also playing Glass Of Water in the soundchecks with a view to giving this a live run.

Manneheim’s soundcheck begins with Will at the piano. He has a beautiful, simple melody which floats in the arena echo to give a very atmospheric soundtracky feel. Guy joins in as Chris picks up Jonny’s guitar to give his pedalboard a try. Jonny arrives and quite reasonably decides he may as well play drums. I really hope this evolves into a new song. The soundcheck rolls on with an impromptu jam on Back In Black. I have no idea where the band’s current AC/DC fixation comes from, although I’m looking squarely towards stage right where Jonny’s guitar tech Matt McGinn is no doubt grinning broadly. The rockier feel continues as old In My Place B-side The One I Love comes off the shelf for a play.

Warm evenings and big truck parks out the back of the venues mean that football is replacing table tennis for post-soundcheck entertainment. I have a wander out the back of the Strasbourg venue to phone home and spot Jonny and Will having a kickabout in front of Albert Hammond Jr’s bus.  Passing crew join in from time to time until the fellas get called in to do some interviews. Like schoolkids being forced indoors to do their homework, they collect their ball and troop off.

I’d forgotten what a difference it makes having the audience on the floor all standing. The American shows had all been fully seated. Here, people have to queue up early to get a good spot and stay there until the band get on. This does mean they don’t get to sit around in the bar, or go get food, but it means that they’re like coiled springs by the time the house lights go down – and once they do, the vibe is explosive. From my days as a gig goer (long since over, gentle reader – unless it’s Radiohead) it never felt quite right being sat down. Being squashed up with a few thousand sweaty strangers cheering at the top of your lungs because you all loved the same band always seemed to be a huge part of the experience to me. I can definitely see pros and cons in each approach, so it’s nice to get a mixture.

So far, the European crowds have been nothing short of amazing. We’re in the land of football chants on this continent and they’ve taken the "Wo-oh-ah-oh-oh-oh" of Viva La Vida warmly to their hearts. It starts before the show, it carries on after the song and most nights, it’s still going well after the band have left the stage, the house lights have come on and roadies have been dismantling the show for a good ten or fifteen minutes. Here’s to Coldplay’s first terrace anthem!

Part of the lot of the tour manager is the fact that no matter what’s going on and no matter how in the dark you are as to why it’s happening, it’s still you that everyone looks to for answers. This is demonstrated admirably when we come in to land at Lyon. Not only are we coming in during a rather heavy thunderstorm, but the pilot gets halfway through our descent before pulling rather steeply back up, then banking away sharply. All eyes in the band party turn to Franksy, with a range of expressions from confusion to concerned alarm. "Oh, THAT Lyon, the one in FRANCE – oh bugger" comes the cheerfully unruffled response. It transpires that air traffic control forgot about a plane they left sitting on the runway. Probably just as well we had a couple of goes at it.

Climbing the steps onto the plane in Barcelona is also somewhat eventful, as another nearby plane is boarding when two passengers spot the band and run across the open runway clutching posters for the band to sign. Immediately a security vehicle squeals down the tarmac to scoop the two off the flight-path. I believe the word fan is short for fanatic. How do you shorten "Loony"?

I should also mention that Yellow has been shuffled into the encore position. I can’t remember them ever having done this before. It works well this way, though. I’d guess that for a pretty large proportion of the audience, it’s the song that first got them into the band. As the set closer then, it works a little like one of those twisty turny films where the last scene begins and you think "isn’t this where we came in?" It’s joyous and celebratory at this point in the show and it’s heartening that they clearly still enjoy playing it.

The shows have been simply unreal, night after night the crowds have been phenomenal and the vibe completely electric. It’s been a tour of shows that it seems they’ll never top.  Every few nights comes another. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Talking of which, I might resurrect my old tour game of trying not to look at the itinerary and seeing how far I can get into the day before I work out what country we’re in. Actually, thinking about it, I seem to remember managing four days without knowing where I was on a tour many moons ago. In fairness though, I did drink a lot more back then…

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