Roadie #42 – Blog #68

Feb 10, 2009

Now, I’m not a huge fan of awards shows. For a roadie, they’re basically a monumental pain in the arse. If you’re a bloke who earns their living plugging gear in and telling the band that it’s going to work, then they’re by far the most stressful thing that you can get involved with. The gear flies from the loading dock to the stage at terrifying speed and you get the length of a commercial break to hook it all up and test it. If it ain’t working when the stage manager shoos you away out of camera shot, you’re sending your band out to look stupid in front of millions of viewers on live TV.

If you sat down with a pencil and paper to design the ultimate roadie nightmare, I can pretty much guarantee you’d end up here.

Yet here we are – and for some strange reason, I’m loving it. Don’t get me wrong, the stress level is through the roof. Fuck this up and I could never look the fellas square in the eye again – ever. There’s something else going on here, though. We walked into the building for rehearsals yesterday and I crossed the stage behind Stevie Wonder playing Superstition. Radiohead are here and quite honestly, they’re the single act in the world today that keep me deeply in love with listening to music. If it weren’t for them, I’d have lost faith long ago and become one of those horrid cynical, jaded old roadies who "can’t stand pop music any more".

And what’s this? It’s only Paul McCartney. And – no way! Dave Grohl is playing drums with him! At first, I wonder if Dave will be too loud for an old balladeer like him. Come Macca’s rehearsal slot though, I’m utterly blown away. It’s an hour long blast of pure Rock and Roll and out in the arena, it’s pinning me to the wall.

In the touring world, the soundcheck can be one of the most tedious things imaginable. All of the passion, magic and power of a full performance are missing as songs start and stop, artists play half heartedly and fuss over the details of what they can and can’t hear, or whether to add another four bars to the bridge.

Here, though, it’s like a gang of blokes up there on stage beaming like kids who’ve just got their first proper loud amplifiers – cranking it out and getting their rocks well and truly off. I have never, ever seen so many people crowd around to watch a soundcheck. There are folks all around the edges of the stage and filling up the seats on the arena floor. Someone’s little girl is jumping and dancing excitedly throughout – a wonderful visual expression of what everyone’s feeling.

It just goes on and on. My tech world is located beneath the stage in the underworld bunker that is acting as a Green Room, from which those presenting the awards emerge up the steps and onto the stage. Al Green and Duffy come down and stand three feet to my left, working out who will take which harmony when they sing Bridge Over Troubled Water. To my right, through the drape, I can hear Adam Clayton’s bass rig rumble through the riff from the new U2 track. You can’t move for musical talent.

Now, I still maintain enough cynicism to know that the Grammys broadcast is a huge marketing exercise for the performers involved. I expect that the accusations that the awards voting can be a very political thing mightn’t be without foundation. For the first time though, I can see what’s great about it all. This is a huge celebration of amazing music and outstanding performers. Maybe it’s the first time the line-up has been this compatible with my own tastes, or maybe I’m just in a temporary lull in grumpiness. (If that is indeed the case, rest assured normal service will be resumed shortly.)

So, that’s a lot of talk about the event and of the other artists. What of our fellas? Well, if it’s stressful for roadies, I can only begin to imagine what it’s like for them. Time after time, they’ve been very unhappy with their TV performances. The pressure to excel today, when surrounded by so much talent is utterly enormous. Predictably (and completely understandably), despite a good rehearsal, the band are very nervous. They are working over every minute detail of the performance in attempt to ensure that they don’t walk away disappointed with themselves.

The tension ratchets up with each tick of the clock towards showtime. In a wonderful stroke of good fortune though, our little dressing room is right opposite Dave Grohl’s. He’s been a good friend of the band since almost the very beginning. I also have to say, that I’ve never ever met anyone in the business even close to his equal for all round top-bloke-ness. It’s nigh on impossible to be in the same room as the guy for thirty seconds without breaking out into a wide smile and remembering that taking things too seriously is not really the best idea. He pokes his head through the black drape doorway at regular intervals and provides probably the best vibe-support-system a band could ever hope for.

Now, you’ll doubtless all have seen the show, so I don’t need to tell you that the guys utterly nailed it. From where I sat under the stage, it looked completely majestic on the TV monitors. Chris alone in the spotlight for Lost+ was perfectly powerful in it’s simplicity. The guest appearance from Jay-Z could so have easily just been a showbiz device, but his nonchalant and understated entrance worked wonderfully to give him the impact of a wrecking-ball.

I must say also, that given some of the utter nonsense the guys have had to put up with recently, (including the filthy and frankly despicable publicity stunts that had been threatened for today) Jay’s words about the uglier experiences that large scale success can bring, could hardly have been more pertinent to the day.

From this somewhat melancholy beginning, the signature string riff to Viva kicked in to announce that it was about to become a joyous celebration – which is exactly what it was. It’s clear immediately that all the stress, all the worry and the fretting have become a tightly packed rocket that’s going to explode beautifully over the three minute performance. The utter elation as they come down the steps into the green room marks possibly the happiest I’ve ever seen the four of them. Phil Harvey joins them, beaming and speechless. All there is for it is a hug. The boys done well. I believe they even won a few, too.