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It’s stadium time

Roadie #42 - Blog #96

19 Aug 2009

It’s stadium time

It would be too easy a gag to start off by saying that it’s only 16 months into the tour and we’ve finally made it to production rehearsals. In reality, we’re knocking it up a gear for this final run of shows. Yes folks, it’s stadium time.

I talked a little about scale when the band played in Toronto in what was in essence an indoor stadium. Basically, this many punters means that things get very, very large. The infrastructure to support all of this largeness though, brings with it an additional helping of largeness all of its own.

When I did my first shows with Coldplay, the whole show fit in one truck (driven by a lovely man named Johnny Burgess). We’re now up to 36. There is one whole truck dedicated to carrying just the CDs the band are giving away at the shows. I’d never have predicted THAT way back when…

In smaller shows, there is a stage in the venue when you arrive and, hopefully, a handy roof for hanging things from. There’s power, dressing rooms, offices, phone lines – you get the idea. Stadium touring means that we carry everything.

We’re even carrying our own stage; or rather, we are carrying three of them. Essentially, there’s one for the gig we’re doing now, one for the gig we’ve just done and one for the gig that happens next. The stages are constructed by three independent “steel crews” who will leapfrog around Europe – only seeing one show in three and quite feasibly never meeting each other – or indeed ever being in the same country!

We have everything we need to turn up in a field and put on a show. Just as well really, because the Denmark venue is essentially a field. In reality, it just feels like any one of the festivals we’ve done on this run. There’s a big stage, there’s mud and so it goes on. There’s also a rather large building site next door.

But when night falls and lights and video get into programming mode, it becomes very clear that these gigs aren’t simply going to be more of the same. The show only unfolds as the stage comes to life in the darkness.

The final night before stadium show number one marks the first time I ever watch a Coldplay show. Admittedly, none of Coldplay are actually present. Chris was on site for most of the day, going over details. The plan though, is to play one of the recent US shows through the sound system at gig volume whilst everyone stands around watching the lights and video, stroking their chins and saying “maybe this bit should be more like this….”.

I’ve seen Chris bolt from radio studios when Coldplay music is played in preference to listening to his own voice, so I imagine an hour and a half of it at 110dB is out of the question. Instead of the band, then, we have four stand-ins made up from some very brave members of the crew, who mime to the recording of the last gig.

Tiff, the band’s wardrobe girl is Guy tonight, Julie our promoter’s rep is Jonny. I’m not entirely sure who’s sitting behind the drumkit – doubtless one of the newcomers I’ll eventually learn the name of as the run progresses. And out front, giving it all of Chris’s best moves is Marguerite from production. The sight of themselves in closeup on a video screen the size of Sydney Harbour Bridge ensures a good proportion of the “show” is spent in fits of giggles.

The screen is monstrous and very impressive. The “wave trusses” also look utterly wonderful on this scale, morphing and undulating through the show, giving the lights a wonderfully organic and graceful feel. The video-spheres too, are delightfully unique. Very pleasingly it’s difficult to pick out a straight line or a right angle anywhere in the design. It’s a beautiful sight and I only wish I could spend every night out front like this.

So the band aren’t here for the final run-through. That folks, is an unprecedented level of confidence. I remark to Show Designer Paul Normandale that they are in a totally different space to where they were in production rehearsals at the start of the tour back in Wembley Arena. Back then, they had no idea if the album would be well received or whether the tour would be a success.

Now, we’re 150 shows down the line on a tour that must have already seen a couple of million punters through the gate and god only knows how many albums sold. I’m not talking about the confidence that hangs around with arrogance or complacency. I’m talking about the confidence of knowing that they can deliver the goods in terms of performance. I’m also talking about the confidence that the people working on the show know what they want and how to produce it.

Plus, as ever, we have Mr Phil Harvey at the helm of all matters creative. Phil has the unique ability of being able to see things through both the eyes of the band and of their audience. This is equally a skill and a unique perspective. The ultimate confidence of the band is here in their fifth member.

There’s a faint whiff in the air that another few more days of fiddling with things would have been nice, but there’s nothing like a crowd of 40,000 through the gates to focus the mind!

I’ve wandered around out in the crowd less than a dozen times on this whole tour. Every time I do it, it changes my whole day. So much so, that I may have to do it a lot more often before this all goes away. Hanging around behind the stage is a mixture of tension and exhaustion. Out here, the vibe is celebration and anticipation. It’s very intoxicating; like a double espresso for the soul.

I turn around from the back of the field ready to walk back and the light misting of rain has given us a rainbow. It mirrors the arch of the stage roof and, somewhat tellingly, appears to end at the catering tent where the coffee machine is located. Who am I to argue with mother nature?

For the first time in a very long time, I’m actually slightly excited as we head for showtime. It’s the hugest of roadie no-no’s to be anything other than slightly surly and completely focused before the show. Being a little giddy and impressed by the scale of things just opens the door for the fuck-up-fairy.

I keep my head down for the show and focus so much on getting things right that I eventually recover my gig-stress. Inevitably, things pass in a blur. For a first show, I reckon it went pretty damn well. Inevitably, there’s a million minor changes to make and the show will grow and evolve as the band find their feet in the new setting. Overall though, it’s easily the strongest stadium outing Coldplay has ever had – by a very long way.

The combination of doing our first runner for a week or so and the relief of the first show being under our belts means that I leave Denmark with my memory card full of show-and-tell from the past few days in the camera that rides from gig to gig on the truck. Oh well. There’s always the next six weeks to show you…

In a superbly bizarre twist, the band have flown into their first stadium show of this tour on U2’s plane. Apparently, our regular ride is misfiring. I believe that the big end’s gone, or something like that. The easiest way to deal with this it seems, was to take U2’s “360 Air” jet for a spin. They’re doing UK shows right now, so it’s just sat about doing nothing otherwise.

I can confirm that, as one would imagine, those fellas truly travel in comfort and style. I’m writing this now on the flight out to Norway for today’s show. Again, we’re aboard 360 Air. As we walked across the tarmac to the plane there was a Ryanair flight boarding over the way. A few folks stopped on the steps to take photos of the U2 plane.

Quite what they thought watching a bunch of scruffy roadies climb aboard I have no idea. I expect though, they were even more confused watching a complete lack of U2, but instead Coldplay cheerfully climbing the steps. Again, not something I’d have pictured all those years ago when I first walked into the Forum in Kentish Town, London for my first day’s work with the band.

It’s been a long, strange trip indeed and one does wonder where it’ll all end.


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