A few days after the Cape Town stadium, which was literally at sea level (any closer to the coastline and it would have been a wet load-in), we pull into the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg and are reminded by stage manager Gary Currier that we’re 1,700 metres above sea level. This means thin air, which in turn means it’s very easy to get out of breath. Still - at least we’re moving up in the world…
As is often the case, today we’re launched catapault-like straight from the airport into soundcheck. There’s the customary mad scramble to work out how to get the B-stage right, followed by further chaos on the main stage which I can’t say too much about at this point. The frenzy is suddenly multiplied by the fact that around the stadium, someone has mistakenly decided that it’s ok to open gates to the punters.
Little streams of punters start to gleefully race across the field towards the barriers in front of the stage. People have watched the soundcheck before, it’s no big deal. In fact back in the club days, I remember folks getting invited inside one day in Detroit, cos it was so damn cold outside.
Today though, is very different. What’s going on onstage is definitely not for public viewing.
There’s comical chaos as the band scurry off and Production Manager Wob Roberts strides about on the ramp to the B stage yelling “everybody out! NOW!”. Onstage, the crew are falling about laughing. The jetlag, the general promo-schedule exhaustion, the altitude and the hangovers fuse with the utter bizarre-ness of the situation at hand - and finally everyone is in bits.
Impressively though, the punters heed the booming voice and quickly the field clears.
I have to wonder for a moment how it looked to them coming down the field. Imagine that for years, you’d wondered if your favourite band would ever come to your country. Finally the day arrives. You’ve scored a ticket. You’ve lined up since the early hours. You hear the band soundchecking inside. The gates are opened and there’s that rush of excitement as you all surge inwards….
…Only to see your favourite band standing onstage in comedy foam elephant heads and gloves. Just as you try to process this unexpected sight, the elephant-band leg it offstage looking like a frightened Banana Splits and you get shouted at by a nasty man in black shorts, who makes it clear that you are NOT supposed to be seeing this.
I can only wonder whether these folks went back outside thinking that maybe this is what’s always going on behind closed doors in the world of Coldplay. I do hope so.
The gig itself goes superbly well. It’s another top audience. The altitude makes everything a little harder and indeed, Mr Champion requires oxygen once Politik finishes.
The elephant-heads make another brief appearance - doubtless prompting the hundred or so punters from earlier to exclaim “See! I told you!” - leaving just the remaining sixty thousand or so suitably confused.
All may be revealed in time - watch this space.
I manage not to miss the runner tonight and we head off to the hotel for an end-of-leg drink. The hotel it turns out, is a complex of cottages laid out on a mountainside. The convoy of people-carriers winds its way up the spiralling path into the clouds. We seem to be about a mile above the main entrance when we finally spill out onto the pavement and unload.
We still have the unicycle with us (don’t ask) and there’s much talk of holding races to see who can get the best time to the bottom of the winding track to the lobby. A better idea comes in the form of dumping bags and getting into the bar before they close. We raise a glass to an exhausting few weeks and the impending luxury of four days at home.
No rest for the wicked…