Monday, September 24, 2012

London 2012 Part IV: The Killers in Leeds

In Dave Grohl’s biography, This Is A Call, biographer Paul Brannigan says that there was a song that changed the young Grohl’s life. He played this song over and over and over again on the record player, and that’s when he knew that his life would never be the same again. That was the beginning of his journey towards being what he is today – one of the greatest legends music has ever know.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll ever be one of the greatest anythings, but I did have a similar experience. If I’d never heard The Killers’ ‘A Dustland Fairytale’, I have no doubt in my mind that I would still be studying science, in a lab somewhere, not in Cape Town working for a TV show. I don’t feel like elaborating, I’m too lazy, but that’s the truth, accept it.

I love this band so much, to me it’s not just that I enjoy their music – it’s that they’ve made my life so much better over the past three years, and I’d do anything for them. When they produce a hit, I’m as proud as I would be of my best friend. And they never disappoint me. The day after I saw them live in Cape Town in December 2009, I started plotting how I’d see them again. I promised myself that I would travel to the UK to see them when their next tour began, and it was a promise I was determined to keep. To me, every moment of every day since that hot December night in Paarl had been leading up to this concert in Leeds.

And it was tomorrow. I had to do something to kill time all day. Jess, Bubba and Alice were to arrive sometime in the afternoon, and they were staying at the same Travelodge as me, but for now it was barely 9am, and I was unable to sit still.

Leeds, as it turns out, is probably my favourite of all the towns I visited in the UK. But that may be because I saw The Killers there. Or it might not be. I often battle to differentiate between what’s real and what’s superimposed by my memories and emotions. We set off on foot through the town and soon come to something called the Corn Exchange. I have no idea what it is, but it’s pretty. And then we keep walking, past shops and restaurants and just about everything else. I do quite a fair amount of clothing shopping – finally – but our real mission is to find the O2 Academy, where the concert will take place tomorrow night. Although thanks to our shopping, it takes a good few hours to get there, it must be less than a mile’s walk from the Travelodge. When we finally get there though, I’m gobsmacked. It’s tiny. Tiny, I tell you. I mean, I knew it could only hold 2400 or so people, but hearing a figure and physically seeing the venue are two hugely different concepts. To put this in context, the last time I saw this band I was one of 19 000 people on a polo field between the mountains, and when I see them again later this weekend at V Festival, I will be one of 80 000. The O2 Academy is probably smaller than the average university pub. Not that I’m complaining.

On the way back to the hotel, I spot several Starbucks outlets – I must bear this in mind, surely Rob will need a latte sometime tomorrow, perhaps I can tweet him the location of the nearest coffee place.

When I get back to the Travelodge, I spy three girls huddled on a couch in the corner, giggling. I’ve never met them before, but I’d recognize them a mile away. My Twitter buddies. I take a deep breathe. I’ve been chatting to these girls about our common interests which include not only the band we’re in town to see, but also The Gaslight Anthem, Taylor Swift and cats for years, and now we’re in the same room. It just does not feel real. But it’s real enough when I walk up to them, grin and say hi. We all hug and squeal for a bit, and they tell me they’re waiting for Sinead, who is still on the way from Portsmouth, and their rooms are in her name. I tell them to lie and say they’re her and then I go back to my room, promising to see all of them later.

I don’t have to wait long, because I soon hear giggling outside my door and pop my head out. Yes, the girls are in the room next to me. It’s fate. We gather in my room to fangirl a bit over the fact that both The Killers and Brian Fallon are in the latest issue of NME, which I bought at an actual record shop in town. Then we talk about cats and take photos and squeal some more, and everything in the world is wonderful. They bond very well with my mom – I think she’s secretly planning to adopt all of them. I meet Sinead a few hours later, when she finally makes it from Portsmouth, all the way in the South. We’re all so excited! “What time are you guys going to queue?” I ask. “Around 5.” They reply. “5am, right?” I ask, and we all lapse into ridiculous giggles. Because we’re so excited that everything is at least 50 times funnier than it would be under normal circumstances. BUT OMFG, MARK’S ON A TRAIN!! I don’t know if he tweeted it, or instagrammed it, but there was Mark Stoermer, and there was a train and we simply had to get down to the train station! But I was too lazy and instructed my young friends to text me if they located the man of the moment. I mean, he’s at least 9 feet tall, he’s be pretty hard to miss at a train station. But sadly, he was never found. Sightings of The Killers would have to wait until tomorrow.

My common sense tells me that I should go to sleep early, but that’s no easy task. I eventually drift into a restless sleep and awake at 2.30am. There’s no frikken wi-fi in the rooms though, what do people even do when they wake up if they can’t check Twitter?! I’m feeling very out of touch. That’s it, I’m done. Can we go queue now? Seems my neighbours have had a similar idea. Soon I hear the unmistakable sounds of a door opening and closing and of more giggles. I check the time: it’s 3.38am. I stick my head out the door and observe what the four girls are up to. “Where are you going?” “We’re going to The Killers!” and we all giggle yet again. I’m starting to feel very sorry for anyone trying to sleep nearby. Maybe they put all of the Victims in adjacent rooms for that very purpose. I promise to be in touch by text in the morning – oh wait, it’s already the morning – and then I go back to bed, but never quite fall asleep again. The day has finally arrived. I’m seeing The Killers today. I never thought that this day would actually come.

A text from Jess around 8am tells me that there are about 30 people in the queue already. Now as much as I’d like to bound out of bed and run all the way to the Academy in my PJs, I recognize that this probably isn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. And so I get dressed in the outfit I’ve been planning for a year: my Victims shirt and black and white skirt that matches the text on my shirt. The last time I wore this skirt was my 21st birthday party last year, and a few pink and orange feathers are still clinging to it. Because yes, my theme was Las Vegas, and yes, it was inspired by the very boys I’m in town to see today. Today. I’m seeing them today. I put on my lightning bolt earrings and then we hurry down to breakfast.

Ugh. I’m a terrible eater on concert days, I just get too excited, but I manage to force down some bacon, eggs and toast and then after a few minutes of lobby wi-fi, we race out the door and into town. Amii’s just bbm-ed to say she’s arrived at the Academy. I’m very excited to meet the girl who is probably my closest internet friend, although she claims she’ll be too shy to even talk to me. Fine, I’ll talk enough for both of us then. I tell her I’ll be there in ten minutes.

Oh, it also happens to be raining, which is apparently an every day occurrence in Leeds. Good thing we finally bought that umbrella yesterday. Um. Turns out it’s windy too, and umbrella’s don’t like the wind much. The thing is inside out and useless before we’re half a block down the street. Sigh. Good thing it was only a Pound, then.

We dash down to the Academy – noting that the closest Starbucks is probably about 400m from the place – and I pace up and down the growing queue of people a few times, staking them out, and most of all trying to identify them from their Twitter display pictures. Amii’s near the end of the line, so I plop down next to her and say hi. And might I just say (I know you’re reading this) you are so not socially awkward! We have a great time chatting for a bit, and then I duck out of the queue for a bit to go for a walk. It’s 10.30am and the doors are set to open at 7pm. I have a short attention span at the best of times, and now I’m nothing short of impatient. Also, I need wi-fi. Starbucks seems like a good option, so off we head up the road. On the way, we bump into Sinead and Alice, they’ve got a place at the front of the queue, and had gone back to the hotel. Jess and Bubba are still in the hotel, seemingly feeling the effects of the previous night…

With Sinead and Alice are Ryan and Sam, who I will be seeing again at the two festivals. Ryan tells me how he lives on a tiny island in the English Channel and had flown over for this. Ha, I’m not the only one who got on an aeroplane for this band. Whilst we’re all getting acquainted, we’re joined by Emma, who had just arrived from Sheffield. I had literally been speaking to her on Twitter less than an hour before. There’s that surreal feeling again. It’s like reality is shifting below me… I’m not quite sure if I’m awake or not. I’ve dreamed of seeing The Killers again many times.

But time surely doesn’t drag like this in dreams! My arrival back from my Starbucks mission sees my re-uniting with Emma – now holding a stack of paper mustaches, which she holds out for what will become my favourite photo of the day – and meeting Andrea. Then I’m back with Amii, whom I chat to until I feel the need for another walk. This time, we go around the other side of the building, and run slap bang into Alice, Sinead… and The Killers’ equipment boxes. We take photos of and with them as they’re being unloaded, and then Alice spots a security guard and, pointing to one of the cases, asks “Can I lick this?” He seems to think she’s joking. She’s not. He informs her that none of The Killers have ever even touched these boxes. Awww.
But I believe my mission was wi-fi, and there’s none of that around the back of the Academy, so it’s back to Starbucks. I’m sitting outside – on a bench that miraculously reaches the free wi-fi – when I wonder if Rob’s around yet. Haha. Maybe he’s getting a latte at this very Starbucks.

OK, so I’ve watched The Killers live at the RAH about 50 million times, and Rob and all of the other roadies are on the behind the scenes bit, sipping lattes, roundhouse kicking bottles off of each other’s heads, and generally being entertaining. They could have left it at that: retained some form of annonimity, and been known only by those Victims creepy enough to take photos of the sides of the stages at Killers gigs, and analyse them for the presence of roadies (I have never done that. No, wait, that’s lie). But nooooo, some of these road crew peeps just had to go and become besties with all of the Victims on Twitter. Yes, Rob, I’m talking about you. You reply to us, chat to us, friend us on Facebook, plus you happen to have an awesome little band called Most Thieves that we support, well, because they make great music. Plus there’s the standing joke that Rob likes coffee so much that his twitter handle is @RobLikesLattes. Yes, it’s true. I’m sure it’s no surprise then, that the biggest Victim in-joke is that if you hang around Starbucks long enough on the day of a gig, you’ll surely run into Rob (another lie, the biggest Victim’s in-joke is that Mark is at the effing airport). 
Anyway, in the three years since I last saw The Killers, running into Rob at the Starbucks always seemed like a highly-entertaining pip-dream that could never happen in real life. Much the same as meeting Victims I knew from Twitter and trying to identify them from their display pictures. I never thought it would actually happen, nor did I think I’d run into the man in question at the Starbucks.
So anyway, there I am, on the bench outside, giggling and joking about Rob being in the Starbucks, when suddenly I get a message form Amii:
“I just walked past Rob! I grinned at him and he totally knew I knew who he was!”
I bet he was going to Starbucks.
“I’m gonna pop my head in the door and see if Rob’s inside.” I say. Let me point out here that I’m STILL JOKING.
So off I go, stroll right in, sweep the place with my eyes… when suddenly. Oh, that looks a lot like my favourite roadie! And BLP is with him! (Bobby-Lee Parker, fellow roadie and Most Thieves member). Ahhhhhh adrenaline rush! But I’m a media professional, I deal with celebs at work on a daily basis, and I’m not intimidated by them at all! So what do I do? Run out of the door, of course, squealing “Omg, I can’t do this, omg.” My poor mother is sure I’ve lost my mind due to Killers-related psychosis, and shoots me a concerned look. Once I’m able to speak again, she convinces me to go back and say hi. Rob is, after all, practically a member of my favourite band in the entire world, and it’s an opportunity I’d regret missing. Plus, he’s cool.
So I stride back into Starbucks, make my way to where the two roadies are now gathering sachets of sugar, and say very calmly: “Hi, Rob?” he turns and looks at me and I continue “I’m Farah.” He looks mildly puzzled for a split second and then smiles at me “Oh yeah… South Africa, right? That’s a quick trip!” he raises an eyebrow. Good Lord. I’ve spoken to the man on Twitter before, and I wrote a rather lovely review of a Most Thieves song, which he got hold of and shared on his Facebook page, but I wasn’t expecting him to know who I was! I mean, the roadies have hundreds of Victim followers on Twitter, surely they don’t know all of them by name?!
“Yep, 20 hours, on the plane and then we drove like 4 hours from London.” 
“It’s worth it!” he says. And I agree, before asking if I can be “really creepy” and ask for a photo. 
“I’m going to hold the lattes for comedic value!” He says, and makes a comment about getting rounds of coffee for everyone.
I hope I said “Have a good show”, I know I meant to, then I left the Starbucks wondering if that had really happened. Meeting Rob at the Starbucks was as iconic as meeting Brandon Flowers at the Flamingo hotel would have been. 
I must say that my self-esteem took a sharp upward turn at knowing that a touring member of The Killers knows my name.

Anyway. I rush back to the queue, and it turns out everyone is having a bit of a Rob-fangirling moment. He’s bought Emma a latte, which she is now savouring, as she and I both gaze at the Starbucks cup marked with the word ROB is capital letters. Day = made.

Within the next few hours I also meet Jade, Natalie, Duncan and many others, and everyone is jut lovely. On another wi-fi expedition, I swear I can hear a soundcheck but it turns out to be a CD. Aww. The band are expected to arrive around 5.30pm and a group of us gathers behind barriers to await the tour buses. For those fifteen minutes, every car is theirs… every second is the second they’re going to pull up…. But when they finally do, it’s unmistakable. The first bus pulls up and off walks Mr Cool himself – Brandon Richard Flowers in all his glory. Goodness, he’s even better looking than I remember. He grins that self-conscious smile and then heads directly for the swooning fans. The front row get hugs and handshakes, but I’m just one row too far back. Who even cares though, I’m still there! Brandon Flowers just got off his tourbus in front of my face, and I might die. I’m shaking. The second bus lets off Mark Stoermer, and I’m sure I hear a shriek from the other side of the road, where Alice is standing – Mark is her favourite person in the world. I’m not sure why I didn’t stay to watch Dave and Ronnie get off the bus, I think I was just feeling entirely overwhelmed.

Not long after this, we’re instructed to start condensing the queue and moving forwards. We’re also suddenly handed pizza, which was probably arranged by the venue because of our dedication to queuing. They must know – Victims mean business. Although doors are opening in less than an hour, and the concert will start in about 2, so much could still go wrong. They’ve used a paperless ticketing system, meaning that the card that bought the ticket must be swiped upon entering the venue. We’ve used an international card, what if it doesn’t work?! But – sigh of relief – it does, and we make it to the second on, right in front of Mark’s microphone. (Even if I didn’t know which side of the stage he stood on, it would be quite easy to figure out, seeing his microphone is at least 15 feet off the ground).

And then we wait. We’re assuming they’ll start at 8pm, but Amii says it’s more likely to be 9pm. Ohhhh why are they torturing us like this?! I glance around the room and find it filled with people in Victims and Killers t-shirts. It’s so amazing to be at a show just for real fans – not filled with randoms who are just there to drink. We’re all united in our favourite band here, I can’t imagine how they must feel knowing that we’re all there – from all over the world: SA, Rio, France, The Netherlands – just for them. Music truly is extremely powerful.

And then… there’s a 50s song playing – so typical of Brandon – lights dim, a collective scream echoes through the small venue, and suddenly the four men that I’ve never met, but I’d do anything for explode onto the stage.

(This is not a concert review, it’s my personal account of what happened. I don’t need to detail why they’re the best live band in the world, we all already know.)

Runaways. A remarkable song in general, live it is nothing short of awe-inspiring. We’re all signing at the top of our lungs, screaming, dancing, jumping and flailing. I take a lot of pictures during the show, but most of blurs of light, my hands rendered useless by shaking, unable to even click the shutter to focus.

In the almost three years since I last saw this band, they have improved exponentially. Put quite simply, they’re perfect. Everyone in the audience knows every single word to every single song… and wow… those songs.

They storm straight from Runaways into Somebody Told Me, and suddenly we’re all sneering young men, insulting our ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. The synth intro of Smile Like You Mean It is enough to send me over the edge. It’s such an emotional song and it’s pure heaven. And then they pick things up a bit with Spaceman, and we’re all jumping and shouting OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH and Brandon is giggling and grinning live a two-year-old in a sweet shop. He’s clearly having the time of his life.

Next we’re treated to some new songs  - The Rising Tide, first debuted in England just over a year ago, and Miss Atomic Bomb. Oh and the latter is surely going to end up being one of my very favourite songs in the entire world because it is amazing. Brandon’s vocals, Ronnie’s drums, Mark’s bass and Dave’s guitar … they’ll all so powerful. I can’t wait to hear the album version of this.

Someone hands Brandon a bass and we all scream again. He giggles. “Anyone wanna guess what song we’re gonna do?” not ‘song’ though, it comes out ‘so-o-o-ong’. He can barely complete a sentence without singing the end of it. It’s endearing. ‘FOR REASONS UNKNOWN’ we all reply, because we’ll all Victims, and we all known that’s the only song he plays bass on.

Bling (mom’s favourite), Shadowplay (I wish they’d take this out and put River or Sweet Talk on the setlist), crowd favourite and previous opener ‘Human’ (in that moment I’m back in Paarl) and then…. Then….

“We’re gonna do Dustla-a-and.” Is that really what he just said? I think I’ve gone into shock. This song is my reason for being here tonight. This song is my reason for everything. And it begins and Amii’s next to me telling me to breathe… oh yeah, breathing’s a rather fundamental part of human life, too bad I’ve forgotten how to do it. I regain myself about a minute into the song, and life is entirely blissful until the end of it. During this song, there is no one else, nothing else, I don’t have a care, a worry or a concern in the world. Everything will be fine, because this song is everything, and everything is this song. Once it’s over, I’m sure that set can end, it’s fine, even if I go back to Cape Town right now, it’s been worth it. But of course, it’s not over yet, and we still have the ridiculous beauty of Read My Mind, the pure euphoria of Mr Brightside and the epic-ness of All These Things That I’ve Done before they leave the stage.

But they’re so predictable that I know they’ll come back, at least for Jenny Was A Friend of Mine and When You Were Young. All the same, I panic until I see them stride back onto the stage, and launch into apocalyptic new song, Flesh & Bone. Then Mark takes centre stage for the bass solo intro to Jenny, we’re screaming again – we never stopped, did we? – and they top it all of with WYWY, Ronnie beating his drums like a madman before throwing his drumticks into the crowd. Then it’s over, they’re gone and I’m the happiest I’ve been in my life. That was utterly perfect.

I bid farewell to Amii then stop by the merch stall for a t-shirt. As I walk back to the Travelodge, I’m shaking all the way. Maybe it’s because the rain has started again – maybe it’s raining because of the show I just attended. Who are we to know?

I’m just about passed out in a chair in the lobby, tweeting, when Jess, Bubba, Alice and Sinead get back. We’re all speechless so we squeal silently. I can barely speak – my voice is gone – I can barely breahe, and I definitely cannot walk, but what a night it has been.

I want to thank everyone who made the 17th of August 2012, one of the best days of my life. I love you all. And I love this band. At least it wasn’t really over, I was seeing them again two days later…

1 comment:

  1. FARAH! I was almost crying reading this, all the emotion ;___;
    I'm so so glad we got to meet and I had the honour of standing next to you through that gig. We really must do it again some time.
    How do you even remember all this stuff? I don't even remember exactly what I BBM'd you when I saw Rob :O
    Oh and, I am so totally socially awkward. Thus the picture of me hiding from the camera :L