Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Climbing Those Stairs to Wembley

How do you summarize the day your entire life has been leading up to? I'm not even being that dramatic... everytime I see my favourite band live I feel like my whole life has led up to that moment when they walk on stage. Ever since that fateful Cape Town evening in 2009, my life had been a constant wait for the next time I would see them. I waited almost three years for the Leeds and V Fest show, and then commenced another wait. I never thought said wait would in fact turn out to be only ten months. Roll on Wembley...

Of course we hit London two weeks early - just in case there was a volcanic eruption/giant meteorite/new ice age or baggage handler's strike - so Wembley seemed like it was still very, very far away. It wasn't til the rest of the Victims began to descend upon  the town the day before, that it started to feel real. Brandon was on the cover of the NME, I had my Victims t-shirt and Battle Born flag ready, and I was rearing to go. Is it time to queue yet? But of course it wasn't. Time seemed to pass slower and slower as the day progressed. A welcome distraction was going to meet Victim friend and now real life friend Amii off her coach at Victoria station as I was staying nearby... cue hugging and squealing - we're going to see The Killers!

Last year I'd managed second row at the Leeds warm-up by queueing from 10am, but now I was divided: on one hand, barrier at Wembley was much bigger - so I had a better chance - but conversely, there were roughly 70 000 more people at Wembley. So what time to queue? I'd thought around 9am, but began to think that earlier was better as I spoke to more and more Victims. I finally decided on waking up at 6am, dressing and hurrying down to Victoria station to catch the Victoria line to Green Park and then Jubilee to Wembley Park - I was getting SO good at this whole London Underground thing!

10pm the night before saw me still on Twitter joining in the mass freakout, and unable to sleep, no matter how many times I told myself that a good night's sleep is a must the night before a concert. It seemed that they had soundchecked 'The River Is Wild', which just happens to be my second favourite Killers song! Never having seen it live before, the very thought nearly reduced me to a shaking mess on the floor. But I refused to get my hopes up.

Being from SA, Saturday's chilly and somewhat drizzly weather required a coat, a hat, jeans and boots - and I was still cold! I missed my target of 7am by quite a long shot, still being on the train at 7.45am, but we made it to the stadium around 8am. We joined the queue at gates G/F as we were collecting tickets at the box office, but had been advised by Gigs & Tours that under the circumstances we would be allowed to use any gate (don't let me get started on what happened with this later - long story short they lied).

Aaaaand cue more squealing and hugging! Right near the front are Emma M, Sinead, Jess and Ryan (sporting raincoats after getting soaked through at Springsteen the week before - wish I'd done the same, I have nothing but a thin poncho which later became less useful than a plastic bag). And though you all told me it wasn't that cold, I could see on your faces that you were just as freezing as I was! (The duvet you were snuggling under was a giveaway too. As was the tent.)

So we join Amii in queue but by now it's most definitely breakfast time. My whole not-eating-on-concert-days thing is definitely a problem that I need to get over - force-feeding yourself because you're too excited to eat is far from ideal. I feel like I might be able to shove down a bacon roll though, and McDonald's isn't too far away, so we make the first trip of the day, stopping along the way at some sort of supermarket to look for a blanket/towel to sit on when that impending rain finally begins. We end up with a large, collapsed cardboard box - ah well, it's something.

Besides one concerned old lady's strange look (she either thought I was homeless or a protester, carrying a massive box), we manage to make it back unscathed - well, except for a large tomato sauce stain on my clean black jeans and half my cup of tea dripping down my arm.

Re-united with Amii & Shantell and Aaron in the queue, miss Neon Captain decides it's time for some queue videos ie: time for me to pose like a fool thinking she's taking a photo, only to watch the video and see myself going "Why aren't you taking a photo... OH are you videoing me?!" Hilarity ensues upon that large cardboard box where we are all trying to stay warm amongst a debris of umbrellas, plastic bags, and assorted flags (minus Aaron's Nevada flag, which has been tragically lost somewhere along the way). I also manage to drop 90 Pounds on merch including a hoodie, special Wembley T-shirt and absolutely stunning tour programme.

The queue starts to build up, and before long there are even more familiar faces milling around including Emma B (I love your accent, even though you don't!), Emma P (one day we really will meet Brian Fallon together, I promise), Ben (all the way from Miami), Leah, James, Andrea and even none other than Torey.

"Someone's taking photos....d'you think it's Torey?"
"It's Torey!"
Oh, hi, official band photographer. Amii and I pose in our matching Battle Born hoodies, but I decide that I need one with my SA flag too.
"Torey!" I say, jumping up and praying that he doesn't wonder how the hell I know his name. "D'you want to take a pic... flags... yeah great, thanks! Have a good day!" And I sit back down, having officially met yet another one of those people on that DVD that I've watched far too many times.

This is when the whispers start... whispers... whispers of... another DVD. Could it be? We're almost certain that we've heard it wasn't going to be recorded, but now Pulse films are tweeting, and the stadium isn't denying anything, plus there's a guy with a video camera trailing Torey and word from the other gates is saying that people have been interviewed. Is it really possible then? Could we all somehow feature on a DVD of our favourite band?

As gate time inches ever closer, we make a deal: there's Mark's side barrier or there's nothing. There can be no compromise. I'm shaking with adrenaline by the time the security guards start shepherding us forward like little sheep in a flock. Due to general chaos, it's quite possible to have been right near the front of the line and have 200 people get in before you....

My heart's in my chest and the security is being very strict about everyone staying calm and walking slowly - in retrospect I can see why they didn't laugh at my "I'm from Africa, this is how I walk!" comment a few minutes later. But we've finally being let in and everything is a blur - just make sure you're heading in the right direction; I don't care that I can have my water bottle back, just keep the damned thing; no, I don't have any weapons; okay, yeah that's the entrance; where are we?; right at the back, now move it; yes, yes, I'm walking, I'm from Africa - this is how we walk. And then finally we're second row Mark's side, along with Amii, Natalie and Duncan. It's not barrier, but it's pretty darn close.

The stage is massive and it takes a while to actually take everything in: the Nevada state flag logo above the stage, the two massive lightning bolts on either side, large contraptions that are clearly confetti ('K'onfetti, perhaps?) cannons... oh, and the fact that we're in the second row for our favourite band's biggest headline show ever

It's not long to wait now... possibly two hours or so, and those two hours seem to drag even slower than the rest of the day, which somehow went quite quickly. There's not too much one can do to stave off boredom once inside the stadium, so after trying (unsuccessfully) to wave to Emma and James in the seats, Amii and I take to repeating "We're seeing The Killers... The actual Killers." every few minutes, just in case we'd forgotten.

But we hadn't. And by the time James came on, many of us were ready to ask them to kindly turn around and march back off because we wanted The Killers already! But us Victims are such a lovely bunch that we'd never have done anything of the sort. And so we watched politely as the singers danced and thrashed and convulsed upon the stage, backed up by a gnome-ish man on the drums (I credit Amii for re-naming them Gnome On The Drums), and gave them a cheerful round of applause after they played the one and only song I knew last.

Of course we couldn't get by with only one opening act, but at least next up was my second favourite band in the world: none other than The Gaslight Anthem. Brian's cheeky sense of humour came out early on when he asked the crowd "You're here to see The Killers? You like that? That 'Mr Brightside'? 'All These Things That I've Done'?" and then went ahead and giggled at himself before telling us that they're the best band from Vegas, and a good way to spend a Saturday night. If I wasn't in love with this New Jersey boy and his neck tattoo already, I sure was now. They played a standard short set including new songs 'Mullholland Drive' and 'Handwritten' and old hits like 'The '59 Sound', but unfortunately did not cave to Jess and I begging them on Twitter to play 'Even Cowgirls Get The Blues'. I have seen TGA four times now and am yet to see this song, fail.

Enter the likes of Rob, BLP, Matt Bruenig and the rest and we knew the time had almost come. Then there was the issue of the pesky little setlist that had been taped to a camera in front of us, and despite my best efforts to not look, I ended up seeing what the first two songs were. Wow, now that was sure to be something. Opening with 'Enterlude' and launching into 'When You Were Young' was not something I'd ever seen live before, but it was definitely set to blow the audience's minds. Whilst I maintained that the entire band should sit behind a curtain which should then be raised as they sang 'Enterlude', we knew it would consist of BF alone behind his piano, and we were not disappointed.

The thrill that runs through a crowd this size when the band is about to come out, is indescribable. I'm getting chills just thinking about it over a month later. The stadium was full, the atmosphere was charged, and we were more than ready to do Battle. And before we knew it, the Battle had begun...

"We hope you enjoy your stay, it's good to have you with us even if it's just for the day..." started off a grinning Brandon Flowers, before he was joined by the rest of his powerhouse of a band to screech off into 'When You Were Young' at high speed. The crowd was mad, our feet were off the floor, heads banging, fists pumping in time, and not a single word missed. These were the fans who had dedicated years to this band, and boy did they make us proud. By the time 'Spaceman' came around, the audience was on another planet, and our 'oh, oh's could have deafened half the population of London.

'The Way It Was' is the first of the new songs to show up, and even if the general population weren't sure of every lyric, the Victims sure made up for it - screaming along to every single beat just as enthusiastically as if it had been 'Mr Brightside'. A highlight of this song is certainly Ted's backing vocals towards the end, super cool live effect and very different to the CD version of the song.

Even though the show is just getting started, Brandon's excitement is visible in his face and his actions. Jumping on top of whatever he can find, flashing that perfect smile so often that you begin to wonder how he's even managing to sing, and criss-crossing the stage like a maniac. Mark's getting into so much that I swear I see a little grin, and Ronnie's smashing the drums with such abandon that one begins to wonder if he's going to smash right through them. Unfortunately I have almost no view of Dave except when he takes to the spotlight for Brandon to lavish praise upon his 'brother', David Brent Keuning.

"I'm going to give you just a little taste..." Brandon says, firing up his synth and the Bolt lights up in neon for the beginning of the infectious 'Smile Like You Mean It', a favourite of mine. By the time they really do start 'River', it's enough to send me over the edge, and if I possessed tear ducts, they would probably have been working around now.

Although I have nothing in particular against the Joy Division cover, 'Shadowplay', I do wish they'd cut it from the setlist and replace it with one of their own songs. In my humble opinion, if I wanted to see Joy Division I would buy a ticket to-- oh, bad description, but you know what I mean. I'd prefer 'This Is Your Life', 'Sam's Town', or indeed 'Sweet Talk'. Amii's in agreement about the last one, so we band together and scream 'PLAY SWEET TALK' before lapsing into giggles and proceeding to sing along to 'Shadowplay' all the same.

Although 'Here With Me' is enough to reduce almost everyone around me to tears, 'From Here On Out' offers some fun in the way of Brandon taking it in turns to ask each of his bandmates if they're ready to dance. "Mark Stoermer," he says, eyes shining, "Have you got your dancin' shoes on?" Mark's murderous expression is enough to let BF know that he certainly does not have his damned dancing shoes on, but Brandon giggles anyway. After a quick riff by Dave and a shouting drum solo by Mr Ronnie Unstopable Vannucci  Jnr, they launch into the countrified song. Whether you're a fan of this polarising song or not, you get out those dancin' shoes and you danced.

Roll on my favourite song in the world 'A Dustland Fairytale' (the song I credit with changing the entire course of my life, but I won't get into that), and I'm barely able to sing, but rather stand with my hand over my heart, entirely at peace with the world for those four minutes. Utter bliss. What I don't know is that the biggest surprise of the night is about to jump out at me like a three-headed monster.

Wembley Song. That's what it's called and that's what it is: a special song written just to mark the joyous occasion that is The Killers playing Wembley Stadium. An ode to the stadium, a memorial to the artists who have played before, a trip down memory lane through the band's history, and a thank you. We are the only 73000 people who will ever hear this song live, and I'm honoured.

We seem to be heading towards the end now, and 'All These Things That I've Done' explodes in a shower of 'K' and lightning bolt-shaped confetti, which we all scramble to grab. And then Ronnie's throwing some drumsticks, and they're gone far too soon. But we know not to move a muscle. The crowd manages to sing a quick Happy Birthday to an impressed-looking BF before the encore erupts to life with 'Flesh and Bone', 'Jenny', 'Battle Born' (cue whipping out of a few hundred Nevada state flags) and finally Mr Brightside. By the end I'm lost in the crowd, not attempting to take photos or indeed to keep my feet upon the ground. It's been 24 songs, and we're still flying.

By the time the band leave for good, we're all covered in a mixture of sweat, tears, confetti and raindrops, and I for one wouldn't have it any other way. Quick goodbye hugs to everyone I can find (including Jess and Sinead who now have a Ronnie drumstick) and quick hello to Sarah a few rows behind me, and then we're off. It has been the most euphoric, unbelievable night of my entire life,shared with thousands of people all united for the same reason. And though I dashed across London just too slowly to make it into the secret show afterwards, I have no regrets. I'd change nothing, especially the amazing people who made queueing for 13 hours seem like something I'd quite like to do every weekend. Nothing can change this perfect night.

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