March 28, 2009. Abu Dhabi, UAE
A streak of lightning zig-zags a damp Middle Eastern sky. I have been in a daze for several days, black and blue from pinches just to make sure that I am actually awake and experiencing all this in the present continuum of space and time. I shake my head and remember where I am. The crowd close to me (about 15,000 people in all) are ‘ooh ooh oohing ’ the reprise to Viva La Vida waiting for Chris Martin and his boys to take to the stage. The rain sets in again. I have dressed warm, but my mind is still in a state of disbelief. Oh yes, what’s this? A Coldplay concert, and it’s me in the middle.
Back in Nairobi there isn’t a soul that wasn’t told that I was coming here. Rights from the day I first heard the Jerusalem bells a-ringing, I wrote and screamed, and preached and screeched at this unbelievable turn. I had written a small article in November 2008, sent it to a magazine. Somebody liked it. Published it. And things for me, as they say, have been up, up and away. If you can see your future inside a glass of water, then I‘ve been seeing heaven in mine.
When Coldplay do come to the stage (after an opening performance by Mercury Rev), we all go gaga. “Hello,keyfek?” Chris says, practising his Arabic. “We are called Coldplay and we are going to sing some songs for you.” The frenzy is as expected. The open air grounds of the Emirates Palace darken and the hi-tech stage lits up with the words ‘Viva’, and we all hear the familiar guitar intro of Life in Technicolor; a Philipino lady beside me begins shaking like in an epileptic fit. That is exactly how I feel inside, but I save mine for later. My friend, Emad, who is kindly hosting me, is playing his air guitar. The stage is slowly lighting up and we see them. Chris Martin on keyboards, Jonny Buckland on lead guitar, Will Champion on drums, Guy Berryman on bass. I’m expecting Chris to start singing the words but he doesn’t, so I know this is the first version, the album version. See, us Superfans, we know them all. Then without a break, Chris breaks in, “it was cold and dark December…” and the whole crowd joins along. “from the rooftops I remember…”
It was at this moment that the reality sunk into me, not just of the heights of where I was, but of where I had reached in my life, in the one year from when I had found myself in the lowest abyss of darkness, struggling to come out of the disease of depression and the losses it had occasioned me, to the point that I had catapulted every ounce of energy, talent and connection I had, to make sure that the past was behind me, to this moment with my future within my grasp. Things happen fast, sometimes too fast, but they do. Had the darkness not happened, I would perhaps never have found myself barely fifteen metres from Chris Martin, in the flesh. There is nothing like rain to hide your tears away.
I took my love down to Violet Hill, and there we sat in snow, and all the time she was silent still, but if you love me, won’t you let me know?
Before you know it, the riff to Clocks begins, and I am amazed that everyone seems to know every word, here, in Abu Dhabi? Well, by the time for Yellow, the atmosphere was static. The electric storm had started again, accompanied by an array of giant yellow balls filled with confetti bouncing from the stage, and you could feel Chris Martin wonder as he recalled the eleven years from a similar rainy day when he was shooting the video for this song on a cold beach in England. Did he have any idea that he would be this big, at this time, in this part of the world? I mean, there were people here who would struggle with their English in a conversation, and here I was standing next to them, and they were singing every word to Yellow, in the right note! I almost broke into tears again, seeing a man grab his better half; you’re skin and bone turned into something beautiful. They will remember this concert forever.
Thunder streaks again. “Marhaba” Chris tells us in Arabic. The crowd jeers, either in affirmation or ridicule, I can’t tell. He takes his acoustic guitar and sings, raindrops keep falling on my head. It makes me happy. That’s the impromptu prowess of a real star. Jonny Buckland takes back his lead and strums the first notes of my favourite Coldplay song of the moment. I tell my friend Emad that my epilepsy moment has come. The rock star in me comes out. “Scared of losing all the time,” he wrote it in a letter; he was a friend of mine. The singing in the crowd is muffled. I know why. These are the songs that chaff out The Superfans from The Others. He said if you could see your future inside a glass of water, will I see heaven in mine? And then that famous five note strum, strung strung strung strung strung, and I scream, “Yes I have!”
The set was followed by Cemeteries of London and 42 from their recent album and the fit continues, hands in the air, rain jackets swung like helicopter blades, you thought you might be a ghost? You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close…ohhh ohhh. Chris goes on to sing Fix You, and it’s just like in the video. I swear. Only this time, I’m in it. Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones..he gets up, takes a light that is hanging from the stage and swings it, as Buckland and Berryman get to the bridge, and I resume my epileptic fit, and I will try and fix you. Songs of loss, and the triumph that comes after loss. Viva La Coldplay.
The ecstasy is fantastic. The cheers amazing. “Shukran” he says. Enough with the Arabic, we know you’re trying. The stage darkens and by time the stage balls light up to red, the band, in their now famous Sgt. Pepper outfits play their happy jingle of Strawberry Swing. From behind I see kids shoulder to shoulder swaying, must be a university lot from Dubai, busloads came in. This event has attracted the largest ‘party’ crowds in the history of the UAE, with people coming in from as far as Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa and yes, Kenya. Fans drove from Bahrain, Oman and the cities next door: Dubai, Ajman, Ras-El-Kheimah. Not even forecasts of flash floods could keep us away.
The party atmosphere was treated to techno versions of God Put A Smile On Your Face and Talk, with all sorts of gizmos and green-blue lasers on stage. It’s great to have a big record company behind your tour. Chris then does a piano solo of The Hardest Part, followed by Postcards From Faraway, an instrumental from the Prospekt’s March ep. Emad asks me, “Do you know this one?” “Of Course,” I answer. “I’m a Superfan. I know them all, extended plays, extras, b-sides, rarities, lives, remixes, all.”
If the intensity of the evening was not enough, then we were about to reach the pinnacle. The stage background lit up the portrait of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People, the cover of the Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends Album. Every Coldplay fan has pictured this moment in his or her fantasy. Mine was happening now for real. It was time for that song. I used to rule the world, seas would rise when I gave the word. Damn my tears, but thank you G. Thank you for this crazy year, and its crazy rollecoaster ride…. and my castles were built upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand…the Filipino lady next to me started screaming with her hands on her face. It must have been this way with the girls at The Beatles’ concerts back in the 1960s…be my mirror, my sword and shield, my missionaries in a foreign field...Emad is jumping, like in a Maasai dance,… and for some reason I can’t explain, I know St. Peter won’t call my name...this great song of loss tells you that life is worth living, that it is worth celebrating, that even in adversity we will come through, these warm tears feel wonderful right now, like the whole year of losing and achieving again was to bring me to Coldplay and this moment….and never an honest word, but that was when I ruled the world. Viva La Vida.
Our choir-like chorus goes on. Just because I’m losing doesn’t mean I’m lost. I recall getting the CD three weeks before its official release for review and thinking then that this song was written for me (of course not). I still do (of course not.) Lately I’ve been seeing lyrics to songs with their uncanny resemblance to my life (hmm, of course not.)
I’m waiting till the firing stops. I’m waiting till the shine wears off.
It was at this time that the band take to stage 2, closer to where I am, and Will Champion takes the vocals of Death will Never Conquer. Chris plays the tambourine, apologises for his shit Arabic and switches our electric power supply to one from a Wind Electricity plant for Earth Hour. I am impressed and wonder if it will observed back home. The darkened stage and the four of them get close to sing an excellent rendition of The Monkees’ I’m A Believer. This is a great surprise. ..then I saw her face,ta-ta ra ra, now I’m a believer,ta ta ra ra ra, there’s not a trace of doubt in my mind…
If an Old Town boy can be here, then yes, I’m a believer too.
The orb turns into a globe. And Chris takes his position on keyboards. Look at earth from outer space, he sings. What a great choice for Earth Hour. Give me real, don’t give me fake…. open up your eyes.
Then we are back to the newer songs, it’s the Osaka Sun version of Lovers In Japan (heavier drums). (See, I know the difference!). The Philipino girl seems alone, so I put my arm around her. She smiles very widely, all her teeth. Emad hasn’t seen me in many years, but I assure him my insanity hasn’t been cured. I put my other arm around him (he is much taller than I am, as everyone is, so it is a bit uncomfortable), and together we all sing…I have no doubt, one day the sun will come out. This is what John Lennon must have meant by brotherhood of man. Just imagine.
It’s all good. It’s all good. My therapy song is next. I don’t want a battle from beginning to end, I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge, I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends. I didn’t. I broke free.
And just when it seems the night has come to an end, Chris promises us an encore. The stage lights beam on us, and it’s another ‘everybody-in-the-crowd’ song. I know someone in Nairobi who would have sung along too. You know that song. Come on, you know it. The one about chasing tails? numbers and figures? science and progress? going back to the start? Yes, nobody said it was going to be easy.
And so in the end, we go back to the start. The guitar riff of Life in Technicolor again. And its technicolor everywhere. Confetti everywhere. Euphoria everywhere. Chris sings! Yes, it’s that version now! Life In Technicolor II, from the Propekt’s March ep! Oh my god, now my feet won’t touch the ground. By god, they won’t!
And before you know it, it was over.
Absolutely f*^cking brilliant, seems to have been the consensus (borrowing from my cousin’s Facebook status, I had no idea they were there as well). Emad looked like he had run a marathon. I had had multiple orgasms. I didn’t want to leave. Chris Martin had been the consummate entertainer throughout, using his ultimate insider’s knowledge to rib Berryman, Buckland and Champion between numbers and create an intimate atmosphere. But when it came time to pump up the volume, the band had done it at full strength, complete with Chris’s signature voice and dances, flickering strobe beams and the video orbs with their dramatic effect to fuel the high-octane rain-drenched evening. Borrowing from an over-used cliché, this was a night to remember.
I recall 1998, the video to Yellow on MTV. Coldplay wasn’t famous then. I had just got the Parachutes album, still my favourite of theirs, and made comparisons to Radiohead (how wrong I was.) If you had told me then that one day I would be among 15,000 people screaming in a concert, so close to the band that I could almost smell them, I would laugh all the way back to the present. Life has a funny way of lifting you up and telling you exactly who you are. Like the Big Guy lighting up the sky when the power goes off. Or you, finding your dreams when people stop believing in you, or who you can be.
All you’ve got to do is be a believer. You’ll find yourself in amazing places, with great opportunities doing things others only fantasize about. And that’s the difference between you and them. The great stuff and the bad stuff, you’ve seen it all, with the scars to prove it. Because life’s like that, you take along the people who will see you through the darkness. Most will abandon you in the bad times. But some stay on. Only you must never follow Death, or any of his friends.
And one day the sun will come out, because it always does.
Coldplay were inspired to name their fourth album Viva La Vida after the painting of the same name by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who spent most of her adult life paralysed from polio. Yet despite it all, her art was full of colour, full of joy. Because that’s what we’re to do, despite all the pain. Celebrate life.
Now I must board a plane and go back home.