The television coverage for the massive Live 8 concerts on MTV and VH1 was awful. It was all about the personalities, not the music. This was supposed to the most important concert experience of the decade, and yet very little of the performance footage actually ended up on screen. The viewer heard way too many vee-jays spouting puff news along the lines of, “This is amazing. The classic lineup of Pink Floyd is taking the stage together for the first time in over two decades. Now, let’s go backstage and talk to Jimmy Fallon about his new movie.” Thank you, Total Request Live, for convincing the world that the youth of today has such a short attention span that they can’t make it through even a song without lots of bright and shiny fluff to occupy them. ABC’s special was a little better. At least they showed mostly full performances. However, they tried to condense nine eight-hour concerts into a mere hour, so there was no way of coming close to capturing the scope of what had happened.
The only way that you could totally appreciate the enormity of the event (unless you attended one of the shows) was on AOL, where you could watch streaming video of all seven entire concerts (including the down time between acts – hey look, there are lots of people going to the rest rooms and concession stands in Rome and someone in Berlin is picking their nose…) It was great to experience the concerts as they happened, getting to see entire performances without talking heads interrupting them. Unfortunately, it had all the problems inherent in broadband too. It was hard to pick and choose what you wanted to see and what you didn’t. It was hard to know when something would be shown. Fans could not have copies of the performances for their collections. (Well, at least not officially; a series of pirate blogs popped up that had figured out how to make almost everything downloadable.) Most importantly, music – in general and particularly with a video feed – just doesn’t show as well on computers as it does on a full screen. Most people would much rather be able to see it on a big screen TV with full surround sound and good speakers rather than on a pixelated 15″ to 17″ inch monitor with an inferior computer sound system.
So, finally, with this four-disk box set, we get closer to experiencing the concerts as they really occurred. It’s still not a perfect approximation of the shows, but it’s by far the best choice we’ve gotten so far.
In case you were living in a bio-dome this summer, Live 8 was the huge worldwide concert thrown by Live Aid mastermind (and one-hit-wonder rock star via The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”) Bob Geldof, Midge Ure (of Ultravox, and Geldof’s co-writer on the Band Aid single that started all this, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) and U2 leader Bono. It was an unofficial twentieth anniversary celebration of the legendary Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia in the summer on 1985. This time the shows multiplied – not only were they playing in London and Philly, they set up other concerts in Rome, Paris, Edinburgh, Berlin, Japan, Africa and outside Toronto. The charitable thrust of the huge event was a little murkier than the original “Feed the World” credo. These shows were to raise awareness and to catch the eyes of the eight most powerful leaders on the planet, all of whom were soon to have a summit meeting to discuss world poverty.
Because nothing says peace, ending poverty and feeding the world like “Comfortably Numb,” “Helter Skelter,” “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “We Will Rock You.”
The concert was quickly thrown together. A mere month or two beforehand, Bob Geldof intimated in an interview with Mojo that there was no way that there would be a twentieth anniversary Live Aid concert. It would be way too much of a logistical nightmare. Live 8 made him a liar, but what a fabulous liar.
The most honest moment in this concert was when Bob Geldof acknowledged that one of his motivations for staging the concert was so that he could play, and no one could stop him. Lord knows there’s no other way Geldof could get an audience even a fraction of this size at this point in his career.
More often, though, the charity aspects of the concert seem a little smug and self-satisfied. In particular, when Geldof calls up an African woman who had been a starving child in a film he had made for Live Aid. Now, seeing her grown to be a healthy, happy woman, holding her arms high over her head was supposed to be a touching, wonderful moment of achievement for the people watching all over the Earth. Doubly so because Madonna was there, clutching that triumphant woman’s hand. Proof that there was hope for the starving in the world.
Perhaps, but it was so NOT rock and roll.
More rock and roll was the reunion of perpetually sniping members of Pink Floyd with former leader Roger Waters. The moment was rather historic, particularly considering the vitriol and legal skirmishes lobbed at each other by Waters and the group over the last couple of decades. Too bad Waters is sort of shuffled off into sideman status as backing vocalist and guitarist as Dave Gilmour takes the spotlight (Waters does get the opportunity to duet with him in the set-closing “Comfortably Numb”), kind of giving this momentous resurrection of a classic band a bit of a feel of capitulation. It’s like Dave was forcing Roger to say “uncle” in front of a global audience.
Luckily, most of the artists are a lot more giving, setting up some strange but fascinating pairings: Stevie Wonder and Rob Thomas. Paul McCartney and U2. Coldplay and Richard Ashcroft (former leader of the Verve). Sarah McLachlan and Josh Grobin. Midge Ure and Eddie Izzard. Elton John and some guy I’d never heard of before. Shakira and her perfectly taut belly. Bono and his ego.
Mariah Carey showed her charitable nature by following a performance of “Hero” with this uncharacteristically selfless request: “Everybody, give a big hand to the African Children’s Choir…” There was also a lot of kissing up, like when Robbie Williams finished “Angels” with a supposedly spontaneous “God bless you all and God bless Bob Geldof.” The viewers also get to learn interesting and useless trivia facts. “Hello, Philadelphia. My name is Richard Gere, and I was BORN in Philadelphia!” the Pretty Woman actor said when introducing Stevie Wonder, to rouse his (apparently) hometown crowd. Who knew?
For a concert that is planned to show world unity, the package does give short shift to some of the satellite concerts, like Paris, Tokyo, Italy and Germany. Because of this, many world artists who never get any exposure to audiences outside their homeland lose out on an opportunity to connect with the rest of the planet. I was particularly distraught that Axelle Red’s fiery performances in Paris didn’t make the cut, but many other very worthy international artists get blacked out here, like Laura Pausini, Zuchero, Kyo, Blue Rodeo, Die Toten Hosen – and many, many more.
Also, you have to wonder who exactly chose which acts were worthy. The DVDs only showed one performance by Roxy Music (“Do the Strand,” which was also probably the least impressive of the songs they performed in their set) and yet Robbie Williams gets four. Still, we’ve got a full contingent of vital and diverse artists, doing some great and some not-so-great music for a good cause. Plus, somehow, Dan Aykroyd snuck in here, too, just like he did in “We Are the World” twenty years ago. By the time that Paul McCartney performs “The Long and Winding Road” for what seems like the ten-billionth time, most viewers will be stuffed to the gills with music and good will.
Maybe not everyone, though. This disk is perfectly fine for the casual fan, but how about a special hardcore fan’s multi-disk set with each of the entire shows? (You can cut out the between-act boredom, though.) Many of the individual shows have been made available internationally, though apparently even those are missing some performances. Proceeds can go to charity. Come on, Saint Bob, what do you say? Feed the world.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 1, 2006.