First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2005, Volume 12, #2
Written by John Metzger
Itís doubtful that many would remember The Boomtown Rats were it not for Bob Geldofís selfless act of setting aside his career in order to bring to the attention of the Western world the horrible plight of over 30 million Africans who were suffering from the effects of a drought and famine of Biblical proportions. Inspired in 1984 by a BBC news segment, Geldof formed Band Aid ó a super-group of sorts that included Sting, Bono, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, and Boy George, among others ó to record a charity single titled Do They Know Itís Christmas? Two months later, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones founded USA for Africa, a collective that included Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Tina Turner, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder and issued its own tune We Are the World. By July 13, 1985, the two organizations had combined their efforts in order to produce a mammoth, all-star concert that was dubbed Live Aid. Held on two continents and featuring snippets from like-minded gatherings in Austria, Germany, Japan, Australia, Yugoslavia, Norway, and the U.S.S.R., the event was broadcast throughout the world to an audience of more than a billion and a half people spread across 100 countries. Since then, the not-for-profit known as the Band Aid Trust has raised more than $144 million to support its mission.
Therefore, itís not surprising that the largest concert in history has been made available for home viewing, complete with the heartbreaking BBC account that started it all. Though it is shocking that it took this long to come to fruition, one must consider that Live Aid never was supposed to be recorded or released in the first place, and Geldof, who believed that the memory of the event would be a far more powerful statement than its execution, long had resisted the urge to do anything further with the original broadcast. However, given the problems that the countries of Africa continue to face, Geldof changed his mind as a means of raising additional funds. Still, the production of the Live Aid DVD wasnít without its own share of difficulties. For starters, the rights to all of the performances needed to be renegotiated with the individual participants, which explains, at least in part, the reason for some of the missing material. For example, the much-publicized reunion of Led Zeppelin is conspicuously absent, apparently because Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page were so disappointed with the bandís set that they refused to allow the footage to be utilized. Spoiling the rest of the absent selections were an array of other factors, including a power outage that kept half of The Whoís segment from being broadcast at all; deleted news reels at the BBC and ABC; and MTVís blabbering VJs. In essence, itís somewhat of a minor miracle that a huge portion of the show ó a full 10 hours ó remained intact.
For the record, all-star affairs like Live Aid are typically heavy on crowd-pleasing moments, and as such, they tend to be short on inspiration. Each artist has only enough time to deliver a mini-set, which almost always is comprised of mega-selling hits, and opportunities for disparate acts to assimilate are nearly non-existent in such a fast-paced environment. Therefore, thereís little leeway for rebounding from a slow start, building momentum, or, worse, overcoming boredom with a highly anticipated tune. Consequently, benefit concerts feature an ebb and flow of energy that attendees only can hope will coalesce into something truly special, but as Geldof so aptly understood, what matters at a particular moment in history is far different from something meant for repeated viewing. Therefore, itís certainly fair to say that much of the material on the Live Aid package falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between good and bad, though in total, itís a magnificent compilation that is beautifully shot and magically recaptures the electrifying atmosphere of this extraordinary global phenomenon.
Even better is the amazing diversity of music that benefit concerts tend to yield, and of course, Live Aid was no exception. Ranging from the boogie-woogie blues of Status Quo to the jazz-tinged soul of Sade, from the heavy metal of Black Sabbath to the country and folk concoctions of Neil Young, and from the piano-driven pop of Elton John to the dance grooves of Madonna, nearly every genre imaginable was represented. Of course, there were certain moments that fared better than others, and not surprisingly, these largely came from the artists who transformed their initial successes into lengthy careers rather than the one-hit wonders. For example, Sting and Branford Marsalis spun a mesmerizing, jazz-tinged web around Roxanne; Pretenders filled Middle of the Road with adrenaline-fueled angst; Elvis Costello, accompanying himself on electric guitar, delivered a charming rendition of The Beatlesí All You Need Is Love; Paul McCartney offered a gospel-flavored interpretation of Let It Be; David Bowie, with help from keyboard player Thomas Dolby, stylishly stampeded through Rebel Rebel and Modern Love; The Temptationsí Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin joined Hall & Oates to reprise a trio of their joyous hits for Motown (Get Ready [Cos Here I Come], Ainít Too Proud to Beg, My Girl); and The Beach Boys, with Brian Wilson in tow, turned its perennial favorite Surfiní USA into an invigorating romp. Elsewhere, Bob Geldof, who stalked the stage like a young Mick Jagger, made it impossible to deny the raw, emotional power of The Boomtown Ratsí otherwise unpolished performance, while Jagger himself paraded through the driving beats of Just Another Night and Miss You; Dire Straits unleashed a pair of barnburners with Money for Nothing and Sultans of Swing; and Paul Young turned the cheesy sentimentality of Everytime You Go Away and the R&B classic Thatís the Way Love Is into something that was as memorable as it was affecting.
Although The Who aggressively tore into Love Reign Oíer Me and Wonít Get Fooled Again with a punishing ferocity, it was U2 that nearly stole the show with an absolutely transcendent and exhilarating performance. Employing its now-familiar, "take no prisoners" approach, the Irish quartet zealously blasted through Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bad with a vengeance. On the former, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. settled into a lock-step, rhythmic march while The Edge, guitar ablaze, sprayed shrapnel through the heart of the militant anthem. Nevertheless, it was the latter songs that showcased U2 at its finest. Indeed, all of the tension built through the combination of cascading guitar patterns and throbbing bass and percussion was released within the soaring, gospel-infused intensity of Bonoís vocals. Scaling a wall to commingle with the audience and incorporating into his musings bits of Lou Reedís Satellite of Love and Walk on the Wild Side as well as the Rolling Stonesí Ruby Tuesday and Sympathy for the Devil, he transformed his song of addiction into a powerful force for spiritual healing and, inevitably, for world change.
"Some huge new existential reality tore through the veil that separates the everyday and the transcendent," reflects journalist Paul Vallely in Live Aidís liner notes. "Fellow-feeling, solidarity, and sacrificial-giving became the dominant response. Cynicism and reservations were set aside. Old couples sent in their wedding rings. One newlywed couple sold their new home and sent in the money. Millions gave until it hurt. It was a moment, through our tears, of utter clarity of purpose."
Such is the power, not just of music, but of individuals to alter the course of history through their actions. Yet, in spite of Bob Geldofís tireless efforts and his countless successes, the world continues to be divided between the haves and the have-nots. In particular, the countries of Africa remain caught between local corruption and Western societyís unfair impositions ó its taxes and tariffs, its debt repayment rules, and its trade quotas. As a result, much of the continent has been unable to escape the endless spiral of plague, poverty, starvation, and death that seemingly forever has plagued it. Much like it did in 1985, Live Aid offers hope for a better future and a brighter tomorrow by highlighting an important issue and uniting the globe in its struggle to find a solution. This is a war that deserves to be fought.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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