A review of 'Live 8'

Article World - 3 July 2005

I awaited Live8 with intrigue. Watching back its predecessor, Live Aid 1985, I was gripped and engulfed by the overwhelming sense of unity felt by the hundreds of thousands in the crowds at Wembley and across the Atlantic, in Philadelphia. These people were not just rock fans. They were harmonised behind the mission to end poverty in Africa, propagated by a charismatic but youthful Bob Geldof and fellow samaritan Bill Graham.

However, many people do not recognise the leading roles Bono and director Richard Curtis took during Geldof’s refusal to “take on something [he] did twenty years ago”, which acted as a blockade up until late May of this year. They were compelled by the tremendous significance that tied the imminent G8 meeting to Live Aid’s 20th anniversary; it was the African issue in particular they wanted to throw up onto the very highest political platform. Then came Make Poverty History and Geldof emerged from the shadows under the more simplistic rhetoric of ‘Drop the Debt’, ‘Make Trade Fairer’ and ‘More and Better Aid’. But as Geldof had learned from ’85, his campaign would only work given complete government support. Any revival would also need a slightly different theme. The impending G8 meeting on British turf allowed the campaign to reach out to the people of the eight richest nations – Live8 was born.

I expected the bill to be disappointing. I thought Geldof would need to field artists such as Craig David and Damien Rice to capture any kind of public excitement, and it seemed that the concert would appear clichéd and perfunctionary, let alone live up to the powerful frenzy that was Live Aid. Of course, the pioneering Bono would play with U2, Paul McCartney would play ‘Let It Be’ to the singalong of maybe a dozen others, leaving a disillusioned crowd hungry for the Scissor Sisters. How wrong I was. Sting, Elton John, REM, U2, Paul McCartney, personal favourites The Who, Brian Wilson, A-ha, The Cure, Madonna, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Bryan Adams, Annie Lennox and the Pet Shop Boys were all stars of the past confirmed in lineups spanning half the planet. There were even some inspiring artists of the day playing: Coldplay, Keane, Kaiser Chiefs, Joss Stone, Travis, Muse, Linkin Park, Kayne West, Dido and Jet in as many vast locations. Geldof had even managed to perform a miracle: reforming Pink Floyd for a Hyde Park headlining set. July 2nd seemed too good to be true.

10 concerts, 260 bands playing, and I was one of five billion viewers witnessing a revival of this musical phenomenon. The aforementioned Bono and Paul McCartney performed a fantastic ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ before U2 broke in with the incredibly appropriate ‘Beautiful Day’ avec doves and apt lyric-changing. Coldplay provided the 90s era with a 21st century ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ which included very nostalgic appearance from the sensational Richard Ashcroft. But their entire set was nostaligic; references to Status Quo’s ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’ and Freddie Mercury’s infamous ad-lib brought an otherwise inert crowd to the palimpsest of Wembley Stadium.

The London concert then plunged into the out-of-depth mediocrity of Keane and Dido and the perfunctionary Geldof rallies, only picking up when crowd king Robbie Williams stood before the 200,000-something crowd. The Who performed ‘Who Are You’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ without any symptom of their 43-year existence and Pete Townshend provided the crowd with some of the best guitar-playing of the day. It stuck me as odd to finish with Pink Floyd, but the sound of Roger Waters’ bass guitar seemed to pull a sheet of discontentment yet tranquility over the crowd, contrary to the riots in Edinburgh.

Visually, Live8 was also entertaining. During The Who’s set, slides of the eight world leaders meeting in Gleneagles were cast upon the huge telescreens and the back of the stage, the theme of Richard Curtis’ film ‘The Girl in the Café’. Admirably, the organisers and artists did not once take their focus off the subject of awareness, relentlessly advocating online and SMS petitions rather than their cheques. As Bono put it during his set, the show was “not about charity, but about justice.” Truly remarkable.