The phrase “nothing succeeds like success" has always struck me as being more than a bit strange. I’ve always taken it as meaning that success breeds further success, creating some ongoing permanent cycle of happiness in which everyone eventually gets to own a digital watch and have access to the latest series of American Idol
(views differ as to whether I’m entirely correct on this). However, is it really fair to say that success breeds success? While achievement undoubtedly gives you greater subsequent creative freedom, and the right to do things as you please, it also raises expectations, sometimes to a point where they simply can’t be beaten. Now, few people would really argue that Live Aid, the 1985 music event that was one of the largest TV broadcasts of all time was a success. Even allowing for the inevitable criticisms that Live Aid wouldn’t help Africa and the artists were only in it for themselves, the music was great, a hugely ambitious undertaking went off without a hitch, and, most importantly, the show was the most successful time to date that music and politics had come together. For about 20 years after the event, Bob Geldof, the man who organised it denied that it would ever happen again, saying that it wouldn’t be as good, no-one was interested enough, and that it was best to let the memories of Live Aid exist on their own. Strictly speaking, he was right. The Live 8 concerts of July 2005 were only accessible via winning tickets through a lottery system, with an emphasis being on raising awareness, rather than on raising money. However no matter what Geldof may say, it’s undeniable to say that Live Aid and Live 8 did bear a certain resemblance to one another.
That alone says something about how special Live 8 was. If you accept the premise that Live Aid was remarkable (and it was), then the mere fact that Live 8 is comparable makes it a triumph. And let’s be honest here, the reason why the two events were so special can be attributed in large part to the music. While the Live 8 movement may have made a difference to the G8 meeting at Gleneagles last year, it would have been more than a little embarrassing had Geldof got together a global audience of hundreds of millions for one of the most ambitious broadcasts of all times, and the music had then been rubbish. While there were a few very high profile failures (Pete Doherty and Mariah Carey are unlikely to be invited back in another twenty years, for a whole variety of reasons), the lineup for the shows, particularly the one taking place in London’s Hyde Park, was the kind of thing that promoters ask to be read as a bedtime story. Although people would pay huge sums of money to see any one of U2, Coldplay, The Who, REM, Paul McCartney and Madonna, the crowning glory across the entire lineup for the shows was the reunion of Pink Floyd with Roger Waters for the first time in over 20 years. Yep, all the ingredients had been put in place for a truly spectacular day.
By and large, the music on this 4 DVD set doesn’t disappoint. With well over 100 different tracks to be viewed, it’s actually probably fair to say that even the most discriminatory of music fans will find something that they can listen to here, and there can certainly be no accusation that fans are being shortchanged if they buy the DVD. However, there are some issues that may well irk anyone who buys the set. First of these is the lack of continuity across the DVDs as a whole. Although Disc 4 can be exempt from this, as it’s a self-proclaimed disc of artists that didn’t make it onto the first three, with extra features, there’s a strong argument to be made that the shows in London, Philadelphia and the other venues should have been placed on order on the DVDs, rather than cutting in between different venues sporadically. While it may also seem ungrateful to criticise the tracklisting, given the sheer volume of material here, there are a few things that could easily have been shifted around, particularly the inclusion of 5 songs between the lacklustre Black Eyed Peas and Mariah Carey, ahead of more explosive sets by Muse and Stereophonics, among others. Another criticism that can easily be made is a complaint common among many people who were at the shows; specifically the surprising lack of atmosphere. Caused by safety regulations at the venues (and a need to cover costs), the corporate tickets at the front of Hyde Park, and the seeming lack of interest from many fans elsewhere mean that for all but the biggest acts it can sometimes seem as if the people who made it to the Live 8 shows weren’t particularly interested in the music, even though perception is exaggerated by how the fans were distributed.
One feature of the DVD that absolutely can’t be complained about though is the quality of the sound throughout the entire show. Although there was some controversy when it emerged that some artists were considering re-recording their vocals for the DVD, the mix here is outstanding for the most part, particularly the way that the bass is emphasised all the way through. While there’s nothing especially notable about the camera work through the four discs, there are no real moments when you actively think that the camera angle is wrong, which is disappointingly rare among live music DVDs.
So, now we’re done with criticising this, how about we look at what’s good about this thing? For a start, there are a lot of seriously special moments spread over all four discs. Much was made in the immediate aftermath of the gigs about Robbie Williams’s performance, with many people comparing it to Queen’s utterly victorious appearance at the original Live Aid. Although I’m a self-confessed Robbie Williams fan, I can think of no higher praise than to say that the comparisons are actually justified. Considering that Live 8 was his first major live appearance since 2003, taking the stage and launching straight into We Will Rock You
was a move that could easily have made Velvet Revolver’s performance look charismatic, but instead it was a genuine masterstroke, immediately winning over the crowd. Thankfully he doesn’t sacrifice any of his momentum throughout the rest of his set, closing with Angels
after ironically asking his audience to open their hymnbooks. The single biggest singalong of the entire event, it deserves all the praise it’s gotten.
Although Williams may have gotten the biggest crowd response of the day, the moment they’re going to show in twenty years, ironically enough, didn’t have anything explicitly to do with music. Whether you agree with the Live 8 movement or not, few people can deny that Bob Geldof has proved himself to be a master of placing himself on the right side of public opinion, with an unusual talent for the big gesture, but even he outdid himself with the introduction of a woman who had been saved by Live Aid money 20 years ago. While it doesn’t take a visionary to envisage a way in which it could have come across as a crass gimmick, the moment was quite extraordinary, and even replayed on DVD, loses none of its power. “Don't let them tell you that this stuff doesn't work" became the de facto cry of the organisation, following Geldof’s emotional appeal to the crowd even as Birhan took the stage.
Of course, no mention of the musical highlights of Live 8 could possibly hope to take place without a discussion of Pink Floyd, whose reunion was arguably the most remarkable musical story of last year. Although a long term reunion remains as off the table as it ever has done, their performance of some of their biggest hits is enough to make every Floyd fan realise how much they’re missing. Although Roger Waters’s voice could probably be classified as legally dead now, the band’s performance is incredibly impressive, with Waters dedicating Wish You Were Here
to everyone “who can’t be here-especially Syd", before launching into a version of the song that takes nostalgia to whole new levels. Comfortably Numb
is another of the highlights of the entire DVD, with the legendary second solo giving a whole load of men at the front a chance to practice their air guitars (badly). Although much was made before the show about how older acts had been disproportionately placed on the bill, other bands such as The Who, U2 and Paul McCartney show on the DVD that they really can’t be written off. In spite of the fact that ½ of The Who are dead (mercifully they didn’t play My Generation
), Townshend’s guitar work in Who Are You?
remains hugely impressive, and although Roger Daltrey now looks like everyone’s cool uncle, he still has a mighty fine scream on him. U2 and Paul McCartney’s opening of the show was another great success of the day, with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
, which here actually stands up to the version on the album that Rolling Stone claims is the greatest of all time. As I said earlier, Bob Geldof is a PR mastermind, but even he would have been impressed by Bono’s decision to have doves released during the band’s performance of Beautiful Day
. As he would later say on a BBC documentary, the fears that the doves would turn around and land on the stage turned to nothing, as they took off, providing a start to the day that immediately set the tone for the pseudo-Messianic (“you bet
that music can change the world!") mood of the day.
Although none of the biggest bands of the day are disappointing, many of the smaller bands on the bill (or comparatively so, anyway) come across incredibly well on the DVD set. Annie Lennox was one of the few artists on the bill who not even the most devout anti-celebrity could accuse of only being in on the shows to raise her own profile, and her performances of Sweet Dreams
and particularly Why
are outstanding, and positively bursting with emotion. Likewise, both Razorlight and The Kaiser Chiefs took advantage of the massive audience to put in great performances, with Johnny Borrel to the fore during the two Razorlight songs included on the DVD. The Kaiser Chiefs were the lone British band playing in the USA, and their massively successful summer was reflected in their performances at Live 8 Philadelphia.
I realise I’ve focused mainly on acts playing in Britain, and that’s a reflection of the overwhelming quality of the British lineup compared to the others around the world. While the US lineup was generally disappointing in comparison, acts such as Will Smith got the crowd worked up successfully (honestly, how is it possible for so many people to know the words to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme?) and the contrasting acts of stadium rockers Bon Jovi and Destiny’s Child also count as among the better acts in the US. The other venues are represented less across the 4 discs, but Brian Wilson’s performance of Good Vibrations
is highly poignant, even if it is a reminder that the former genius behind the Beach Boys can only really be described as an imitation of himself these days, relying very heavily on his backing band. Another aging star whose best days are clearly behind him is Stevie Wonder, but his long set in Philadelphia counts as one of the highlights of that show, with age not dimming his energetic live show.
Although I said earlier that the variety of music here means that there is something for everyone, the reverse is also true. Over 4 discs there are always going to be tracks to skip (it’s not stretching it to say that an entire disc could probably have been lost and people wouldn’t have cared for the most part). Disc 4 in particular, including performers who didn’t make it onto the first three can be described as weak, with lacklustre performances from Audioslave, Bjork and Faith Hill all dragging down the overall quality. However, right at the end of the disc is possibly the most remarkable moment of the DVD collection, and one that in its own quiet way serves as a testament to the powers of Mr. Geldof. Footage of Pink Floyd rehearsing Wish You Were Here
in front of an empty Hyde Park is spine-chilling stuff, but when at the end Roger Waters walks over to the drum riser and insists on the ending being practiced until he’s satisfied, you suddenly realise the sheer unlikeliness of the whole proceedings.
After his promises of “never again" for 20 years, Bob Geldof has this time seemed adamant that there is never going to be another Live 8, Live Aid, or whatever you could call it next time. It’s hard to see how he could really equal this one again, since logistically it really had no right to work (if the Hyde Park police had had their way then the London crowd might have been sent home by Robbie Williams), and musically that many egos should never have been put in that confined a space. Can music change the world? Honestly, I have no idea. But on July 2, 2005 it sure as hell felt like it did. DVDs can never replace being there, but watching some moments from the event again, it somehow feels like it can do.