At Live Aid 20 years ago, U2 gave a magnanimous performance that catapulted them to the front of a new generation of rock bands. It was a riveting 20 minutes that ended with the Irish band being unplugged so as to move onto the next act; in the history of televised rock music, it’s high on the highlight list. If any such perf existed Saturday in the 10-city Live 8, no one knows about it, as MTV opted for self promotion and “end poverty” rhetoric over the music.
Live 8’s purpose was to raise awareness of the poverty, disease and hunger that plagues Africa a week before the meeting of the G8, which will address issues concerning the continent.
Live 8 front men Bob Geldof and Bono along with the concert organizers did a spectacular job getting the word out in the media prior to the concerts — hundreds of thousands of people descended on the cities for the superstar concerts, well aware of Africa’s plight and the purpose of the music.
Geldof and Bono were a success before a single note was sounded: They had increased awareness with words of eloquence and a convincing spin. The concerts should have been phase 2, in which artists incorporate the message within their acts, increasing the collective ken about Africa through music.
Yet MTV, with its veejays and newscasters gathered in three of the cities — London, Philly and Berlin, chose to focus on its talking heads telling viewers about what had happened on various stages rather than show complete perfs. The first two hours of the telecast were absurdly frustrating; what should have a package of one highlight after another was instead glimpses of perfs, shots of crowds and the mostly banal veejays interviewing each other and a handful of musicians and celebrities.
The event was, the goofball on-air personality Rachel informed the world, “a wicked, awesome thing.” One announcer even clarified that the London audience was “primarily English”; another referred to Africa as a country. While Bono and Geldof are splendid wordsmiths capable of making the issue spellbinding and important to everyone right now, other acts spewed the messages contained on the network’s PSAs without a personal edge: Poverty kills someone every three seconds, eight men can make a difference, “educate yourself,” etc.
When a performance — of just a song, not even a whole set — made it to air, the visceral difference was immediate. Kanye West, the rare celeb who seemed to have a clue about Africa prior to two weeks ago, was stirring in his one-song perf with a string section and DJ. Madonna, too, was a striking performer; her performance followed Geldof’s introduction of a woman who had been photographed near death as a child for the first Live Aid. Interviewers tried to make a deal out of the lack of hip-hop acts 20 years ago at Live Aid. Unfortunately, no one bothered checking a list of superstars in 1985 to realize there were no superstar acts beyond Run-DMC.
And the MTV cameras had little use for the concert in Africa, airing less that two minutes from South Africa. (Shows in Rome, Moscow and Cornwall, England, were not aired at all). Would it not have been fascinating to hear the perspective of an African in a crowd as to why they were at the show? Might have been a lot more informative than some South Jersey clown sharing his enthusiasm for Def Leppard.
MTV did realize there was a bit of rock history occurring and aired four songs from the reunited Pink Floyd. Green Day’s heart-felt performance of Queen’s “We are the Champions,” a tribute to Live Aid, thankfully made it to air. And bravo to Mariah Carey, who actually gave an honest opinion about what her actual concern was in preparing for the show — song selection and how it might go over with a crowd gathered to hear rock legends.