A Bob Geldof live music charity meets politics project is often met with some scepticism. The anti-charity brigade claim that 1985's Live Aid (geddit?) effort, which he did with Midge Ure, merely reinforced the stereotype of Africa as a continent full of beggars, discouraging tourism and investment. Of course, these critics offer little comfort to the kid who, if she survives, may be brain damaged from malnutrition, diseases that cheap medication could cure, and retarded due to simply being too tired to play. So it was inevitable that a second charity music spectacular would hit world stages at some point. One day 20 years later, in 10 cities (including London, New York, Philadelphia, Jozi, Berlin, Paris, Moscow and London) 1400 artists and bands played concerts in support of Live 8.
What Live 8 was all about
This time, Geldof tried a different tack. The concerts angled for debt relief and political change to be delivered from the top - by the big 8 leaders - people like George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and so on. It was meant to appeal to these leaders when they met at Gleneagles for the Africa summit.
The first DVD's intro makes it clear that the new Live 8, unlike Live Aid, isn't a charity - they don't want your money. They want your Name. Sign the petition on the site. This might eventually be some money involved but presumably this would be gathered through taxes and not just from the people who were kind enough, but from everyone. Sort of a give now, pay later, type of thing. Which Americans understand, being the world's biggest and baddest debtors. These guys borrow money from the World Bank, use it to bomb the world, and then refuse to pay it back! Trippy stuff.
Anyhow, back to the point...
Huge stars put their names behind the series of concerts - the list is too long to include so go to Live8 for the full listing. Two million watched the show live, and billions watched in on TV. And in the notes for the resulting 4 DVD box set that's been released for the Christmas season by EMI Music, Geldof describes his moment of weeping triumph at Gleneagles when the G8 doubled aid to Africa (promising 50 billion dollars) and cancelled debt in many countries.
Did the G8 watch the concert? Who knows.
Some say Geldof didn't realise that much of this aid was already planned. He also didn't expect it to be so hard to force them to pay up. And he didn't see that conditions attached to this aid would include political controls that served the socially conservative and selfish ends of people like George Bush, and prevented aid reaching parts of Africa.
Others say Geldof simply sold out, corrupted by power and wealth, and that the stage was far, far too dominated by European and American stars.
But you probably don't care too much about that if the reason you're reading this is to decide whether to spoil someone on Christmas day by buying the 4DVD set.
Is it worth buying?
Well it doesn't come cheap. But it's a unique concert, not so much for its message as for its absolute hugeness and giganticness. If you're a fan of almost any major stars, you will find some of your heroes on this bill. There's almost everyone who counts - from 60s icons like Paul McCartney, Neil Young, and Pink Floyd, to 70s groundbreakers like The Who, Roxy Music, and James Brown, Stevie Wonder, the big names just keep coming. Robbie Williams burns up the stage. Madonna and U2 and Elton John are on the bill. Destiny's Child waggle their way through a tight set that includes the brilliant "Survivor". Madonna, Mariah Carey, Will Young and Kanye West deliver their goods.
Some of the acts have more substance than others. Unfortunately, many of the crowd pullers have never written a song about anything other than the ongoing career of their overactive groins. They don't appear that up on the issues that inspired that concert, and certainly haven't written much politically and socially inspiring material. Sex God Robbie Williams gets away with it, because he's the best at it. Swaggering and winking through "Let me Entertain You", kissing the girls in the front row and grinning at their shock, he's the ultimate pop performer.
The live sets are mostly a fantastic, fast moving education in what's happened in the last 30 years in British and American rock and pop. Stevie Wonder burns up the stage, bouncing on his piano stool, a stellar band behind him, blowing the audience away with songs that are actually about poverty and protest.
The biggest names' careers span decades, while some of the more lightweight current big sellers may not exist in a year. Former Libertines frontman Pete Doherty, for instance, if he doesn't lay off the smack and candy. His performance with Elton John is an embarrassing - um... shambles that suggests that - at least on the night - he was real gone. Listeners new to pop who don't know the old acts might be put off Neil Young a bit, who brings his averagely talented wife onstage to sing a featureless song. He may well be promoting his new album, but it sure didn't help his cause (or anyone's) to play the songs.
It's not all good. But that's more to do with the night that was, not the production or editing of the DVD, which is slickly put together. It features audience shots mainly from the Golden Circle (they should call it the Pink Circle - it's chock-a-block with white arms waving) and not much action from the back of the crowd but the music and its personalities are vividly captured. Extras include Pink Floyd rehearsing and other behind the scenes special features.
If there's anything you don't dig, here's the good news: Skipping takes you from track to track and the annoying movie star appearances announcing the rock and pop stars are coded as individual tracks.
You can sit and watch this DVD. You can put it on at parties - it sure beats staring at the bookshelves. And it's for a good cause. Even if not much money reaches the people its meant to reach, 30 million people felt strongly enough to put their name on a list of those who demanded worldwide fiscal change.
Well, make that 30 million and 1. I signed up too. Go do the same here if you like - what harm can it possibly do? It only takes two minutes.
Buy the DVD set (it's about R479 for the 4 DVDS) at most good music stores.
- Jean Barker
For those who missed the 1980s: sincere congratulations to you. But even though you escaped unscathed, the people from that time live on, and in them live their memories. Live 8 is the latest project from one of these people - a guy called Bob Geldof.
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