Bob Geldof never stopped trying to help Africa and draw attention to global problems… or keep his name in the headlines, depending upon your point of view. Either way he was once again the star of the day 16 years back as the Live 8 Concerts took place.
The 2005 event came almost 20 years to the day after the more famous Live Aid, and would seem like it was a natural sequel to it. However, even though he organized it with help from Midge Ure – just as they had done with Live Aid – Geldof disputed the comparison. “This is not Live Aid 2,” he said, “these concerts are the start point for the long walk to justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard.” Be it is it may, the day-long Saturday event did have a lot in common with the ’80s Super Concert besides just the name. Once again it was a showcase of worldwide musical talent in concert trying to raise funds for charity, primarily ones helping alleviate poverty in Africa. The timing was set to nearly coincide with the global G8 Conference in Scotland that month and in fact, the final bit of the event took place July 6, in Edinburgh, the day the world leaders met there.
Similar to Live Aid, but more ambitious. Instead of just London and Philadelphia, they decided to stage events in the other G8 nations as well, plus South Africa. Therefore shows took place in Moscow’s Red Square, Berlin, near Tokyo, suburbs of Toronto, Paris, Rome, Johannesburg and a hastily organized set in Cornwall, England. That one had all-African musicians, to deflect criticism that there were too few African artists involved (Youssou N’Dour being the only notable shown on the largest stages.) Geldof answered that one honestly noting their aim “was for the biggest global stars to ensure media attention and a large TV audience.” No matter how politically incorrect it seemed, there were few African musicians who were well-known enough to capture American or British imaginations and have them tune in en masse. Which they did, with the shows televised live on MTV and VH1, the BBC and over 100 other networks around the world. ABC broadcast a two hour primetime highlights show that night.
There was plenty to take in from around the world. Billie Joe Armstrong infuriated some in Berlin by singing “American Idiot” with its lyrics including “Seig heil!”. They along with Audioslave, Roxy Music and a set by Brian Wilson in which he jammed eight Beach Boys songs into 20 minutes were international highlights there amongst a roster of German artists. The Pet Shop Boys are popular everywhere as shown by them headlining the Russian show, and doing a full dozen songs… well, 11 actually but they opened and closed with “It’s A Sin.” The Barrie show, north of Toronto, was a who’s who of Canadian musical talent including Bryan Adams, Bruce Cockburn, Celine Dion, Blue Rodeo, Jann Arden, the Tragically Hip and Neil Young closing (along with a few of his friends) with a rousing rendition of “Oh Canada.”
The mayor of Philadelphia said “a million” people turned out for their outdoor event; the crowd was so huge and stretched along the road so far it was anybody’s guess, but certainly numbers were into the hundreds of thousands. In one of the event’s more poignant moments Will Smith led the crowd in synchronized finger-snapping every three seconds to represent how often a child dies in Africa. Musically, Smith went back to his ’90s sitcom rapper persona and the crowd got to cheer the likes of the Black-eyed Peas, Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Sarah McLachlan and a fine seven-song finale from Stevie Wonder.
The cornerstone though was at London’s Wembley Stadium, just as it had been 20 years earlier. The 66 000 tickets were distributed via a text-message lottery, with over a million people paying 1.50 pounds to enter. Paul McCartney and Bono opened the show with a take on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and the likes of Keane, Travis, Elton John, Bob Geldof himself (doing “I Don’t Like Mondays” with a bit of help from Travis), Madonna, Coldplay (joined by The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft for “Bittersweet Symphony”) and Robbie Williams soon followed. An anticipated (by some at least) Spice Girls reunion didn’t occur but better yet, a rare Pink Floyd one did. For the first time in 24 years, Roger Waters and David Gilmour appeared together, doing five songs including “Money.” It would turn out to be the last time the “classic” lineup of the band played together; Waters and Gilmour’s mutual disdain soon overtook chances of more work and Richard Wright died a couple of years later.
After all that, the July 6 Scottish show seemed a bit of an anti-climax. The fans there got to hear speeches on the state of the world from people like George Clooney, Susan Sarandon and of course, Bono, plus sets from The Proclaimers, Wet Wet Wet, Midge Ure, and to finish it off, oddly, James Brown.
The event was similar to Live Aid, but received a lot more negative attention than the first one. Scottish police were mad the concert in Edinburgh was set up without their permission or input. The Baltimore Sun called it a “ravenous orgy of celebrity ego”; some complained that while the artists at the Philly show weren’t paid, they did get expensive gift bags with gifts ranging from custom guitars to Hugo Boss clothing. The London show, while generating a good amount of money, had to pay over a million pounds to another charity, the Prince’s Trust, because they usurped the stadium the latter had booked for a show that day. And some respected charities suggested that while all was fine and well with giving money and food to the poor in Africa, it was meaningless unless something was done about “corrupt regimes” in charge of many of the poorest nations and a peace-keeping force was sent to quell civil wars in countries like the Congo and Uganda.
For all that, it did raise millions of dollars, both on the day, and later through sales of DVDs of the concert. The American release sold over 900 000 copies alone (good for 9X platinum in DVD status). And whether coincidentally or not, the G8 leaders did agree to increase foreign aid and write off debts from some of Africa’s poorest lands during their meetings there. Will there be a Live 9 or Live Aid 40th Anniversary? Well, no one has suggested anything but as long as there are poor people in Africa and Bob Geldof is still around, we wouldn’ t bet against it.