Live Music + Gig Reviews

Live 8: London

2 July 2005

In what then became an achingly slow build up to the more established “headline” bands, the eclectic mix of genres proved to have its ups and downs. As was predicted, reggae crossover act UB40 raised voices a notch singing along to Red Red Wine, only for Snoop Dogg to dash the whole spirit of the occasion by stuffing his materialist hip-hop into our faces, urging us to remember his “motherf***ing name” rather than the vital cause that brought us here.

At least Razorlight‘s egotism was used to urge us to “sign the f***ing petition”, but I could not help feeling concern for the sheer indignation etched across the faces of the elderly couple stood beside me.

As evening set in, the crowd realising “bloody hell we’re only halfway through”, Bob Geldof again turned our attention away from music and popular culture, showing once again the harrowing video of starving Ethiopians from the original Live Aid, backed by The Cars‘ single Drive. If these images are still relevant today, something is undoubtedly wrong in the world. However the presentation of Birhan Woldu, a survivor from this video, assured spectators across the world that a change could be made, which set the evening’s entertainment up perfectly.

It has been said that Madonna played into the hands of Live 8’s cynics by “shooing” the young Ethiopian offstage during her set. But such critics overlooked the fact that Woldu’s face was a picture of awkward embarrassment as Madge strutted invitingly in front of her during Like A Prayer. Letting her leave the stage, to rapturous applause, was appropriate. Needless to say the queen of pop played a blinder during her three-song extravaganza.

Unfortunately this meant that Snow Patrol and The Killers, who amassed the same number of songs between them, experienced marginal influence in comparison. Indeed the relative inexperience of Joss Stone, Scissor Sisters (who bravely debuted a new track at the close of their three-song set) and Velvet Revolver told, as the spectacle side of Live 8 went into something of a slump.

This was instantly corrected by an exquisite set from Sting, another of those with a true and deep passion for solving African poverty. Few voices heard today were so powerful and soulful, and any tiredness within Hyde Park was forgotten as limbs set about flailing to Message In A Bottle and Every Breath You Take.

Sadly, on the flipside, there are always the stars who do not seem to get it. Step forward Miss Mariah Carey. Witnessing the pop diva ordering her servile roadie back and forth bringing water, plugging her new single, and using an African children’s choir as little more than backing dancers, did more harm than good. Nobody signed up for this, I can be sure.

One wonders whether Sir Bob had expected such an outcome when setting out the running order, because if ever a crowd pickup was needed it was now, and if there was anyone to do it, it was… David Beckham? Looking as confused as his 150,000 audience, the England football captain and designer clothes horse bravely soldiered through his introduction to his “good friend” Robbie Williams, the show was set for the taking.

Suddenly one of the largest assembled crowds ever found itself in the palm of Stoke’s richest export, following dance manoeuvres, following impeccably the ritual clap-along of his cover of Queen‘s We Will Rock You and singing stridently to Let Me Entertain You, Feel and Angels. Love him or hate him, briefly London belonged to Robbie.

Moving from new stars to old, the final crescendo to Live 8 began with The Who, a band who simply overshadow modern comparisons, through having the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll at their fingertips. The world’s coolest granddad Pete Townshend still has the most exciting visual guitar style in existence, and was clearly buzzing as we joyfully bounced to Who Are You? and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Sounding as accomplished as in his heyday, Roger Daltrey’s screaming drove the masses into a delirious frenzy, and the bar was yet again raised for what makes a knockout live show.

The next band needed no introduction. A gentle, pulsing thud from the stage drew yells of delight, and then it happened. Roger Waters strolled into view beside David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, and with a call of “Breathe, breathe in the air”, Pink Floyd made their return after more than 20 years away. Far more than just adding their faces to the Live 8 bill, the band gave a performance worthy of its place in history, Breathe and Money having lost none of their ensnaring majesty, with Gilmour’s voice sounding particularly top notch. As Waters declared, “this is quite emotional”, amid the opening chords of Wish You Were Here, dedicated to Syd Barrett, my Dad (forgive me for mentioning), back home on the sofa, shed a tear. For a generation of parents witnessing this moment on TV, let alone those around me at the stage, the significance of this event may be inappropriate to put into words. Of course they over-ran, each single song fills an allocated set time, but it cannot be denied that, as the greatest ever guitar solo rings out during Comfortably Numb, with the words Make Poverty History scrawling themselves into the virtual wall behind, nothing could touch this.

No, not even Paul McCartney. The great Beatle made amends for his earlier weak performance by bringing events to a rousing finale, with a little help from his excellent band, and the unannounced George Michael. Get Back, Drive My Car and Helter Skelter are not his best musical moments, but the very presence of this living legend was enough to leave every spectator hollering their appreciation. The Long And Winding Road, specially dedicated to the proposed march on Edinburgh for the G8 summit meeting, raised lighters and voices in their thousands, adding to the expectation that support for this cause will indeed be sufficient to make a real difference.

With the stage filling up with stars for the outro of Hey Jude, the sense of togetherness was thick in the air, epitomised by the joyful singing of the African Children’s Choir.

Leaving Hyde Park, there was no doubt that today something special had taken place, with true cause for remembrance for so many reasons. All of them righteous ones.

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