Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 17, 2006)
When Paul McCartney and U2 launched Live 8 with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, they crooned “It was 20 years ago today”. That reference to 1985’s Live Aid wasn’t perfectly correct; Live 8 took place on July 2 2005, while Live Aid was July 13 1985. But hey, that’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?
Live Aid existed to raise money for famine relief. On the other hand, Live 8 solicited no funds. Prior to the event, the official site said this: “Live 8 is part of a day of action across the world which kick-starts The Long Walk to Justice that calls on the leaders of the world’s richest countries to act when they meet in Gleneagles on 6th-9th July. On July 2nd in London, Edinburgh, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris and Rome millions will be coming together to call for complete debt cancellation, more and better aid and trade justice for the world’s poorest people. Live 8 is calling for people across the world to unite in one call – in 2005 it is your voice we are after, not your money.”
Like Live Aid, Live 8 used concerts to bring attention to its issues. While Live Aid offered two massive shows – one in London, the other in Philadelphia – Live 8 broadened out even more. It presented new concerts in Philly and London but also performances in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Moscow and Barrie, Canada. A July 6 show in Edinburgh also took place. These included a long roster of bands from a mix of popular genres, all in the attempt to promote the cause.
Did this succeed? Good question, one that I can’t answer – and I don’t think its organizers really know either. But it certainly has good intentions, and the DVD release of the event adds even more exposure – plus some money as well. Some of the release’s royalties “will go to the Band Aid Trust for the relief of hunger and poverty in Africa”.
That’s all well and good, but few will buy the DVD if it doesn’t deliver the musical goods. Here’s a look at what this package provides and my impressions of the music.
DVD ONE (two hours, 34 minutes, one second):
Set list: Paul McCartney and U2 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; U2 “Beautiful Day”, “Vertigo”, “One”; Coldplay “In My Place”, “Bittersweet Symphony” (with Richard Ashcroft), “Fix You”; Elton John “The Bitch Is Back”, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, “Children of the Revolution” (with Pete Doherty); Dido & Youssou N’Dour “7 Seconds”; Stereophonics “Bartender and the Thief”; REM “Everybody Hurts”, “Man On the Moon”; Ms. Dynamite “Dy-Na-Mi-Tee”; Keane “Somewhere Only We Know”; Black Eyed Peas “Where Is the Love”, “Let’s Get It Started”, “Get Up Stand Up” (with Stephen Marley); Duran Duran “Wild Boys” (from Rome); Bob Geldof “I Don’t Like Mondays”; Muse “Time Is Running Out” (from Paris); Travis “Sing”; Kaiser Chiefs “I Predict a Riot”, “Everyday I Love You Less and Less”; UB40 “Reasons” (with Hunterz and the Dohl Blasters), “Red Red Wine”; Green Day “American Idiot” (from Berlin); Snoop Dogg “Signs”, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”; Bon Jovi “Livin’ On a Prayer”; Annie Lennox “Why”, “Sweet Dreams”.
Impressions of the acts I already like: The McCartney/U2 pairing is cool for what it is, but their version won’t make anyone throw away their copy of the Pepper’s album. Macca isn’t in good voice, and the song’s so short they never catch fire. I like the idea, but the reality is lackluster. U2 sound good on the rest of their numbers, though nothing revelatory occurs.
I’m happy Elton John trotted out a trio of rockers for his set. He too often forgets his feisty side, what with all his ballads, so it’s good to hear him rock a bit. Unfortunately, his current band lacks punch, so the renditions of “Fighting” and “Bitch” are lackluster.
Elton’s duet with Doherty became the most infamous aspect of Live 8 due to Doherty’s obviously impaired state. I must admit Doherty’s not as far gone as I expected, but he clearly a) is pretty wasted, and b) barely knows the song. Hey, chalk it up as a “rock ‘n’ roll moment”, something occasionally endearing during the usual smooth shows.
Duran Duran sound fine with “Wild Boys”, but they also fail to do anything noteworthy with it. Stereophonics put on a great live show, and we get a little taste of that here, though “Thief” isn’t one of their better tunes. Lennox offers maybe the most memorable track on DVD One with a heartbreaking “Why”. “Sweet Dreams” is a little more by the numbers, but it works fine.
Impressions of the acts I don’t like, don’t care about or don’t know: I must admit Green Day rock pretty hard with “Idiot”. They’ve always annoyed me, but this number makes me wonder if I’ve shortchanged them over the years. I’ve also never cared for Bon Jovi, but I can’t question the catchiness of “Prayer”, and they deliver a solid version of that old stalwart here.
On the other hand, I actively dislike Snoop and Black Eyed Peas. Perhaps that’s because they’re two of the most overexposed acts around today, or maybe it’s because they suck. Nothing in their performances makes me think more highly of them, unfortunately. They’re still annoying.
Whose bright idea was it to follow U2 with Coldplay? The latter are pretty obvious imitators of the former, so the direct comparison doesn’t seem flattering to Coldplay. Bizarrely, Chris Martin has even stolen Bono’s comment about “thanks for giving us a great life”; he’s been saying that since 2001, so it’s odd Martin makes a similar remark here. I suppose Coldplay sound okay, though I can’t say they impress me. And does Martin really believe “Bittersweet Symphony” is the greatest song ever written? If so, the dude needs to hear some more songs – “Bittersweet” doesn’t even have an original melody, since it borrows from the Stones’ “The Last Time”.
Dido benefits from the presence of guest Youssou N’Dour on “7 Seconds”, but he still can’t help make this a memorable tune; it seems bland and forgettable. REM have never been favorites of mine, though they sound very good here, especially during the energetic take of “Man on the Moon”. Michael Stipe looks like a moron with his painted-on mask, though. Ms. Dynamite’s rap/jazz fusion is just as annoying as her name; I’ll definitely skip this irritating track in the future.
Moving along, Keane are perfectly adequate, with a moderately catchy tune that leaves little lasting impact. Geldof gives us an effective version of his greatest hit, while Muse offer a lively though somewhat generic rock number. Their segment suffers from some of the DVD’s most annoying camerawork and editing, unfortunately.
Travis remind me too much of Dave Matthews Band, and that ain’t a positive in my book. Kaiser Chiefs aren’t bad, as they’re energetic and moderately distinctive. They also put on an active performance; I saw them open for Foo Fighters last year, and they definitely made a positive impression on the crowd. I’ve always disliked UB40’s annoying reggae-lite, and they do nothing here to change my mind.
DVD TWO (two hours, 32 minutes):
Set list: Destiny’s Child “Survivor”, “Girl”; Razorlight “Somewhere Else”, “Golden Touch”; Bryan Adams “All For Love” (from Toronto); Kanye West “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”; Madonna “Like a Prayer”, “Ray of Light”, “Music”; Will Smith “Getting’ Jiggy Wit’ It”, “Switch”, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”; Brian Wilson “Good Vibrations” (from Berlin); Snow Patrol “Run”; Toby Keith “Stays In Mexico”; The Killers “All These Things That I’ve Done”; Dave Matthews Band “American Baby”; Daniel Powter “Bad Day” (from Berlin); Linkin Park “In the End”, “Numb” (with Jay-Z); Joss Stone “Super Duper Love”, “Some Kind of Wonderful”; Jars of Clay “Show You Love”; Scissor Sisters “Laura”, “Take Your Mama”; Alicia Keys “For All We Know”; Velvet Revolver “Fall to Pieces”; Def Leppard “Pour Some Sugar On Me”; Jet “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (from Toronto); Sarah McLachlan and Josh Groban “Angel”; Sting “Message In a Bottle”, “Driven to Tears”, “Every Breath You Take”.
Impressions of the acts I already like: Madonna comes across well with her three tracks. Granted, it does seem a little tacky that she uses a grown-up famine survivor as a prop during “Prayer”, but it’s not a tremendous sin. Maddy sounds good and features songs that stand out in such a large setting, though she makes “Music” run far too long.
Another Live Aid participant, Sting makes a cool choice and reprises his set from 1985. However, he played in a stripped-down manner then, whereas he goes for the full band here. That selection works, as Sting brings out life and passion in the songs I’d thought had been beaten to death years ago. Sting can be dull on stage, but he does a nice job here.
Impressions of the acts I don’t like, don’t care about or don’t know: Kanye West delivers a powerhouse performance of “Diamonds”. I stopped caring about rap 15 years ago, but if “Diamonds” is representative of his stuff, I may have to give him a closer listen. Destiny Child’s music is moderately entertaining but forgettable. However, Beyonce looks really hot, so I’ll say nothing negative about their performance, even though I suspect some of it wasn’t live.
Bryan Adams was one of the very first live acts I ever saw; as an unknown, he opened for the Kinks in early 1982. We booed him, and I haven’t warmed up to him since that time. At least his one number – performed solo and acoustic – was unoffensive. I suppose I can say the same about Eighties metal dinosaurs Def Leppard – they ain’t good, but they ain’t terrible.
Velvet Revolver impressed me with their “Come On, Come In” from the Fantastic Four soundtrack. Unfortunately, “Fall to Pieces” is noticeably less interesting. It’s a forgettable ballad with little of the power I heard from “Come On”. At least Jet deliver some energy with their tune – I might have to give them more of a listen in the future.
Who the hell are Razorlight, and why does their singer wear a self-consciously goofy hat? I can’t answer either, but I can say they’re not bad. They blend in with many of the other little-known rock acts found on these DVDs, but they’re perfectly listenable.
Back when I still liked rap in the late Eighties and early Nineties, I kind of dug DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Unfortunately, I’ve not thought much about Will Smith’s solo career, as he does little more than rip off song melodies and he fails to make them distinctive. He can be pleasant enough, though he sounds obnoxious and abrasive during his short set here. Maybe he feels a need to prove himself as a rapper since he’s become best known as an actor, but I definitely didn’t enjoy his work here. I was quite impressed how well the audience knew the lyrics to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, though.
If you saw Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, you’ll know what to expect from his rendition of “Good Vibrations”. It’s a professional stab, but it doesn’t present much energy, largely because Wilson remains a tentative, awkward stage presence.
Back in the “I’ve barely heard of this rock act” category comes Snow Patrol. Actually, I recognize the name only because they opened for U2 in the summer of 2005 – I think. Anyway, they play some generic dirge rock that I can barely remember minutes after it ended.
We get a rare glimpse of country music with Toby Keith, though modern country really is pretty rock-heavy, so his appearance wasn’t much of a musical departure. Given his well-known right-wing proclivities, though, Keith is possibly the oddest participant. His tune doesn’t do anything for me, but I can’t say I actively dislike it.
The Killers provide another mediocre rock act, though at least they look spiffy in their white outfits. I’ve already alluded to my dislike of Dave Matthews Band, and their tune doesn’t dispel that impression. Daniel Powter seems to fall into the Sensitive Singer/Songwriter category – that’s not one of my favorites, and I don’t care for his performance. Or maybe it’s just his dorky hat.
I thought Linkin Park’s form of rock/rap went out of style after its 15 minutes, but I guess they’re still out there. And they still don’t do anything for me, even when Jay-Z comes out to help. Joss Stone has a big voice and a hot body, and she uses both to good effect. I just hope she avoids the oversinging pitfalls of another big-voiced babe: Mariah Carey.
Jars of Clay’s “Show You Love” sounds so much like U2’s “The First Time” that I initially thought it was a cover version. That’s not a good impression to make – maybe Jars should write their own song. Scissor Sisters seem catchy enough, though “Take Your Mama” reminds me way too much of George Michael’s “Freedom 90”. Alicia Keys is arguably the most beautiful woman in music today, though Beyonce’s sexier. Unfortunately, just because she’s a babe, that doesn’t mean I like her bland solo tune much.
One of my friends loves Sarah McLachlan, and I’ve even seen the Canadian songstress live because of that. She’s not a very interesting concert performer, and the addition of weepy nancy boy Josh Groban makes things worse.
DVD THREE (two hours, 34 minutes, 45 seconds):
Set list: Mariah Carey “Make It Happen”, “Hero”; Vusi Mahlsela “When You Come Back” (from Johannesburg); Roxy Music “Do the Strand” (from Berlin); Maroon 5 “This Love”, “She Will Be Loved”; Neil Young “Four Strong Winds” (from Toronto); Pet Shop Boys “Go West” (from Moscow); Robbie Williams “We Will Rock You”, “Let Me Entertain You”, “Feel”, “Angels”; Keith Urban “Somebody Like You”; Placebo “Twenty Years” (from Paris); Rob Thomas “Lonely No More”; Faithless “We Come 1” (from Berlin); Stevie Wonder “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”, “Higher Ground” (with Rob Thomas), “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (with Adam Levine), “So What the Fuss/Superstition”; The Who “Who Are You”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”; Pink Floyd “Speak to Me”, “Breathe”, “Money”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Comfortably Numb”; Paul McCartney “Get Back”, “Drive My Car” (with George Michael), “Helter Skelter”, “The Long and Winding Road”, “Hey Jude”.
The oldsters dominate DVD Three – at least in regard to the acts I like. McCartney puts on a perfectly competent performance, but not one that sizzles. “Helter Skelter” – not played live before 2004 – provides the biggest highlight, though everything else sounds just fine. Macca simply doesn’t stand out, perhaps because the emotion of the Pink Floyd reunion makes his appearance anti-climactic.
By the way, don’t expect much from “Hey Jude”, as McCartney doesn’t do the whole song. He just plays the “na-na-na-na” part, joined by other stars. He segues from “Long and Winding Road” straight into that part. Oh, and George Michael adds almost nothing to “Drive My Car”. He chimes in some backup vocals but doesn’t establish much of a presence for himself.
The Who trot out the usual well-worn anthems with a decent performance. I don’t mind the fact that we’ve heard these two songs eight million times, but they don’t bring out anything fresh or invigorating. They sound okay and that’s about it.
Impressions of the acts I don’t like, don’t care about or don’t know: without question, the Pink Floyd reunion was the most eagerly anticipated aspect of Live 8. Does it live up to the hype? I find it hard to say because I never got into the Floyd. However, they sound pretty good, and I find nothing about their performance that I could regard as a disappointment. They also look like they had a blast, which fuels the fire for those who hope that a reunion tour will occur.
My only experience with Carey as a live performer came during an atrocious post-9/11 benefit show here in DC. This was also not long after her public meltdown, and she seemed dazed on stage. She put on a terrible performance that was one of the day’s many low-lights. Carey’s work at Live 8 isn’t much better. She performs like a model from The Price Is Right; she prances awkwardly around the stage and gesticulates but doesn’t demonstrate much presence. Carey sings in her usual wild fashion that overdoes everything as she obliterates each song.
I can’t say that Robbie Williams’ music does much for me, but he owns the stage. He’s the opposite of Carey: he lacks great vocal skills, but he knows how to dominate an audience. Confident to the edge of cockiness, he struts and preens with abandon and makes his short set a highlight.
Anyone out there ever heard of Vusi Mahlasela? I can’t imagine too many hands are raised right now, at least not outside of Africa. (Do we have any African readers? Drop me a line!) He provides a peppy little number, and I appreciate its inclusion since it broadens the DVD’s musical horizons.
Another collection of oldsters comes with Roxy Music’s performance. Not quite as heralded as the Floyd reunion, I’m not even sure if Roxy Music came back specifically for this show or if they’ve been a working entity for a while now. Anyway, I’m not a fan, but “Do the Strand” sounds pretty good.
We return to more generic modern rock via Maroon 5. The singer sounds like Dave Matthews to me, though with a little Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys tossed into the mix. That’s not an appealing combination for me.
Speaking of PSB, they do “Go West”. My best friend adores PSB – I don’t. Since I’m writing this review, I say thumb’s down on their campy nonsense. At least Neil Young’s tune gives us a stark and engaging performance.
More country comes to us via Keith Urban. Isn’t this the dude shagging Nicole Kidman? I can’t not hate someone in that position, so musical merits or not – boo! All girlfriend-related issues aside, I have no real comment about his music; I don’t care much for country, but his work seems inoffensive.
Too bad I can’t say the same for the annoying Placebo. Their music doesn’t cause problems, but the singer’s whiny voice gets on my nerves. At least Rob Thomas doesn’t irritate. Indeed, his bland tune provokes virtually no response in either direction. Faithless don’t innovate, but their 80s-throwback sound seems peppy and surprisingly interesting.
Philly’s final act, Stevie Wonder ends things there with a whimper. Stevie simply isn’t a very interesting live performer, and his decision to duet with Rob Thomas for “Higher Ground” and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”. Why mar those classics with those mediocrities? Stevie’s set is a lackluster conclusion to the erratic and unexceptional Philly concert. London offered a much stronger collection of acts and performances.
As for the DVD’s visual presentation, Live 8 offers competent imagery most of the time, but that’s about it. I get the feeling this material comes from the original broadcast, as it looks like it was done “on the fly”. This means a lot of the same sorts of shots: swooping cameras, crowd images and close-ups.
I think this works fine most of the time, but more than a few bad choices occur. For example, during Madonna’s set, we hear the crowd cheer loudly for something she did. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what, as the camera stays focused on the choir that accompanied her. The shows could have used a re-edit after the fact to pick better shot selections.
Nonetheless, this is an acceptable program. It never looks great, but it usually fares acceptably well. At least it avoids the kind of quick-cutting that mars so many modern concert presentations.
Ultimately, Live 8 is a hit or miss piece. It includes a lot of good music and a lot of junk. Given the vast array of performers, though, that becomes inevitable. At least the variety ensures that music fans are likely to find a lot that they’ll enjoy.