The idea that a bunch of
aging pop icons and flash-in-the-pan wannabes can unite for a series of
much-hyped concerts and influence the leaders of the world's wealthiest
nations to end poverty in Africa is woefully naive to anyone who has studied
realpolitik, the theory that foreign policy is based on practical concerns
rather than ethics.
But that didn't stop the
man the British press call "Saint Bob" Geldof from trying.
It remains to be seen
whether Velvet Revolver's lame set at Live 8 will convince President Bush to
deliver on his promise to fund AIDS programs in Uganda, or if embattled
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin
were just waiting for encouragement from Coldplay wannabes Keane and
disposable glam-rockers the Killers to devote a share of their countries'
incomes to feeding Ethiopia.
But regardless of its
impact on the G8 Summit in Scotland later this week, Saturday's epic Live 8
concerts in London, Philadelphia, Berlin and several other cities around the
world provided an entertaining pop spectacle, with a few extraordinary
moments and a lot of self-indulgent fluff and self-congratulatory hot air --
just like the original Live Aid concerts 20 years ago (minus, thankfully,
BY THE NUMBERS
Mile that the Live 8 crowd stretched along Philadelphia's
Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Minutes the Johannesburg crowd stood and applauded Nelson
Percent of the 20,000-person capacity filled by fans at the
Birthday celebrated onstage Saturday by Zimbabwe singer
Thomas Mapfumo at the all-African show in Cornwall, England.
The last year Pink Floyd -- guitarist David Gilmour, drummer
Nick Mason, keyboard player Richard Wright and bassist Roger
Waters -- had appeared onstage together before Saturday.
160,000: People simultaneously viewing America Online's
live video feeds of the shows -- an Internet record,
according to AOL.
200,000: Spectators crammed into Hyde Park for the
million: Spectators that Philly organizers claimed were
at their show. It was probably closer to a few hundred
million: Number of text messages sent to ''UNITE'' in
support of the Live 8 cause.
billion: The amount of aid Bob Geldof is demanding from
the nations participating in next week's Group of Eight
Having watched all eight
hours of MTV's Live 8 coverage, as well as the two-hour highlights broadcast
on ABC, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't moved by some of the performances.
But the reasons were musical rather than political, and I suspect that
Linkin Park fans would agree: Try asking some who cheered the rap-rockers
jamming with Jay-Z if they can name one, let alone all, of the G8 nations.
between cities, interrupting constantly for inane commentary from idiot VJs,
and running a full slate of commercials -- hmm, I wonder if they'd consider
donating the day's profits to African relief? -- MTV's coverage was an
endurance fest. Thank God for the digital video recorder's ability to
The network that brought
us "Jackass" kicked things off with a bang as Paul McCartney joined U2 and a
quartet of costumed horn players in London's Hyde Park to rip through "Sgt.
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which Sir Paul never had performed live
Topping the list of
other high points was a four-song set by another group of British legends,
also in Hyde Park. Pink Floyd reunited in its best-known incarnation two
decades after bassist and lyricist Roger Waters split from guitarist David
Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright in one of the most
acrimonious feuds in rock history.
The aging giants of
psychedelic rock not only sounded superb on standards such as "Wish You Were
Here" and "Comfortably Numb," they seemed genuinely happy to be together
again. "It's actually quite emotional standing up here with these three guys
after all these years," a smiling Waters said. Can the inevitable reunion
tour be far behind?
Always an incendiary
performer, Chicago's own Kanye West blazed during a version of his new
single "Diamonds Are Forever" in Philadelphia, and the backing army of
female string players, all clad in black cocktail dresses, was a witty
homage to Robert Palmer. But despite his ferocious and well-informed rap
decrying the diamond trade in Sierra Leone, West displayed a disturbing
understanding of the facts about AIDS.
"My parents, who are
activists, always told me that AIDS is a man-made disease placed in Africa,
just like crack was placed in the black community," West told an MTV
interviewer. Somebody get Kanye a science book, quick.
Another fiery highlight
was Green Day's appearance in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate. The British
press reported that Saint Bob forbid artists from critiquing President Bush
or other world leaders during the shows, but California's pop-punks snarled
at Dubya during a ferocious rendition of "American Idiot," then laughed at
themselves with a gleefully incompetent cover of "We Are the Champions," a
la Queen at Live Aid.
Other prime moments
included Annie Lennox pouring her heart out as she sat at the grand piano in
London; Audioslave guitarist and Libertyville native Tom Morello tearing up
the fret board in Berlin (though you had to wonder: If Geldof could reunite
Pink Floyd, why not Rage Against the Machine?); the Black Eyed Peas joining
members of Bob Marley's family for "Get Up, Stand Up" in Philadelphia;
Madonna showing that she's learned how to sing since 1985, and the Verve
doing "Bittersweet Symphony" in London with Coldplay's Chris Martin at his
Plus, OK, I'll admit it:
It was hard not to be moved by the all-star, evening-closing "Hey Jude"
sing-along in Hyde Park. And "Na, na, na ... etc." sure beats "Feed the
world / Do they know it's Christmastime at all?"
Then there were the more
laughable, head-scratching moments. Can anyone explain why Bon Jovi was
invited? Or why the great Stevie Wonder was compelled to share the stage not
only with Rob Thomas but with Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine? Or why
Destiny's Child was back going through the motions right after announcing
its split? It took Pink Floyd 20 years to reunite; Beyonce and the girls
waited two weeks.
Mariah Carey was in fine
form vocally, but parading out a gang of African children to surround her as
she sang was way over the top. So was Geldof's shameless use of a young
Ethiopian beauty to express the gratitude of the entire African continent.
U2 didn't come close to
the inspiring spirit it had at Live Aid -- maybe the secret was Bono's
long-lost mullet, vividly recalled in flashback video -- and McCartney
should have been above dueting with George Michael on "Drive My Car." Beep
Ah, well, it was all for
a good cause: if not the end of African poverty, then at least the
inevitable "Best of the '00s" nostalgia shows and participating artists'