Live 8 takes off


July 4, 2005


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, Phil Collins).


1: Mile that the Live 8 crowd stretched along Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

5: Minutes the Johannesburg crowd stood and applauded Nelson Mandela.

50: Percent of the 20,000-person capacity filled by fans at the Japanese venue.

60th: Birthday celebrated onstage Saturday by Zimbabwe singer Thomas Mapfumo at the all-African show in Cornwall, England.

1981: 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 London concert.

1 million: Spectators that Philly organizers claimed were at their show. It was probably closer to a few hundred thousand.

26.4 million: Number of text messages sent to ''UNITE'' in support of the Live 8 cause.

$25 billion: The amount of aid Bob Geldof is demanding from the nations participating in next week's Group of Eight summit meeting.


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.

Cutting confusingly 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 fast-forward.

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 before.

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 Schroeder piano.

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 beep, yeah.

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' album sales.