Sunday, July 15, 2012

Music Sunday: Live Aid Anniversary Edition

Twenty-seven years ago last Friday, Live Aid was unleashed on the world. I remember that day; I spent it sitting in front of the television watching the coverage on MTV. I saw nearly the whole broadcast. I might have napped a couple of times during the day, but I got up early and stayed until the end. It was an amazing, interesting day.

Oh, not all of the performance were wonderful, to be sure. But even some of the not-so-good performances were fun to watch, and it was all in a good cause, to raise money and awareness regarding victims of famine in Ethiopia. The whole thing was organized by Bob Geldof, who had earlier organized the Band Aid benefit single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?", and Midge Ure, and they did an amazing job considering the logistics of putting together two all-star concerts that would take place simultaneously in two hemispheres. And, yes, there were criticisms later about the money-raising aspects of the show, and accusations (some of them long after the fact) that not all the money went where it was supposed to go. Be that as it may, it was a remarkable day of music, put together and pulled off much more successfully than anyone could have expected.

One of the most vivid memories I have of the day is the performance by U2. I had probably heard of the band before that day, but I wasn't really aware of them. Looking back, though, I think one of the most remarkable aspects of their performance is being able to see the beginnings of Bono's ability to hold a huge audience in the palm of his hand, especially here, as he sang "Bad", which has come to be one of my favorite U2 songs.

And, yes, he really can do that palm of the hand thing. I saw U2 on its Oakland, California, stop during its Zoo TV tour in1992, and witnessed this live and in person.

However, at Live Aid, Bono was still an amateur in the art of holding a big audience. Later that afternoon, also at the London venue of the concert, Freddie Mercury and Queen held the master class in uniting an audience into one entity and turning them to the band's purpose. The performance has been cited widely as the best live rock performance ever, and I'm inclined to agree. No, really. Just watch. It's remarkable:

There have been attempts since to recreate the success of Live Aid, mostly to lesser success. I think it can be compared to Woodstock in that respect. The 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, for all of its problems, was a once in a lifetime event, and attempts to recreate it (notably the Rolling Stones' disastrous free concert at Altamont Speedway and the efforts to hold sequels to the original Woodstock in 1979, 1989, and 1994) were clearly not in a class with the original.

Speaking of Woodstock, Crosby Stills, and Nash, who appeared at Woodstock in 1969 (in one of their first live performances), appeared at the Philadelphia venue of Live Aid, singing "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", among other songs:

Their performance that day isn't their best ever, vocally speaking, but as someone who remembers the original Woodstock (and spent the weekend wishing I was there, despite the rain and mud and logistical problems), I appreciate the link between the two events. And, having seen CSN perform live, I can attest to the fact that when they are on vocally, the results are beautiful.

The Who also performed at both Woodstock and Live Aid, but with a slightly different line-up since, by the time of Live Aid, Keith Moon had already died.

Also performing at both Live Aid and Woodstock were Joan Baez, Carlos Santana and Neil Young, who performed as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young at Woodstock. Baez even managed to invoke Woodstock as part of her performance:

I'm not sure if Live Aid really was that generation's Woodstock, as Baez called it, but it was a remarkable musical event.

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