Saturday, July 02, 2005

It's not very PC to say so but....

Live 8 sucked.

There. I said it.

As someone who lived through the whole Live Aid experience back in the '80s, I was expecting some kind of spectacular musical extravaganza, of the kind we saw back then. Being in England, I guess I was a little spoiled, as the BBC put on a stellar show. The BBC is a government-sponsored network, so there were no commercial interruptions, but that was only a part of it. There was a layout to it - a structure if you will. A band would come onstage at Wembley, do their three or four songs, and then they'd cut back to the studio for their "this is what we're here for, give us your money" pledge drive kind of thing. Most of the best-known bands of the '80s - and some from even earlier decades - came along and played their sets without remuneration of any kind - they even had to buy their own coffee and soda - with the understanding that all of the money raised from the day would go towards famine relief in Africa.

Of course there were glitches. It was a live show, the scale of which had never been previously attempted. It was taking place on two different continents. So naturally there were occasions where a band would take the stage in Philadelphia while Britain was still showing a PR piece, and they'd have to cut to the band's song in progress. That was expected. There were points where a microphone went dead - as in the Boomtown Rats' rendition of 'Rat Trap', or when the live feed from Wembley cut out and left Philadelphia's stadium in the dark during The Who's performance. These things happen when you're doing it by the seat of your pants.

But for the most part it worked, and it worked well, raising millions of dollars in aid for Africa to feed starving children, and raising the world's consciousness about a problem most of us had been in the dark about.

So when I heard that Bob Geldof et al had planned another Live Aid-esque spectacular for July 2nd which was aimed at making a pointed statement to the leaders of the G8 conference on how we would all very much like them to stop making life so freaking tough for folks in Africa and other third-world nations, I was most interested. When I heard that bands like U2 and Pink Floyd and The Who and REM were going to be making an appearance, I was even more interested. I wasn't quite sure how they were going to arrange the feeds from the seven or eight different countries which were hosting concerts - particularly because of the aforementioned problems with scheduling at Live Aid - but I figured they had come far enough along from Live Aid that they had ironed all of this problem out.

Well today was the day of the show. So we tuned to VH1 - the only source for this concert in the USA - in anticipation of seeing the best of today's bands in tandem with the huge stars of yesterday. Who wouldn't love a free show (as they made clear this was NOTHING to do with money) with this kind of line-up?

I can honestly say that I've never been more disgusted with a show in my entire life. With the exception of Benny Hill shows, but then you know in advance what you're going to get with that, so it's really your fault if you're dumb enough to watch it.

Instead of seeing a band come onstage and perform a set - cut to announcers to do their spiel - back to the stage for the next band, what we got was a couple of peppy announcers who seemed to have clones of themselves all over the place, who were talking to the crowds, talking about Live 8 (even though some of them weren't that knowledgeable about the facts), and generally just talking to hear themselves talk. WHILE THE FREAKING BAND PLAYED ON THE STAGE A COUPLE OF HUNDRED YARDS AWAY!!!

Oh they'd cut in for a song every now and then. They might even let you hear the beginning of the next song. Then they'd cut back to the announcers, who were already tiresome by the second time they showed their perky little faces, who'd spiel off and name drop some more before cutting to a commercial. And then they'd come back from commercial and cut to some other little dingbat duo who'd spend ten minutes letting us know what a GREAT time they were having and how much WONDERFUL music they'd heard, and how this show was JUST LIKE Live Aid except how they WEREN'T asking for money this time. And then they'd cut to a different city and talk to another of these cloned couples while ANOTHER band was playing in the background, before cutting to the band for ONE SONG IF WE WERE LUCKY!!

The only exception I saw was during the Pink Floyd set, where they actually got to play TWO AND A HALF SONGS IN A ROW before the incompetent idiots with microphones in hand were back in our faces telling us how much they were enjoying the show and how this was JUST LIKE Live Aid except how they WEREN'T asking for money this time. And then they cut to a commercial.

Well, I'll tell you this. It's a good thing they weren't asking for money, because if they had been, I wouldn't even have given them the handful of assorted foreign currency I've got in the bottom of my nightstand drawer. I've never seen such a complete waste of television time. And that includes golf. At least you get to see the players playing in golf. It's not just ten hours or so of announcers telling you about the GREAT shots being played in the background.

What the hell happened?? Is this just an Americans don't know how to run this kind of shit thing? Was the UK version any better? Was it a question of biting off more than you can chew and not being able to schedule anything properly because there was just TOO MUCH going on?

Those are all the charitable explanations. However, Azrael and I were born with a cynical spoon in our respective mouths. Aside from giving you a wonky grin, it also gives you a somewhat jaded view of the world, which isn't always a good thing. Anyway, Azrael's take is that this is one step removed from the whole Napster fiasco. Bands are so paranoid about the idea that anyone might use their home recording equipment to record their performance and pirate it for money that they didn't want the show to reflect their complete sets.

That's a fair enough point. Here's mine. I think the reason why they didn't show these acts live as they were being performed - or at least show the entire set - and the reason why they were making it SO KNOWN during the hours and hours of presentation that NO MONEY was being requested during this day of concerts, was for one simple reason. They want you to wait for a month or so and then buy the DVD when it comes out in time for Christmas. Yesiree Bob. All of these acts that we tuned in to see, and saw just a smidgeon of are going to wind up on a compilation or two - with the purchase price (or most of it) going towards funds for starving people or whatever they have in mind for it.

And that sucks. Cause it's a lie. At Live Aid they reminded us after every set that the performers were giving their time and talent for free so that we would reach into our pockets and help to feed people who were dying of starvation and starvation related diseases. And we gave. We gave because to get in to see a Bowie concert would have cost us $10. A Queen concert or a U2 concert would have cost as much. A Duran Duran or Elton John concert, or a concert by The Who or The Boomtown Rats would have set you back easily that $10. And here we got to sit in the comfort of our own homes and watch band after band come out and perform for hours. Whole performances of multiple songs. It was WORTH sticking your hand in your pocket for. Live 8 was supposed to be about raising awareness for the G8 summit and NOTHING as they kept so tiresomely repeating to us, NOTHING to do with raising money.

Well if that's the truth, and the cynical reason of money from DVD doesn't apply, and the only reason the bands are doing these free concerts is to raise awareness, why the hell should they CARE if someone tapes their performance from the TV? If they're not intending to make ANY money off it, why does it MATTER that their fans tune in and record them?

If they're that paranoid, why even televise it? Why not just have a show where these annoying announcers got together in a studio and yakked for ten hours? It was basically all they were doing on the show in any case. Hey, you could even have music playing in the background, so it would ALMOST seem like we were there. Oh wait...that's what we got, wasn't it?

If this was the way Bob intended it to go when he started making plans for Live 8, then I've lost my respect for him. If you're not going to give the world a real concert, then don't advertise it as such. If all we're going to get is parts of a song from our favorite bands, then don't announce it as though they're going to be doing a live performance. And if you're doing it to raise awareness of an issue, why would you want to piss off the people whose awareness you want to raise? That seems to make no sense at all to me.

Live 8 needed aid today. Aid in deciding what it wanted to be.

Now you'll have to excuse me cause I'm off to go find our Live Aid DVD (and no - I didn't mind paying for something I'd ALREADY SEEN cause that's a different thing entirely) and watch how a REAL live benefit concert should be put together.


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