Like millions of music fans, twenty years ago I spent an entire Saturday glued to my television – from around seven in the morning to just before midnight. The occasion was Live Aid, the original all-star marathon benefit concert.
The concert was broadcast in its entirety on MTV, and I mean in its entirety. MTV showed no commercials on that day; pleas for donations were hustled between acts and through a crawl screen during the performances.
In fact, the only annoyance during the telecast was a bonehead decision by MTV to focus the cameras on their VJ’s in Philadelphia singing along to Paul McCartney in London. Here was a then-rare performance of a Beatles song, “Let it Be”, and we were forced to watch Martha Quinn, Adam Curry, and their faceless cohorts swaying to the beat.
Another element of the concerts that stood out was the difference in quality between the London and Philadelphia shows. London culminated with rousing sets by U2, David Bowie, Queen, a newly-reunited Who, and McCartney. Philly was stuck with Hall & Oates, Tina Turner, Phil Collins (singing the same awful songs he had sung 12 hours earlier in London), and a drunk collaboration between Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood that was hampered by the fact that their monitors were turned off so that the “We Be the World” finale could be rehearsed behind the stage curtain.
This same division of talent existed this past Saturday during Live 8. London featured return performances by U2, McCartney, and the Who, along with R.E.M., Velvet Revolver, Coldplay, Snoop Dogg, and many other current and classic performers. Philly had Will Smith, Bon Jovi, and Stevie Wonder collaborating with the godawful Rob Thomas and that Maroon 5 guy.
Not that the London show was perfect, as the pacing made absolutely no sense. Many of the big names actually opened the show, long before most of America was even awake. One hit wonders and over-the-hill vocal divas too up much of the prime time hours, although Pink Floyd’s four song set was strategically placed near the conclusion.
None of that really matters, though, as anybody who wanted to actually watch the proceedings was angry and frustrated within five minutes. Although both MTV and VH1 had eight hours slotted for the multiple shows, some brain surgeon decided that both channels should broadcast the same feed.
Even that could have been ignored if they would have actually shown some music. Besides the fact that commercial breaks were included in the broadcast this time around, MTV refused to show a complete song. Typically, they’d jump into some performance about halfway through, show a minute or so, and then jump to morons such as Sway to tell us how cool it is to watch whoever they were showing. Then they’d jump to another of their faceless VJ’s to repeat the process on the next partial song.
Even enduring these partial excerpts was a chore, as the director must have been on some really good Ecstacy. No shot was held for more than a half-second; few shots actually caught what should have been shown. Pete Townshend would start one of his legendary windmills, and the camera would shift to the drummer. The crowd was generally shown more than the artist, generally by those awful crane shots that would start at one end of the stadium and race to the other end in just a second or two. Dammit, Beavis, just show the band!
Frustrated, I turned to my XM radio. They had been promoting for weeks how each of the locations would have their own channel, and the entire show would be broadcast. Bullshit! Talking heads talked over song after song, and whoever was running sound should never be hired again, as all you could hear was the drums and keyboards, with the vocals straining to be heard. They didn’t even live up to their promise of running the entire show, as acts that they determined to be important were cut into the feeds of other locations. That damned Mariah Carey was on five channels!
I’m sure a few of you out there are saying “why didn’t you just check out” From my understanding, they did actually fulfill their promise and showed the whole damned thing, from McCartney and U2’s collaboration on “Sgt. Pepper” to Neil Young and seemingly all of Canada screaming “Rockin’ in the Free World”. If it was a workday, maybe watching all of this streamed on a small computer screen would have been good enough for me. But I use the internet to find and download video and audio to play on my full-size television and stereo. Even with a high-speed connection, the quality of streaming broadcasts still leaves a bit to be desired. I wanted to crank up “Who Are You”, not shush my entire house so that I can hear it on my laptop’s tinny little speakers.


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