I just finished watching the four-CD set of the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia from 1985. Hands down, the best rock-‘n’-roll concert of all time.
Hall & Oates
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Black Sabbath w/Ozzy Osbourne
Ashford & Simpson
George Thorogood & the Destroyers
Whew! I watched mostly the Wembley Stadium acts, since the British New Wave defined my teen years and I still love that music. Most of the acts played their most popular songs and almost everybody went for upbeat, danceable music rather than Serious Pieces.
I was amazed at the technical prowess of the teams there — there was every kind of mike in use for every kind of instrument and I only heard one instance of brief feedback and nobody tripped over cords even though the musicians were all over the stage and lead singers would routinely jump down in front of the monitors to be closer to the crowd.
Several of the singers shortened their songs (like Bohemian Rhapsody, though everyone in Wembley knew every word) and some changed the pitches to avoid potentially rough high notes, but I doubt the crowds noticed.
Watching U2, I saw something I forgot they used to do — Bono would pick women out of the crowd (always women) and dance with them, then give them a kiss on the cheek before returning them to where they’d been standing. It was so gentlemanly you’d think you were dancing with the pope.
It was so amazing to see these artists in front of the enormous crowds playing to the back rows, apparently not fazed in the least. Really at the top of their game, totally ready for the moment. No fancy lighting, limited to two or three back-up singers, no pyrotechnics — just the body and instruments to work with. And they maintained constant engagement with the crowd, though the London crowd was way more responsive than Philly.
I cried when Howard Jones sang his beautiful “I hope you find it in everything, everything that you see.” I remember watching that when it was first broadcast on TV and just falling in love with the light shining out of his face. And then there was Paul McCartney leading Wembley in choruses of Let It Be (which I think should be required in Catholic hymnals).
The big emotional wallop came with the Band Aid finale at Wembley where you had the stage packed with artists crammed around mikes and singing at the top of their lungs with the 90,000 people all screaming, “Feed the world! Let them know it’s Christmastime again!” That song has special meaning for me but that will have to wait for another post. Everyone was just ecstatic. It just lifts you up via the TV screen and transports you to a better place where we believe we can make a difference.
As a performer, I have to remember these are all seasoned artists who probably started in little venues like we do, playing to crowds of 50-100 people. They transitioned to stadiums over time. How to be compelling when you’re so far away from people? The cameras and huge screens make up for it, I suppose, but these people were just giving it everything they had. It was awe-inspiring to see. A huge regret that I missed out on the Wembley show when it actually happened. I would’ve been in the Land of Bliss.