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Warner Music presents
Live Aid (1985)

"Please remember this day all your lives
Remember the day you wanted to help
Remember the dying who were allowed to live
Remember the day you die
There is someone alive in Africa
'Cuz one day, you watched a pop concert"

- Bob Geldof, from the souvenir program

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: November 18, 2004

Stars: U2, Queen, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Phil Collins, Sting, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Hall and Oates, Elvis Costello, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, The Who, Madonna, The Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Keith Richards, INXS, Neil Young, Ron Wood, Duran Duran, B.B. King, The Pretenders, Kenny Loggins, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Joan Baez, Dire Straits, Kiki Dee, Judas Priest, George Michael, Black Sabbath Featuring Ozzy Osbourne
Other Stars: Bob Geldof, The Boomtown Rats, Status Quo, REO Speedwagon, Nik Kershaw, The Style Council, Alison Moyet, Run DMC, Bryan Ferry, Teddy Pendergrass, George Thorogood and the Destroyers (with Albert Collins), Ashford and Simpson, Ultravox, Steve Stevens, The Cars, Thompson Twins, Nile Rodgers, Sade, Bryan Adams, Simple Minds, Patti Labelle, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, Cliff Richard, Jack Nicholson, Bette Midler, Chevy Chase, Don Johnson, Bill Graham
Director: various

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 09h:04m:33s
Release Date: November 16, 2004
UPC: 603497038329
Genre: rock

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-BB+ A-

DVD Review

"This is your Woodstock...and it's long overdue." - Joan Baez

How ironic it is that some of music most legendary concert performances were born of tragic or life-endangering circumstances: 2001's The Concert for New York City, the lesser known Concert for Kampuchea of 1980s vintage, and the legendary granddaddy of 'em all, The Concert for Bangladesh (spearheaded by former Beatle George Harrison) were three such events that weren't just Woodstock-esque gatherings of popular stars but legendary examples of how otherwise typical venue-packing, souvenir-selling festival happenings helped to make a difference.

In October 1984, Boomtown Rats lead vocalist Bob Geldof was in front of the tube watching the BBC evening news like many of his fellow Englishmen when an extended report on the tragic circumstances surrounding seven million starving people in Ethiopia aired. In sharp contrast to the rapid-fire sound bite, minute to a minute-and-a-half pacing of American network TV journalism, the fuller story format of news reporting across the pond presented haunting images of the drought-stricken community of Korem and its nutritionally deprived refugees was allowed to play out in full.

Rather than pausing merely to sympathy and get on with the business of life, Geldof took the cause of the starving to heart. Collaborating with musical peer Midge Ure of the group Ultravox, an unusual, simple, and catchy holiday tune began to take shape. Calls for instrumental and vocal assistance were answered promptly by the top tier of English pop and rock stars: Culture Club's Boy George, George Michael (then better known as half of British super-duo Wham!), Bono of U2, a freshly solo Sting, Bananarama, Paul Young, Phil Collins, and members of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, and Status Quo were all eventually among the collective branded "Band Aid." Within days of its Thanksgiving week recording session, Do They Know It's Christmas? topped the charts and became the biggest-selling single in its homeland's history, raising thousands for the relief effort. But the charity efforts didn't halt there, as numerous spinoff 45s arrived in the New Year, resulting in a still unequaled union of the American musical elite, who gathered inside a Los Angeles recording studio following Dick Clark's annual American Music Awards to record We Are the World.

With many of the participants conveniently in town for the event, a who's who of pop, rock, soul, and country—Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Kenny Rogers, and Stevie Wonder, to name a very few—checked their egos at A&M's front door to give voice to the Lionel Richie/Michael Jackson now famous composition. Baton-wielding, stalwart music producer/arranger Quincy Jones conducted the throng and the moving, gospel-flavored tune motivated everyone to give their all.

As musical charity history repeated itself in North America (nearly two months of residency atop many charts both here and abroad for this supergroup dubbed USA for Africa), the "wouldn't it be cool" concept for a live, worldwide, continent-linking superconcert emerged, jointly organized by Geldof and American concert promoter Bill Graham, and it became a jaw-dropping reality on the morning of July 13, 1984. Over 50 acts, spread between London's Wembley Stadium and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, joined together via the wonders of satellite technology to present "Live Aid", a half-day marathon concert, broadcast around the world to an enraptured audience of billions. Save for brief interludes in which local hosts in various markets made small talk with participating artists or introduced gripping footage to assure the message wouldn't be lost in the blinding array of talent, alternating musical sets were presented at a breakneck pace around the world.

Incredibly, no companion video release or multi-disc vinyl keepsake followed. Apparently, the benefit's organizer—increasingly dubbed Saint Bob—felt the enduring memory of what the world had witnessed would be more powerful when left at that. At least, that is, until two decades later, when enterprising bootleggers were making a killing, selling inferior videos of the event in and out of the underground circuit.

With the 20-year anniversary of Geldof's initial brainstorm fast approaching, tentative plans for a DVD boxed set to finally commemorate the hallmark show were cast. Only one problem: a run-through of archival materials in the BBC's vaults proved incomplete and American distributor MTV had taken Geldof's word to heart by not preserving their broadcast of the show—or so they thought. Thankfully, hours of B-roll footage surfaced from their archives in reasonably good shape, and, in much the same way as two decades earlier, an international technological summit resulted in a package many thought would never materialize.

Warner's four-disc Live Aid release allows us to relive a historic day in pop culture that holds up surprisingly well, particularly in the performances from many of the acts that tasted fame during the era of the concert. Not just marquee names like Duran Duran and Madonna, but lesser known and still captivating sets from Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, and Status Quo.

Concert highlights:

U2 lives up to the promise of their then-recent live mini-LP, Under a Blood Red Sky, turning in an unforgettable performance on their Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bad, the latter of which has frontman Bono jumping into the trucking camera pit below stage, stretching his arms toward the sellout crowd, embracing and waltzing with some very lucky fans up front, resulting in some of the event's most lasting, heartfelt images.

Making up for missing out on Monterey Pop two decades earlier, The Beach Boys transform JFK into one big beach party with raggedly spirited run-throughs of Wouldn't It Be Nice and Good Vibrations (complete with a then-rare stage appearance by group leader Brian Wilson, finally starting his long road back into splendid creativity).

Ignoring advice from an on-site physician, Freddie Mercury unleashes his vocal cords at full blast during a stunning suite of Queen classics, including Radio Ga Ga, their big AM hit at the time; all hands on the stadium's grounds clapping in rhythm to the infectious chorus. It's a performance that many in attendance and watching from home generally agree upon as the concert's true high point.

Daryl Hall and John Oates share their set with two major influences: soul singers Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, the lead vocalists of Motown's incomparable Temptations. Though slightly weathered (Ruffin looks especially frail), the voices that propelled some of soul's most enduring hits prove ageless as the duo work their way through Ain't Too Proud to Beg, Get Ready, and My Girl.

A sleekly attired David Bowie in '80s Let's Dance mode treats the Wembley faithful to a versatile set of Rebel Rebel and Modern Love, peaking with the powerful Heroes. A key line in the chorus prefectly echoes the event: "We could be heroes...just for one day."

Other great (and some not-so-great) moments:

Paul McCartney soldiers on despite a malfunctioning mike while delivering Let It Be (incidentally, the former Beatle went back into the studio recently to vocally repair the missing section of the song for this DVD and the effect is so seamless, you wouldn't know it); an old-fashioned guitar duel between George Thorogood and Albert Collins, the "Master of the Telecaster", riffin' away on a bluesy Madision Avenue; Chic frontman Nile Rodgers and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol guitarist) on The Beatles' rock warhorse Revolution; rocker Bryan Adams doing Canada proud with kickin' renditions of Kids Wanna Rock and Summer of '69; an obviously estranged Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey going through the motions on a somewhat uninspired Won't Get Fooled Again during The Who's first concert appearance in nearly three years; Elvis Costello's simple but charming take on All You Need Is Love; Mick Jagger in full-on stadium show mode, practically simmering with excitement as special guest star (and the lady that taught Mr. Lips how to shimmy) Tina Turner struts on to lend her sexy, raspy pipes to State of Shock.

Of course, there is the missing-in-action Led Zeppelin controversy. For those who haven't heard, the '70s supergroup asked that their three-song reunion not be included in this package due to their substandard performance. However,as a gesture, Page and Plant are donating all proceeds from their new-to-DVD release of Unledded, their classic 1997 MTV special, to the recently reactivated Band Aid trust (while keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones is doing the same via his current tour). In addition to Zep, other acts missing for one reason or another including Rick Springfield, The Four Tops, and The Hooters. It's disappointing not just for devotees of these performers, but for those who want a complete top-to-bottom record of the broadcast. Personally, I winced at the omission of a few non-musical moments such as the ever-cool Jack Nicholson casually asking the already fired-up attendees at JFK to "say hello to the world." And for pete's sake, why did the editors have to do away with Bob Dylan's urging to give some of the profits "to the farmers", a statement that moved Willie Nelson to create the annual musical act of heartland charity, Farm Aid? But the producer in me realizes that the deletions (with some bands' set lists being trimmed to one to two songs) keep this DVD set even more exciting, and thus in turn, increases the rewatchablity factor.

And in the spirit of what made this event so special in the first place, all proceeds from Live Aid's DVD sales (as of the time of this review) will be going directly to the famine relief effort in the Dalfur region of Sudan.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Taking into account the technological limitations at the time, I found myself more than satisfied with the above average presentation. In spite of the slightly fuzzy appearance of the American performances from time to time and the tendency of the BBC-fed visuals to look like local cable signals on the verge of acting up (you can read more about what caused this in the terrific multi-page booklet), they're the type of minor anomalies that are forgivable.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: DVD audio producers Will Shapland and Jeff Griffin have done a terrific job of expanding the two-channel original audio into impressive 5.1 incarnations in both Dolby Digital and DTS flavors that increase the stadium sound aura; I also give them credit for not overcompensating for elements beyond their control (some acts having more low end than others, etc.) and attempting to stay true to the original elements they had to work with. Meanwhile, on the alternate host continent, BBC Radio was keen enough to preserve their acts via multi-track, so many of the superior performances have a deeper sonic depth to them, which the American counterparts unfortunately lack. If I could give different rankings to each, I would give the Wembley gig an A, while grading the JFK concert at mid-B level.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 104 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese with remote access
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
4-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Prequel: BBC News Report with Julia Somerville and Michael Buerk (07m:36s), Do They Know It's Christmas (04m:32s) and We Are The World(07:14s) Music Videos
  2. Bonus Performances from INXS, B.B. King, Ashford & Simpson with Teddy Pendergrass, Run DMC and Cliff Richard
  3. Mick Jagger/David Bowie Dancing in the Street Music Video (02m:57s)
  4. Food and Trucks and Rock 'n' Roll Documentary (01h:04m:59s)
  5. Overseas Contributors Compilation (14m:37s)
Extras Review: As stated earlier, I'm sure the masses who viewed most or all of Live Aid have some beef with content left on the cutting room floor for this DVD. But to be honest, it probably would have entailed adding a fifth disc, for the four contained within are stoked with material, with the supplemental goods residing on Discs 1 and 4.

On the opening platter, that striking 1984 BBC News report on Ethiopia's apartheid from Michael Buerk is contained in full; no matter how much you think you've been desensitized by today's mass media, I guarantee you, it's still very difficult to view. The star-studded videos for Do They Know It's Christmas? and We Are the World follow; both are in terrific shape (particularly the former).

Disc Four holds the lion's share of bonuses:

David Bowie and Mick Jagger's 1985 video reworking of Martha and The Vandellas' Motown classic, Dancing in the Street, which premiered at the mid-day point of the show; excerpts from concerts and videos from various countries wanting to play a part in the relief efforts; and an extremely informative, well-made BBC documentary (Food and Trucks and Rock 'n' Roll) that takes us from the conception of Band Aid through the delivery of materials to Ethiopia in the wake of the dual-continent concert (a mini re-cap of which features fleeting glimpses of the otherwise M.I.A. Led Zeppelin).

But for many, the major draw on the final DVD is the collection of bonus performances that viewers may or may not have seen depending on what corner of the world they were watching the big show from. Tops among these include Australia's INXS rocking their homeland with a far too brief two-song set (What You Need and the Rolling Stones-like Don't Change); B.B. King proving the blues is a universal language (judging by the rapturous response at a Netherlands-based festival), and hometown hero Teddy Pendergrass' moving rendition of Ashford & Simpson's Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand) (with the songwriters guesting in harmonic support of the Philly native's first live performance since a near-fatal car crash).

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

It's almost become a cliché when people talk of Christmas seeming to arrive earlier and earlier each year. But in the case of Live Aid hitting store shelves a month before the fat man arrives back in town, that's not a bad thing. Treat yourself to an early present and know you're part of a new effort to feed the needy half-a-world away, just like that classic day in music history this four-disc set brings back, a day when fans and artists became one in a truly noteworthy cause.


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