Friday, October 24, 2014

Live Aid | Riff Free Or Die

Even if the 1.9 billion viewers most often cited as Live Aid’s global audience on July 13, 1985 is imprecise, there’s no escaping a few facts. The event, a live music benefit concert for Ethiopian famine relief was one of the biggest televised events ever; it was the largest audience for pop music in history; and it represented the last moment when the case could be made for rock music as a galvanizing consensual pop cultural force. This was a big as it ever got or ever would be. Not that we’ll ever even see the real thing again anyway. As a result of organizer Bob Geldof’s insistence that the 16-hour long show (broadcast primarily from London and Philadelphia, but with shows in Australia, South America and Eastern Europe) be erased by broadcasters so that it would maintain its integrity as a one-off, and the fact that many carriers imposed their own agendas in terms of commercial breaks, interview segments and features, plus the refusal of some acts (Led Zeppelin most conspicuously) of some performers to permit sets to ever be seen again, the ten hours of Live Aid we’ve got are only a remnant of the Live Aid people actually saw. Still, there is more than enough to fascinate. After all, the mid-80s were a rich time in popular music: the stadiums were still full, many of the old guard were still kicking, and rock music was still proving a viable commercial competitor to dance music and hip hop, a status it would shortly yield in its decline to its current status as boutique menu item in the downloading era. But if rock is here still ascendant (as is best evidenced by the career-making performance of U2), it is being thickly crowded by new pop and dance acts, and the persistent air of golden-oldie nostalgia (remember when Joan Baez told the audience, perhaps more accurately than we realized that “this is your Woodstock, and it’s long overdue”) only underscores the premonitory impression that we’re watching something attaining its final glory. The other thing going on here of course is the culmination of rock music as a televisual phenomenon, a form of music whose visual delivery and iconography is inextricable from both its influence and its status as TV genre. It’s a few years into the MTV era (another death knell in the music’s consensual domination), and thirty years since Elvis first demonstrated television’s incalculable influence in the rise and sustaining of rock culture as a generational force, and Live Aid took the co-dependence to its furthest and final shores. So the show here is also a competition of visual styles, and this, as much as the occasional ass-kicking performance (Queen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, U2, The Pretenders, The Who, etc.) is what makes Live Aid, even in its truncated, scrap and alternate-take assembled, ten hour form, so richly transfixing to watch: it’s also the ultimate end-of-rock battle-of-the-bands, but also the last stand. (Warner Music)


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