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Live 8, Live from NYC

No, Spin didn’t purchase a teleporting machine. I spent 12 hours on a Saturday soaking up as much Live 8 coverage as the Internet and MTV would allow. Unquestionably, it will go down as a monumental event in pop music history, and in the history of popular political activism. But, for the millions who participated today, what messages are there to take home? Here’s my commentary from throughout the day, with thoughts about the bands, performances, and the Live 8 message.

If you missed today’s show, the best way to watch is via AOL Music’s streams of Live 8 stages around the world. Click here to see all the available streams.

To sign Live 8’s petition and find out more about the cause, click here.

Got thoughts about Live 8? Click here to comment. Also, vote in our Live 8 poll here. Now, on to the blog.

7:11 p.m.

So it’s ended. Philadelphians are headed home, and London’s marathon show has closed as well, although MTV will make you wait to see the Paul McCartney-led finale until closer to the end of their broadcast. While London was grooving out to “Hey Jude,” MTV was showing Jet performing “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” from earlier today. Toronto’s show is still rocking for now; catch the stream on AOL Music.

What did the world learn today? Well, first and foremost, that people love themselves a free concert. Second, bands are more than willing to come out and play abridged sets for a good cause. And yes, it’s always great to see hundreds of thousands of people gathered peacefully for a good cause.

The most poignant comment I saw all day came on the BBC’s site from an intuitive reader who pointed out that it’s the electorate, not the leaders who have the power. These men in Scotland who were referred to ambiguously all day long — we elected them. The best way to influence the people who consistently make decisions that run against what’s best for the world is to choose other representatives. Not once today — at least in the 12 hours of coverage that I watched — did anyone mention this angle. We don’t have to settle for leaders who continue to supplicate themselves to the wealthiest constituents of our planet. If African poverty is something that’s now part of your agenda as a result of experiencing Live 8, you must do more than send a text message that attaches you to a giant petition. Find out what your candidates care about, make your decisions, and vote.

That being said, I think the messaging and announcements today were very informative and moving, for the most part, and educated many about how dire the African situation has become. It’s just a shame that Live 8’s directives weren’t more clearly expressed.

6:52 p.m.

Pink Floyd‘s reunion was pretty ho-hum. Even though Roger Waters — who’d been the missing ingredient for the past two decades — wrote lyrics and music for most of Pink Floyd’s ’70s heyday, David Gilmour’s voice is really the signature of Pink Floyd, so there wasn’t anything revolutionary about seeing this incarnation of the band versus their recent touring ensemble. Sure, it was cool to hear Waters’ snarly lines on “Comfortably Numb,” but it seems only true fans got the willies over this one. Speaking of “Comfortably Numb,” MTV decided to cut to commercial right in the middle of the song. Clever move, kids.

George Michael just bounded up onstage to sing “Drive My Car” with Paul McCartney in London, which was super cool. Good to see ol’ Georgie back in top form. Now Macca’s rocking out on my favorite Beatles tune, “Helter Skelter,” so time to watch.

Some statistical updates: Almost 30 million people have signed the Live 8 petition via web, text, etc., and Philadelphia reports 1 million people in attendance at their Live 8 concert along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Way to go, Illadelph, my former home.

Also, the BBC reports that Mariah Carey received the day’s coldest reception, getting boos from the crowd for diva like behavior onstage. I took issue with her rather inane usage of an African children’s choir, and the Hyde Park throng didn’t take well to her demands for a mic stand and water onstage. One reader texting to the BBC’s blog asked that the children’s choir be allowed to come back onstage to sing its own tune before night’s end. Good idea in my book!

5:50 p.m.

I hope MTV is donating all the money it’s making from commercials during its Live 8 broadcast today. It seems absolutely ridiculous to me that they have commercials airing at all. Any momentum built by their talking heads for this cause gets instantly deflated by ads for summer blockbusters and beauty products, or promo spots for Pimp My Ride, a show that I thoroughly enjoy, but one that represents everything indulgent and wasteful about American culture today. Also, as a buddy pointed out, couldn’t MTV and VH1 have different feeds? There are eight concerts going on; couldn’t they offer viewers two viewing options at a time? It seems particularly silly here in New York, where VH1 and MTV are back to back on the dial.

The Who are great, but they play a bit like they’re on auto-pilot at this point in their careers, and with country clown Keith Urban on in Philly, I checked Paris to find the Cure! Back in a few.

4:57 p.m.

Attending an event like Live 8 in person has its benefits. Hanging out with friends, wandering about the festival grounds, getting a tan. Here in my makeshift Live 8 center in New York, i.e. my apartment, the show’s dead spots are rather boring. I seem to catch lots of periods where all the stages are being turned around, or I end up watching some Italian pop singer who looks alluring but sings horribly cheesy, Hillary Duff-style pop. It’s refreshing, I might add, to get a chance to see some of the world’s other pop stars, even if I can only guess what they’re singing about. I’ve tried to chronicle some of my discoveries in the blog today. Another one I caught earlier but forgot to mention was Die Toten Hosen (i.e. the Deadbeats). They’re sort of like a German version of Social Distortion; I remember being in Austria a few years ago and seeing them play on MTV Europe Unplugged. Great stuff.

But right at this moment, anything is better than watching Mariah Carey. Earlier, Madonna embraced the young Ethiopian girl who survived hunger in the mid-’80s thanks to the first Live Aid concerts, and it was a truly genuine moment. Mariah brought out the Children’s Choir of Africa for her set in London with all the sincerity of a baby-kissing politician.

Among the replays, Dido‘s rendition of “Thank You” in London featuring Youssou N’Dour has been a favorite on the MTV teleplay, as well as the replays broadcast at the world’s different venues. Pete Doherty‘s bumbling T. Rex cover with Elton John has not.

Maroon 5 is up next in Philly. Looks like it’s time for Italian pop again.

3:16 p.m.

The Killers are so huge. It’s really amazing how far they’ve come. Last summer, they were playing a Spin party at a tiny club in New York’s Lower East Side. Just now, I watched them rock 200,000 people in Hyde Park with a set-closing rendition of “All These Things That I’ve Done,” complete with backup singers for the closing refrain: “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier.” Will they be one of those bands we look back upon in 20 years and laugh about, wondering how they got on the Live 8 bill? Perhaps. But what a moment for them. Quite stunning.

MTV’s reporting that Mick Jagger will join the all-star jam planned for the closing moments of the London show.

In Philadelphia, Dave Matthews has finally relinquished the stage to someone else. Lucky for us, it’s Alicia Keys. And she’s singing Billie Holiday’s “For All We Know.” Nice.

2:42 p.m.

Bob Geldof is psychic, because just after I posted that last entry, he came onstage in London to address media criticisms of Live 8 and its ability to be effective. He introduced the audience to an Ethiopian woman whose photo was prominently featured in Live Aid 20 years ago. Then, she was on the verge of starvation. Now, she’s just passed university exams. It was a very touching, inspiring moment. So yes, the first Live Aid saved lives. That’s because it raised actual funds that could go straight to people in need. This time, the effort is placing its hopes in a giant petition that might sway the actions of world leaders who don’t necessarily represent their constituents’ desires. Something just doesn’t seem right to me.

On the musical side, Madonna joined Geldof and his Ethiopian friend onstage, then unfurled the gospel-tinged sounds of “Like a Prayer.” Madonna looked great and sounded even better, refusing to leave the stage until everyone in Hyde Park was off their bottom and dancing. In Paris, a female French MC called Diam’s really blew me away during what was an otherwise dead spot in the schedule; she must be huge there, because the crowd was going nuts and singing back every chorus. Razorlight, who still haven’t caught on yet over here, were also splendid in London with their R&B-tinged garage rock.

Now I need that caffeine again. Snow Patrol is on in London. Yawn.

1:36 p.m.

MTV just replayed some of Brad Pitt‘s remarks onstage in London from earlier. Within seconds, he silenced the screaming ladies with a forceful address. “Let us refuse to accept that a person’s place of birth determines his right to life,” he said. “We, the fortunate, let us remind ourselves: This is who we are.”

Hip hop is also making its presence felt with Philly’s stage now in full effect. Kanye West dazzled with his new single, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and Destiny’s Child honored those who’ve submitted their names to the Live 8 petition with “Say My Name.” For the PG-rated minds out there, Black Eyed Peas and Will Smith also made appearances in the Illadelph. Over in London, Snoop Dogg was tearin’ da park up.

I’m starting to realize that bands really don’t write political songs anymore. Even Audioslave, including the remnants of Rage Against the Machine, churn out such drivel as “Like a Stone.” And the bands who talk lots about global issues these days — U2 and Coldplay in particular — leave the politics out of their songwriting. Was there something funny about peace, love, and understanding, or was it just not lucrative anymore? These acts are great for politically minded sound bites, but little in terms of artistic expression to back up those beliefs.

Continuing on that theme, there’s a banner scrolling across AOL’s page, posing the question of whether a rock concert can change the world. This concert, as the organizers and celebrities have repeated incessantly today, is not about asking for money, but about encouraging awareness of African poverty. It all seems a little frivolous. As MTV’s cameras scan the crowd in Philly, it seems much more like a big party, with dudes pining to be on camera. At least if they sold tickets, Live 8 might have something fiscally tangible to show for their efforts. But in this country, where only half the young people vote in elections, it’s hard to imagine a rock concert having much impact. I would love to be proven wrong.

12:20 p.m.

I don’t know what the Kaiser Chiefs have to do with curing global hunger, but their set certainly alleviated my need to run out for coffee. It was like sugar-free Red Bull coming through my browser window.

Kaiser Chiefs set: “I Predict a Riot” / “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” / “Oh My God”

Will Smith helped open the Philadelphia stage with a relatively gripping speech. Snapping every three seconds, Smith counted off how many people die each day from treatable illness and hunger in Africa. The “snaps” theme is going to be one carrying out through today’s festivities.

The cover theme is still running strong, with Travis taking on the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive.” “I had to wear extra tight underwear for that song,” joked frontman Fran Healy as he pulled out a pair of “Make Poverty History” underpants from inside his trousers. Travis then skipped through their easygoing, demure “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” Famously, it rains when Travis plays that song at big events, and Healy looked nervously at the London sky and offered his anti-rain pleas.

Bob Geldof is on now, running through Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays” much to the approval of London’s throng. People forget Geldof was a big star as a frontman; glad he could have his moment on the big stage.

11:44 a.m.

Wow! Philly’s first band is…Kaiser Chiefs! Shocking. But so good. We predict a riot.

11:24 a.m.

Tim Robbins gave the first impassioned, informative speech of the day. “Why is it that those nations must struggle to feed their people?” Robbins said. “Why is it that leaders of the G8 nations reap the profits while these nations suffer from extreme poverty?” And then he introduced Green Day to the Berlin stage, and the Bay Area punks rolled out their most politically charged anthems. But there’s something uninformed about “American Idiot”; it’s more of a jaded lament, not a call to action. Still, it got Berlin pumping fists and responding to Billy Joe Armstrong’s every request. Green Day closed with a faithful cover of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

In London, R.E.M. opted for classics like “Everybody Hurts” and a supercharged, sped-up version of “Man on the Moon” that reminded me how devastatingly good R.E.M. was when they decide to be a rock band. Michael Stipe was absolutely electric — complete with electric blue face paint — and his gangly dancing was in top form.

Covers have been abundant all day; most recently, Craig David offered the Beatles’ “Come Together” in Paris while Ms. Dynamite went for Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” in London.

Toronto’s now up and running and Philly starts in a few. Hello North America.

10:51 a.m.

Stereophonics are another one of those British bands that scores big everywhere but here in the States. They’re romping through their song “Dakota” in London and it might be the most raucous I’ve seen the crowd all day. But, gotta switch to the Berlin stream to see Green Day, who are about to be introduced by none other than Tim Robbins — who is really scary in War of the Worlds.

10:12 a.m.

Pete Doherty and Elton John just finished their cover of T. Rex‘s “Children of the Revolution,” with Pete looking like they dragged him out of a ditch and straight onstage in front of 200,000 in London’s Hyde Park. But, he did reward Elton with a smooch on the lips as they strolled off after the set. I hope this is the last time I have to write about Pete, but somehow that seems impossible. Judging from the lukewarm response in London, seems people there are about through with him too.

Also caught a bit of Duran Duran in Rome. They played “Save a Prayer” as they did in 1985, with Simon LeBon lamenting that Live Aid “didn’t work back then” so they were trying it again now. Then again, Duran Duran hasn’t ever been a go-to act for political wisdom. They are, however, examples of how stunningly folks can age. John Taylor is like the Dick Clark of early-’80s Brit pop, Nick Rhodes still looks like Andy Warhol, and Simon still makes the ladies swoon. John’s brother, guitarist Andy Taylor, meanwhile, seems to be veering off into leathery, Mick Mars territory.

It also appears that America is waking up. AOL’s streams are far less reliable now than they were during the first two hours.

9:43 a.m.

Coldplay‘s Chris Martin just introduced the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft as one of the best singers ever, singing one of the best songs ever written, “Bittersweet Symphony.” Gwyneth and Apple are looking on from the front of the crowd, Apple clad in giant, hot pink headphones. And the performance was the day’s best so far, with the barefoot Ashcroft upping the ante with his lanky, outstretched arms helping deliver the message.

Coldplay’s set: “In My Place” / “Bittersweet Symphony” (w/Richard Ashcroft) / “Fix You”

9:27 a.m.

So the real rock’n’roll fireworks kicked off in London’s Hyde Park with the expected but certainly memorable pairing of Paul McCartney and U2, playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” replete with Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles look-alikes playing French horns. Lefty and Bono traded off verses without any particular vigor.

Macca left U2 onstage, and they promptly launched into “Beautiful Day,” during which the ever clever Bono switched up lyrics: “Hyde Park, London stretched out right in front of you.” He even offered up a Beatles teaser at the end, drifting into a winsome bit of “Blackbird” with the Edge.

There’s always something unholy about Bono preaching at me from behind $500 sunglasses, especially when it came across as rehearsed as his pleas did. “Eight of the world’s most powerful men are meeting on a golf course in Scotland,” he said. “This is your moment to make history by making poverty history.”

U2’s set: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (w/Paul McCartney) / “Beautiful Day” (with tease of Beatles’ “Blackbird” / “Vertigo” / “One” (with tease of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody”)

8:50 a.m.

It took me awhile to get the Live 8 video feed rolling, and the direct link was hard to spot on AOL Music’s site. Click here to get straight to the video feeds. Also, I had to click on the Philadelphia feed to see Berlin, which is the only feed rolling at the moment.

Anyhow, the show is on, and the first band I’m watching is Wir Sind Helden, a light, airy rock act that sounds like a German version of that band who sang “Kiss Me,” Sixpence None the Richer. Now, they’ve been followed by an MC who’s speaking in German like an older, more veiny Ryan Seacrest. Do they breed television hosts in a Matrix-like apparatus somewhere near the Earth’s core?

Anyhow, the London show kicks off in 10 minutes with the day’s best line-up, so that’s my next channel switch.