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The old Wembley Stadium (exterior pictured) hosted the London concert
The Coldstream Guards band opened with the “Royal Salute”, a brief version of the national anthem “God Save the Queen“. Status Quo were the first act to appear and started their set with “Rockin’ All Over the World“, also playing “Caroline” and fan favourite “Don’t Waste My Time”. “Bob told me, ‘It doesn’t matter a fuck what you sound like, just so long as you’re there,'” recalled guitarist and singer Francis Rossi. “Thanks for the fucking honesty, Sir Bob.” This would be the band’s last appearance with bassist and founder member Alan Lancaster and drummer Pete Kircher. Princess Diana and Prince Charles were among those in attendance as the concert commenced.
Bob Geldof performed with the rest of the Boomtown Rats, singing “I Don’t Like Mondays“. He stopped just after the line “The lesson today is how to die” to loud applause. According to Gary Kemp, “Dare I say it, it was evangelical, that moment when Geldof stopped ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ and raised his fist in the air. He was a sort of statesman. A link between punk and the New Romantics and the Eighties. You would follow him. He just has a huge charisma; he’d make a frightening politician.” He finished the song and left the crowd to sing the final words. Elvis Costello sang a version of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love“, which he introduced by asking the audience to “help [him] sing this old northern English folk song”.
Queen‘s twenty-one minute performance, which began at 6:41 pm, was voted the greatest live performance in the history of rock in a 2005 industry poll of more than 60 artists, journalists and music industry executives. Freddie Mercury at times led the crowd in unison refrains, and his sustained note—”Aaaaaay-o”—during the a cappella section came to be known as “The Note Heard Round the World”. The band’s six-song set opened with a shortened version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and closed with “We Are the Champions“. Later in the evening, Mercury and band member Brian May sang the first song of the three-part Wembley event finale, “Is This the World We Created…?“
Other well-received performances on the day included those by U2 and David Bowie. The Guardian cited Live Aid as the event that made stars of U2. The band played a 12-minute rendition of “Bad“. The length of “Bad” limited them to two songs; a third, “Pride (In the Name of Love)“, had to be dropped. During “Bad”, vocalist Bono jumped off the stage to join the crowd and dance with a teenage girl. In July 2005, the woman said that he had saved her life. She was being crushed by people pushing forwards; Bono saw this, and gestured frantically at the ushers to help her. They did not understand what he was saying, and so he jumped down to help her himself. Describing Bowie’s performance, Rolling Stone observed “as approximately two billion people sang along to “Heroes”, he seemed like one of the biggest and most vital rock stars in the world.” Dire Straits and Phil Collins (both accompanied by Sting) also received praise for their performances at Wembley.
“One afternoon before the concert, Bowie was up in the office and we started looking through some videos of news footage, and we watched the CBC piece [footage from the Ethiopian famine, cut to the Cars’ song “Drive“]. Everyone just stopped. Bowie said, ‘You’ve got to put that in the show, it’s the most dramatic thing I’ve ever seen.’ That was probably one of the most evocative things in the whole show and really got the money rolling in.”
—Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith on Bowie picking out the CBC news piece for the concert, a video Bowie introduced on the big screen at Wembley after his set.
The transatlantic broadcast from Wembley suffered technical problems and failed during The Who‘s performance of their opening song “My Generation“, immediately after Roger Daltrey sang “Why don’t you all fade …” (the last word “away” was cut off when a blown fuse caused the Wembley stage TV feed to temporarily fail). The broadcast returned as the last verse of “Pinball Wizard” was played. John Entwistle‘s bass wouldn’t work at the start, causing an awkward delay of over a minute before they could start playing. The band played with Kenney Jones on drums and it was their first performance since disbanding after a 1982 ‘farewell’ tour. The Who’s performance was described as “rough but right” by Rolling Stone, but they would not perform together again for another three years. At 32 minutes Elton John had the longest set on the day; his setlist included the first performance of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” with George Michael.
While performing “Let It Be” near the end of the Wembley show, the microphone mounted to Paul McCartney’s piano failed for the first two minutes of the song, making it difficult for television viewers and the stadium audience to hear him. During this performance, the TV audience were better off, audio-wise, than the stadium audience, as the TV sound was picked up from other microphones near McCartney. The stadium audience, who could obviously not hear the electronic sound feed from these mics, unless they had portable TV sets and radios, drowned out what little sound from McCartney could be heard during this part of his performance. As a result, organiser and performer Bob Geldof, accompanied by earlier performers David Bowie, Alison Moyet and Pete Townshend returned to the stage to sing with him and back him up (as did the stadium audience despite not being able to hear much), by which time McCartney’s microphone had been repaired.
At the conclusion of the Wembley performances, Bob Geldof was raised onto the shoulders of the Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney. Geldof had stated he “hasn’t slept in weeks” in the lead up to the concert, and when asked what his plans were post-Live Aid, he told an interviewer, “I’m going to go home and sleep.”
The Wembley speaker system was provided by Hill Pro Audio. It consisted primarily of the Hill J-Series Mixing Consoles, Hill M3 Speaker System powered by the Hill 3000 amplifiers. In an interview with Studio Sound in December 1985, Malcolm Hill described the concept for the system in detail.
John F. Kennedy Stadium
The host of the televised portion of the concert in Philadelphia was actor Jack Nicholson. The opening artist Joan Baez announced to the crowd, “this is your Woodstock, and it’s long overdue”, before leading the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” and “We Are the World”.
Despite the 95 °F (35 °C) ambient temperature, Madonna proclaimed “I ain’t taking shit off today!” during her set, referring to the recent release of early nude photos of her in Playboy and Penthouse magazines.
During his opening number, “American Girl“, Tom Petty flipped the middle finger to somebody off stage about one minute into the song. Petty stated the song was a last-minute addition when the band realised that they would be the first act to play the American side of the concert after the London finale and “since this is, after all, JFK Stadium”.
When Bob Dylan broke a guitar string, while playing with the Rolling Stones members Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, Wood took off his own guitar and gave it to Dylan. Wood was left standing on stage guitarless. After shrugging to the audience, he played air guitar, even mimicking the Who‘s Pete Townshend by swinging his arm in wide circles, until a stagehand brought him a replacement. The performance was included in the DVD, including the guitar switch and Wood talking to stage hands, but much of the footage used was close-ups of either Dylan or Richards.
The JFK portion included reunions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the original Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne, the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, and surviving members of Led Zeppelin, with Phil Collins and the Power Station (and former Chic) member Tony Thompson sharing duties on drums in place of the band’s late drummer John Bonham (although they were not officially announced by their group name from the stage, but were announced as Led Zeppelin on the VH1 10th Anniversary re-broadcast in 1995).
Teddy Pendergrass made his first public appearance since his near-fatal car accident in 1982 which paralysed him. Pendergrass, along with Ashford & Simpson, performed “Reach Out and Touch”. Bryan Adams (who came on after Judas Priest), recalled “it was bedlam backstage”, before performing a four-song set, including “Summer of ’69“.
Duran Duran performed a four-song set which was the final time the five original band members would publicly perform together until 2003. Their set saw a weak, off-key falsetto note hit by frontman Simon Le Bon during “A View to a Kill“. The error was dubbed “The Bum Note Heard Round the World” by various media outlets, in contrast to Freddie Mercury’s “Note Heard Round the World” at Wembley. Le Bon later recalled it was the most embarrassing moment of his career.
The UK TV feed from Philadelphia was dogged by an intermittent buzzing on the sound during Bryan Adams’ turn on stage and continued less frequently throughout the rest of the UK reception of the American concert and both the audio and video feed failed entirely during that performance and during Simple Minds‘ performance.
Phil Collins, who had performed in London earlier in the day, began his solo set with the quip, “I was in England this afternoon. Funny old world, innit?” to cheers from the Philadelphia crowd. Collins played drums during Eric Clapton’s 17 minute set, which included well received performances of “Layla” and “White Room“.
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