September 30, 2005

Rock critic learns that Philadelphia is closer to Africa than he thought

It's a funny thing, charity. It's an even funnier thing when the "charity" doesn't involve any actual money, just a whole day full of the best music around. I arose late in the day on July 2; picked up my girlfriend, a dozen bagels, and a few bottles of water; and drove to the SEPTA station. We hopped off at Philadelphia's Suburban Station and an NBC10 reporter immediately shoved a camera and microphone in my face.

"So, why are you here?"

"To be a part of one of the biggest events of all time!"

It's not often that one really gets to answer such a question, but that is indeed the sort of question it was. I could tell as soon as we emptied onto the Ben Franklin Parkway that this was as huge as everyone said (or as everyone tried to say it wouldn't be).

We arrived a mere two hours before the music started, substantially later than the hordes of people that were trying to stake out campgrounds through the stage. Yet, after meeting a few friends, plowing our way through incredibly tight crowds, and nearly getting in a few fights along the way, we were able to plant ourselves under a tree about 100 yards from the stage.

Now, if I may critique Live 8 from an artistic, rather than humanitiarian perspective, I can offer my opinion on the actual events of Live 8 Philadelphia. Highlights were as follows:

Kaiser Chiefs: They opened the show, which was quite a task for a band of relative unknowns from across the pond. But luckily, they delivered quite a performance, flashing indie cred while borrowing a ton from the Who.

Black Eyed Peas: Mic difficulties made this set falter a bit, but the performance of "Get Up Stand Up" with Ziggy Marley and his sister made up for it nicely.

Bon Jovi: The better of the two washed-up hair-band performances of the day. I can't complain, and I'll admit I sang along to "Living on a Prayer."

Destiny's Child: Plagued by the same mic problems BEP had, they had no Ziggy Marley to save them.

Will Smith: The Fresh Prince, performing with longtime companion DJ Jazzy Jeff, was the most surprisingly awesome performance of the day. Smith allowed the crowd to assist him when he ripped into the Fresh Prince theme song, and he revitalized a classic with his rendition of "Summertime."

Dave Matthews Band: The seasoned jam-band vets delivered a solid performance. Having seen them on numerous other occasions, however, it seemed weird that they only played a handful of songs.

Def Leppard: Yes, they are still alive, and, yes, the drummer is still missing an arm. But somehow, "Pour Some Sugar on Me" doesn't make me go, "Alright! Let's save Africa!"

Linkin Park: Just not my cup of tea, but a solid performance.

Linkin Park with Jay Z: It's always a pleasure when H.O.V.A. is in the house. This was a great set, but it added up to almost 90 minutes of stage time for Linkin Park.

Sarah McLachlan: The Canadian chanteuse performed a beautiful, very enjoyable rendition of "Angel" with vocal extraordinaire Josh Groban.

Maroon 5: Decent set, poignant cover of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World."

Stevie Wonder: Stevie more than made up for the lack of classic soul at the show. Overall, this was a great appearance by one of the leading symbols of American humanitarianism.

OK. Rock-critic ego aside, this event was certainly one of the biggest to happen on this planet, well, ever. To be part of a million-person crowd, and joining with millions more around the globe to send a message that really does matter—and continues to matter, regardless of what the government or the media might have you believe—was one of the most enriching moments of my life. I've spent countless hours in classrooms and dorms trying to match intellectual bullshit with peers, but now I can say I actually got up off my ass and did something, however small, to show what I believe is right. To think that so many other people in this country feel the same way gives me hope. And I'm sure some kick-ass music helped just a little bit.