MTV has made its share of programming mistakes over the years. Practically eliminating music videos from its airwaves was one. Continuing to broadcast "The Real World" for years past its prime is another.
But the network committed its biggest blunder of all time on July 2, 2005, when vapid VJs and constant commercial interruptions prevented viewers from truly experiencing, much less enjoying, the Live 8 concerts. Sets by artists such as Coldplay and a reunited Pink Floyd were cut off in favor of endless, insipid commentary from several MTV personalities who probably wouldn't know Pink Floyd from the Pink Panther.
Fortunately, music fans disappointed by the TV coverage have a new chance to bring Live 8 into their living rooms. A four-disc DVD set ($53.98) packed with more than eight hours of music from the multi-continent event arrived in stores Tuesday, preserving performances by more than 80 of the 150 artists who participated.
Organized by Bob Geldof -- the brain behind 1985's Live Aid, a concert that, incidentally, MTV covered quite admirably -- the Live 8 shows didn't raise money for starving Africans like their predecessor. This time, Geldof set out to pressure world leaders assembling for that week's G8 summit, with the hope that raucous rock and screaming, socially conscious fans would persuade them to adopt policies aimed at combating poverty in Africa.
In keeping with that mission, EMI Records, the studio releasing this collection, and the Live 8 organization are donating a portion of the DVD's sales to the Band Aid Trust, which is focused on relieving hunger and poverty in Africa. But, as noble as that might be, it's doubtful that consumers will buy this box set for only that reason. They'll buy it because they finally want to see U2's performance in its entirety or Pete Doherty's notoriously horrendous attempt to sing T. Rex's "Children of the Revolution" with Elton John.
Thankfully, they'll score on both counts. Fans also can look forward to full sets from musical powerhouses such as Madonna, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Sting and Stevie Wonder. The discs, which focus primarily on the shows in London and Philadelphia, don't limit themselves to high-wattage artists; worthy turns by the Stereophonics, Kaiser Chiefs, Ms. Dynamite and Snow Patrol, along with excerpts from the untelevised July 6 concert in Edinburgh, are included as well. Like last year's Live Aid DVD, the audio quality here is consistently superb, and all the better for those equipped to hear it in 5.1 surround sound.
Having said that, some will be disappointed, if not outright mystified, by what is omitted. Naturally, not every band's performance is replicated in its entirety. But Kanye West and Green Day, for example, are represented by just one song apiece, a tremendous oversight since they displayed two of the day's more energetic efforts. (The remainder of Green Day's performance can be found on the Live 8: Berlin DVD, which, like the concerts in Rome, Toronto and Paris, are being sold as individual releases.) In their place, we get a full set from British pop sensation Robbie Williams, something that probably won't excite American audiences even if the "Let Me Entertain You" singer does cheekily attempt to channel the performances of Freddie Mercury and Bono at Live Aid. The picture quality of the Philadelphia concert, not nearly as sharp as the video from London, is also a letdown.
The DVD's extras include performances by Good Charlotte and Bjork in Tokyo, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in Rome, Shakira in Paris and Audioslave in Berlin. Why these are classified as extras when all the artists were part of Live 8 is anybody's guess. Also included: a hilarious promotional spot by "The Office's" Ricky Gervais ("Just like Live Aid 20 years ago, Bob Geldof has put Phil Collins on a jet to New York," Gervais quips. "There's nothing going on there, we just don't want him around this year.") and a fun, 15-minute documentary that takes viewers backstage at Hyde Park in London. Despite its oversights, the Live 8 DVD does a far better job of capturing the power and the occasional absurdity -- Will Smith, did you really need to be carried on stage while sitting on a throne? -- of the mega-concert than MTV ever did. Some may question the notion that, as one fan's T-shirt suggests, "Rock 'n Roll Saves Lives," but this DVD leaves no doubt that Live 8 was a day filled with diverse, talented artists and the best of political intent.