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46664: Nelson Mandela's AIDS Day Concert
Live Aid set the standard for awareness and money raising concerts and any that have followed have to live in its shadow. Last year's "46664" concert to benefit AIDS awareness and treatment in South Africa has a lot in common with that landmark event, including a good chunk of its roster. While the show (the title of which comes from organizer Nelson Mandela's apartheid-era prison ID number) is meant to benefit a very current problem (AIDS is blazing out of control on that continent), the show's line-up looks like an 80's dream: From Bono and the Edge of U2 and Peter Gabriel to The Eurythmics and Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, the "46664" concert often feels like Live Aid-lite. Heck, even Bob Geldof pops up repeatedly.
Granted, none of this is a bad thing. Considering the state of music today, these old codgers deliver some of the best performances in the show. The first act on stage is Beyonce, doing a rote version of "Crazy in Love," which makes nearly no sense musically or topically here. The horn sample still sounds cool but it's like someone turned TRL loose in a Cape Town soccer stadium. Jay Z's rhymes are piped in on tape (I guess he was too busy volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to attend and support his girl) and the performance just sounds canned. Even more disturbing, this gives the producers the opportunity to show Oprah chairdancing next to Mandela. The constant cutting to Oprah gets old fast. What's Oprah doing now? Too bad they never caught her shoving a hot dog down her throat.
Beyonce, of course, is followed by Geldof, who cracks jokes about the juxtaposition ("This is going from the sublime to the ridiculous... I don't have her voice, I don't have her tits...") and basically treats the show like a club gig, which it practically is compared to Live Aid, which he organized (in case you live under a rock), before launching into a beautiful version of what's quickly becoming the global anthem of these troubled times: Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." With excellent post 9/11 versions of the song from Wyclef as well as the beautiful duet of Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer, the strong, proud (and deeply spiritual) lyrics are getting richer and deeper each time someone rerecords it.
Over the course of the next few hours, the performances literally bounce all over the map. DJ Paul Oakenfeld along with singers Shifty Shellshock and TC ("Damn! Oprah's here!") do a couple of cuts, including "Ready Steady Go", that sound bizarre in this context, but are high energy enough that they work. Bono and company debut a song that Strummer wrote for the occasion before he died that has a nice atmosphere and features a cool reggae section by Abdel Wright (who is impressive later with an acoustic guitar/harmonica song of his own). The Corrs do their thing, in case you're a fan, including a drum heavy collaboration with Roger Taylor. The Eurythmics do an energetic version of "Sweet Dreams" but really impress with a pared down "Here Comes the Rain Again." Bono and the Edge play a moving version of "One" with a touch of "Unchained Melody" thrown in for good measure. And Jimmy Cliff segues from the hauntingly beautiful "Many Rivers to Cross" (one of the greatest pop songs ever written) into a cheery "I Can See Clearly Now," infusing the show with a sense of hope.
Of the Western performers, the emphasis is on mini-sets from Gabriel and Queen (well, half of Queen.) Gabriel is inspired by his collaborators on the always transporting "In Your Eyes," which includes Youssou n'Dour, Angelique Kidjo and the Soweto Gospel Choir. It's a hypnotic version of a timeless song. And he's clearly moved to an extreme finally performing "Biko" in the land that inspired it with images of the late Stephen Biko on the screens behind him.
Queen, however, are a strange choice to focus on so heavily. On the one hand, the loss of Freddie Mercury inextricably ties them to this cause. And maybe they're atoning for having played at Sun City during apartheid. Still, the songs suffer at times from the singers used. Zucchero sings the final verse of "Bohemian Rhapsody" (which is only excerpted) and is an improvement over Axl Rose, for sure, but Anastacia, a really weird pick for a closer to this huge show, makes you long for Liza Minelli on "We Are the Champions." Taylor himself provides the best Freddie replacement on "Radio Gaga" but overall the Queen material doesn't really live up to its promise.
In many cases, the best performances come from local performers. The clarity of Baaba Maal's voice and guitar playing is a revelation after the bombast of Beyonce. Youssou n'Dour and Angelique Kidjo are both excellent with Gabriel and are even better on their own material. And Ladysmith Black Mambazo are, of course, brilliant on their performance of "Homeless," a song they created with Paul Simon (curiously absent.)
Actually, the absences are pretty notable. A quick web-search for info on this event turned up an earlier press release that boasted 50 Cent, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Pink and Britney Spears among the artists scheduled to perform. While I'd love to hear the always-enlightening 50 Cent's thoughts on preventing the spread of AIDS, none of these artists are even mentioned on the DVDs. I guess they were helping Jay Z deliver hot meals to orphans that day.
The anamorphic widescreen video is clean and crisp. It looks like standard live concert footage shot on video but has a sharpness that's noticeable (in a good way.)
The concert is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The 5.1 is clean and sounds good, if a little murky at times (but that's probably the recording environment.) The sounds are separated pretty well and overall it's fine. The 2.0 is an ok alternative but it's a little blaring and lacking in subtlety.
There's a nice chunk of extras for those interested in the story behind the concert. A good documentary that shows rehearsals and preparations is included (it's nice to see the artists candidly warming up) as is a series of interviews with the participants. Video from the press conference where Mandela announced the show and from various AIDS projects is also included. A series of one minute videos from visual artists around the world purports to represent each artist's vision of AIDS, but is often just pretentious posturing. (Art star Matthew Barney of Cremaster fame, turns in a piece that left me scratching my head.) There is additional information on the cause as well as a documentary, Spirit of Africa, about a Ugandan child who lost both parents to AIDS and a group of African musicians recording an album for Gabriel's label to raise money for the cause. Surprisingly, the piece is often lively and hopeful and the kid is adorable. A colorful and well-done piece.
Overall this is a decent benefit concert. Fans of the artists will enjoy their performances and may find new artists to enjoy. Conceptually, I'm not sure that tying Mandela's prison ID to the scourge of AIDS makes any sense. I guess oppression is oppression, but the point is largely academic. Still, bringing attention to the millions who suffer with no access to medication or education is a good idea. Given the lack of global attention this concert received, I wonder how well it worked.
Beyonce - "Crazy in Love (46664 version)"
Bob Geldof - "Speech"
Bob Geldof - "Redemption Song"
Queen, David A Stewart - "Say It's Not True"
Paul Oakenfold/Shifty Shellshock and TC - "Starry Eyed Surprise"
Paul Oakenfold/Shifty Shellshock and TC With Amampondo Drummers - "Ready Steady Go"
Baaba Maal - "Baayo"
Baaba Maal - "Njilou"
Youssou n'Dour -Africa Dream Again"
Yusuf Islam, Peter Gabriel - "Wild World"
Peter Gabriel, Youssou n'Dour, Angelique Kidjo - "In Your Eyes"
Peter Gabriel, Youssou n Dour - "Biko"
Bono, The Edge, Beyonce, David A Stewart - "American Prayer"
Bono, The Edge, David A Stewart, Youssou n Dour, Abdel Wright - "46664 (Long Walk to Freedom)
Nelson Mandela - "Speech"
Queen - "Invincible Hope/46664-The Call/The Show Must Go On"
Angelique Kidjo - "Afrika"
Yvonne Chaka Chaka - "Umquombothi"
Bongo Maffin - "The Way"
Johnny Clegg and guests - "Asimbonanga"
Johnny Clegg, Jimmy Cliff - "People"
Jimmy Cliff - "Many Rivers To Cross"
Jimmy Cliff - "I Can See Clearly Now"
The Corrs - "Breathless"
The Corrs, Roger Taylor - "Toss The Feathers"
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Corrs - "Leliungelo Elakho"
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - "Homeless"
Andrea Corr, Brian May - "Is This The World We Created?
Eurythmics - "Here Comes The Rain Again"
Eurythmics, Youssou n'Dour - "7 Seconds"
Eurythmics - "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
Abdel Wright - "Loose Me Now"
Ms Dynamite - "Don't Throw Your Life Away"
Danny K - "Hurts So Bad"
Bob Geldof - "The Great Song Of Indifference"
Bob Geldof - "(What So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding"
Watershed - "Indigo Girl"
Bono, The Edge - "One / Unchained Melody"
Anastacia, Bono, The Edge, David A Stewart, Queen - "Amandla"
Queen, Zucchero, Thandiswa Mazwai - "Medley (Bohemian Rhapsody / I Want It All / I Want To Break Free / Radio Ga Ga)
Queen, Anastacia, Amampondo Drummers - "We Will Rock You"
Queen, Anastacia and Cast - "We Are The Champions"
Soweto Gospel Choir, Cast - "46664 Chant"