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price.pittsburgh

Live Aid 1985

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According to Phil Collins:

"It was a disaster, really. Robert wasn't match-fit with his voice and Jimmy was out of it, dribbling. It wasn't my fault it was crap. If I could have walked off, I would have. But then we'd all be talking about why Phil Collins walked off Live Aid — so I just stuck it out."

So, Robert's voice warmed up mid-way through R&R and the rest of the set he sounded good. Jimmy played pretty good overall and his solo in Stairway was quite nice; Page may have looked a bit tipsy but dribbling? I don't think so. The only consistently weak link on that stage was Collins, the video more than proves that, the whole set he never takes his eyes of the REAL drummer Thompson and gets quite lost several times. Then, there is the fact he looks like a 16 year old boy who just lost his virginity with that big, shit eating grin on his face the whole time. PC...what a douche. Though I loved him in Genesis, one of the best live albums, Seconds Out. Great stuff!

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If I may elaborate on my initial remark, when I said Live Aid was a 'bad memory" I was taking into account not just how Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul sounded but the entire presentation package of Live Aid as a whole.

I have always been skeptical of benefit concerts, no matter how worthy the cause may seem. Where does the money go and how much of it really gets to the charity recipients? The lineups are usually middle-of-the-road drivel with a few genuinely exciting acts scattered on the bill. There always seem to be technical snafus and delays and lack of rehearsal time. In short, it is usually long stretches of tedium marked by a few moments of actual rock 'n' roll or so-bad-it's-entertaining train wrecks.

Concert for Bangladesh. No Nukes. US Festival. Ok, maybe the US Festival wasn't technically a charity concert, but all the pie-in-the-sky proselytizing by Steve Wozniak and his Apple acolytes made it seem like one.

When Live Aid was announced, I genuinely was excited to see Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul reconvene together on stage for the first time since 1980. The rest of the day I couldn't really give a toss about...especially since the U.S. end of it would be handled by MTV. Ugh. Letting those idiots Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and the rest of those preening prats have the run of the place would have disastrous consequences.

All through Led Zeppelin's career, they had been careful not to be roped into cheesy packaging and presentation...save that one early 1969 French TV show. But now they were going to be part of the MTV circus, just another product on the conveyer belt. Sure, the die-hard rock 'n' roll fans were anticipating the so-called "Led Zeppelin reunion", but to MTV execs, they were just another band on the bill, no bigger than Duran Duran or Madonna or the Hooters. What MTV was really excited about was that Live Aid would be a chance to further globally brand MTV and make their VJs important international stars.

Even with all my doubts about Live Aid and what MTV would do to it, I dutifully gathered with my friends very early the morning of July 13, 1985 to witness it firsthand. And thanks to the preponderance of boring lily-white bands early on...Status Quo, Boomtown Rats, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Nik Kershaw...I nearly was put back to sleep. Thank god Black Sabbath came along to wake things up!

Did you notice that all the heavy acts were on the JFK stage? Apparently, metal was now too much for the timid Brits...which is ironic, since Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Led Zeppelin were all British bands.

Things didn't start happening at Wembley until U2. That bit with Bono saving the girl getting crushed during "Bad" made for good theatre. Thus started the only good run of the day, with U2, Dire Straits, QUEEN!!!, David Bowie, and The Who all delivering great sets...and in the case of Queen, epochal career-defining sets. David Bowie was pretty damn great, too. By the time The Who finished their set, it was around 12:30pm PST, and the long slog of the afternoon was still ahead. The rest of the Wembley lineup was snoozeville for the most part, accompanied by various technical muckups.

By this time of the day, it was already apparent that MTV's VJs were in over their heads, for they were already on overkill, inserting themselves needlessly into the picture and making themselves the story rather than the event. And Mark Goodman looked like he was auditioning for the part of the gay bath attendant.

Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul were still hours away and I think I took a nap somewhere between Tom Petty and Neil Young. When Power Station came on, there was a palpable sense in the air that Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul were looming. I believe it was acknowledged beforehand that Phil Collins was flying between Wembley and JFK and was drumming for the Zeppelin lads, but I can't remember if I knew Tony Thompson was also drumming for them. Maybe it was announced by the MTV crew, but by that point I was tuning out whenever those MTV VJs appeared on the screen with their babbling.

It was during Eric Clapton's set that things started really perking up in the room. By this time, our apartment was packed as more and more friends had dropped by to watch. Phil Collins was on drums for Eric and his solo set was next. Therefore, Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul would follow Phil. This is when I started getting nervous. The few times I had seen Jimmy Page since the end of Led Zeppelin (ARMS, Roy Harper, The Firm) had been uneven. Which Jimmy would show up for Live Aid?

Most of the people gathered in the apartment watching had never seen Led Zeppelin in concert, and only had my recollections and "The Song Remains the Same" to go by. You could cut the pent-up excitement and anticipation for the reunion with a knife.

Now, although MTV was the only way to watch Live Aid in the U.S., there were two ways to hear the audio. Thru your TV via MTV or you could listen to the FM simulcast on your stereo,,,in LA, it was broadcast on KLOS 95.5 FM. I already was videotaping Live Aid thru my VHS recorder but I also had a blank cassette set up in my tape deck and ready to record the Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul reunion via the FM broadcast. Which later proved to be fortuitous. When Phil Collins was done with his two-song set, and approached the mic, I hit the record button.

As Phil announced his friends Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones, there was pandemonium...in my apartment as well as JFK Stadium. Everyone was keyed up and cheering and ready for an explosion. But then MTV's Mark Goodman had to butt his way into the proceedings, and so instead of hearing the opening of "Rock and Roll", those watching MTV heard Mark Goodman babbling over the intro and giving away the setlist. Fucking prick!

Then, after that intrusion was over, and you were able to focus on the performance, you noticed Plant sounded a little hoarse and Jimmy's guitar sounded out-of-tune. Not only that, but it seemed JFK's sound wasn't picking up the guitar amps properly. If you listen to Black Sabbath's set, you notice the same problem...Tony's guitars sound distant, as if the guitars weren't feeding properly into the master mix. Whatever the problem was, you didn't get that explosion of sound that a proper Led Zeppelin concert gave you. There was something subdued about it all, even though it looked like the guys themselves were having fun on stage and exuding charisma. It just seemed a tad off.

Particularly with Queen's performance still fresh in the mind. But then, Brain May's guitars definitely sounded loud and present at Wembley...in fact, Queen's entire sound was head-and-shoulders above everyone else's. Even The Who's.

I smiled at Robert Plant's "Any requests?" and Jimmy cupping his ear to the crowd as they roared back. "Stairway to Heaven" was emotional...you couldn't help be moved at hearing the song played again. Until those MTV bozos had to ruin it by showing them swaying and singing along...argh, get those wankers off my tv screen! I want to see Robert and Jimmy and John Paul, not MTV's VJs.

"Rock and Roll", "Whole Lotta Love", "Stairway to Heaven". The whole set rushed by and it was over before you knew it. They played it safe with the song choices, I thought...maybe too safe. But then with two drummers to integrate, they couldn't get too creative. Phil had a hard enough time dealing with basic songs like "Rock and Roll" and "Whole Lotta Love". It's a good thing they also invited Tony Thompson along, or else it really would have been a disaster.

When the set was over, all of us were happy...maybe not so much because it was an epic performance but for the historical significance and the fact that they seemed to be happy playing together again and we thought maybe this might lead to a permanent reunion.

Now, the MTV audio was marred by the antics of their VJs, but I noticed an interesting thing when I listened to my cassette recording of the performance via the FM simulcast later that night. Not only did we get the whole set sans MTV's goofballs, meaning you could hear the beginning of "Rock and Roll" without Mark Goodman's gibberish, but Jimmy's guitar didn't sound as weird as on the tv broadcast. It definitely made the performance as a whole register better, although you still heard Phil Collins fucking up the drum parts. Unfortunately, I later lost both my cassette and video recordings of Led Zeppelin's Live Aid set.

Strictly as a performance, the Live Aid reunion isn't that bad...it is better to me than the 1988 Atlantic Records and 1995 Hall of Fame reunions. But the intrusion of MTV and the poor audio (whether the fault of the JFK soundmen or the MTV), coupled with the obvious lack of rehearsal, still left an aftertaste that it could have/should have been better.

That being said, I still would like to see an official release of their Live Aid set.

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^ You know, I wonder if Brian May being an engineer made the difference. The man not only built the Red Special but several of his affects pedals he invented himself and are trademarked. I would think him knowing as much about electronics, sound, and engineering that maybe he had some time before Queen's set to make sure everything was perfect and knowing exactly what to look for vs. a regular musician. A musician needs to hear the equipment to set it up properly, a musician with an engineering background only needs the look at the equipment to make the necessary changes knowing full well what it will sound like through mathematical formula.

Just a thought.

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I spent July 13th, 1985 working at a small store waiting for the band to come on. I didn't have the lineup shedule or a T.V. only the radio. My boss ask why I was glued to the radio and I said for the Led Zeppelin reunion. He said "Those queers in tight pants prancing around?". All day from morining to 5 pm and only stupid music. I raced home after work (1/2 hour) with the radio on. I turned on the T.V. when I got there. Finally around 8pm I could see them playing but with some commentators talking and then a Mick Jagger-Tina Turner video. Then finally someone announces "And now we join Stairway to Heaven in progress". I thought it was a good performance. The whole day in anticipation and all I got was a 5 minutes. Yes it was worth it.

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^ You know, I wonder if Brian May being an engineer made the difference. The man not only built the Red Special but several of his affects pedals he invented himself and are trademarked. I would think him knowing as much about electronics, sound, and engineering that maybe he had some time before Queen's set to make sure everything was perfect and knowing exactly what to look for vs. a regular musician. A musician needs to hear the equipment to set it up properly, a musician with an engineering background only needs the look at the equipment to make the necessary changes knowing full well what it will sound like through mathematical formula.

Just a thought.

I think you may be confusing Brian May with John Deacon, Queen's former bass player. May trained as an astrophysicist while Deacon studied electrical engineering. He, not May, invented the affects pedals they both used.

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^ You know, I wonder if Brian May being an engineer made the difference. The man not only built the Red Special but several of his affects pedals he invented himself and are trademarked. I would think him knowing as much about electronics, sound, and engineering that maybe he had some time before Queen's set to make sure everything was perfect and knowing exactly what to look for vs. a regular musician. A musician needs to hear the equipment to set it up properly, a musician with an engineering background only needs the look at the equipment to make the necessary changes knowing full well what it will sound like through mathematical formula.

Just a thought.

I think you may be confusing Brian May with John Deacon, Queen's former bass player. May trained as an astrophysicist while Deacon studied electrical engineering. He, not May, invented the affects pedals they both used.

After doing a little digging, I discovered one little fact that played a part in Queen sounding so much better than other bands at Live Aid. Before the band hit the stage Queen's sound engineer secretly switched out the limiters on the PA system, so that Queen was louder than everyone else.

Which makes me wonder who was looking out for Led Zeppelin's sound at Live Aid, if anyone? Was it Jimmy's sound guys from the Firm? Or did Robert bring his crew from his solo tour? Who was manning the sound desk? Was Benji LeFevre still around? Raymond Thomas?

Or did Robert and Jimmy just leave it to chance and use the house Live Aid crew?

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With Live Aid being 30 years old this year I wonder if we will get any further comment from LZ on the days events.

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Nice thread, this. Thanks for those great recollections Strider.

Phil Collins...I personally wouldn't blame him and his oversized ego for Robert and Jimmy's travails on the day. But he did suck, and no amount of whining on his part is going to change that. He wanted to walk off the stage...sure he did.

Robert did sound bad, but he wasn't used to singing that material anymore. Page was certainly not at his best, but imo his main problem on the day was his main problem throughout that 83-86 era...his guitars sounded like crap. I'm not a musician, but it seemed to me then and now that his guitar tech back then did him no favors. His guitars were constantly out of tune. How does a guitar tech hand Jimmy Freaking Page guitars which aren't ready to go? I dreaded what I would see and hear when I saw him in 1988 on Outrider tour, but the moment he began playing, it actually sounded like Jimmy Page guitar playing! Sure, there were a few flubs here or there, but it didn't matter because his guitars finally sounded the way they should! I bought a program, and had a look inside after the show, and sure enough he had a new guitar tech.

All that said, Live Aid was still great. I waited all day in front of the TV for the boys to hit the stage, and when they did it was just amazing. Yes, the MTV aspect of it was insufferable but it didn't matter. Everybody and their grandmother knew who the big dogs were on the day, ramshackle performance and all. The crowd at JFK Stadium went absolutely insane when they took the stage, and the roar they generated could never have come across on the TV sets of the day.

At this point in the 1980s, Led Zeppelin and their legacy was at its lowest point among the critical elite. It took another few years, but the beginning of their having to deal with the Truth began that day in July 1985 when Led Zeppelin, warts and all, conquered Live Aid anyway, vanquishing their contemporaries who were on the bill, and decisively routing the poseurs of that particular musical age. I still enjoy watching it every now and then, and will certainly do so on its anniversary July 13. Perhaps with a glass of Jack Daniel's neat.

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I think you may be confusing Brian May with John Deacon, Queen's former bass player. May trained as an astrophysicist while Deacon studied electrical engineering. He, not May, invented the affects pedals they both used.

Wow, I did not know that about Deacon. Nice... I know May has a doctorate in Astrophysics but he also has an informal engineering background as well...no degree per se but the man is intellectually brilliant besides being an amazing guitarist.

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After doing a little digging, I discovered one little fact that played a part in Queen sounding so much better than other bands at Live Aid. Before the band hit the stage Queen's sound engineer secretly switched out the limiters on the PA system, so that Queen was louder than everyone else.

Which makes me wonder who was looking out for Led Zeppelin's sound at Live Aid, if anyone? Was it Jimmy's sound guys from the Firm? Or did Robert bring his crew from his solo tour? Who was manning the sound desk? Was Benji LeFevre still around? Raymond Thomas?

Or did Robert and Jimmy just leave it to chance and use the house Live Aid crew?

Sometimes a sound engineer has to do what a sound engineer has to do. Good for him.

I think Robert & Jimmy just left it up to the Live Aid people (bad choice) but not 100% sure. I agree with White Phone, how in hell did Jimmy put up with such an inept guitar tech? I mean come on, how difficult is it to tune a few guitars with a strobe o tune? Unacceptable!

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