At Wembley Stadium anybody with the 100 pounds needed to buy a special ticket could hobnob in the banquet hall with the likes of Pete Townshend, who brusquely refused to be interviewed; Nils Lofgren, who also wasn't talking; or the elegant Sade. She anticipated her set for an audience of millions without great trepidation: "When something's so vast, it's beyond your comprehension — it becomes tiny. It's possibly less intimidating than playing to 150 people whose eyes are all on you in a club."
Downstairs, where a group of trailers adjoined an instant version of the Hard Rock Cafe, two generations of British rockers staged a love feast that made the camaraderie captured last November in the Band Aid video look austere. After the Who's rough-but-right set, a sweaty, grinning Pete Townshend, tattered blue bathrobe draped over his shoulders, embraced Elton John heartily. Nearby, Who drummer Kenney Jones said technical problems hadn't ruined the show for them. "I don't mean to sound blasé, but the Who are used to playing these big events, and we take it all with a pitcher of salt."
Asked if the show had prompted any thoughts of a more permanent reunion, Jones said the Who would continue as they had said when they broke up — "If there's a special occasion, we'll get back together for that" — but he didn't foresee any recording for the band without a shared pledge to write better material than their latter-day LPs had featured. "That was the downfall of the Who, really. The songs have not been that wonderful."
As Elton John's horn players warmed up for his set, David Bowie and Paul McCartney were literally frolicking among the potted palms. Looking like gentlemen dudes in their pale-gray suits, they struck poses for a gaggle of photographers with schoolboy glee, calling out instructions like "Back to back!" and bracing for a round of mock fisticuffs.
One trailer listed three bands who would be using it in succession, then the mysterious Ensemble Male. But a hoped-for reunion of the three surviving Beatles, with Julian Lennon standing in for his father, never materialized. That hardly made for a disappointing day, and a relaxed Sting, girlfriend Trudie Styler beside him, offered his critique of the show. "I liked Queen best of all," he said, grabbing passing Queen guitarist Brian May to tell him as much. (Freddie Mercury, for his part, later clapped a comradely arm around the shoulders of a slightly bemused Bono.)
With the close of Elton John's set, Bob Geldof began corralling participants for the finale. "Anybody got an acoustic guitar?" he hollered, then set about coaching vocalists while Sting passed out photocopies of the lyrics. Stewart Copeland told Geldof he'd done his homework for a cameo on drums behind "Do They Know It's Christmas?": "I listened to the record," he said with a straight face.
The first thing they showed on the feed from America was a naked girl in the crowd," Bob Geldof barked during one of his many dashes between the stage and the artists' dressing rooms. "Don't they realize that's exactly the kind of thing that will make the Russians turn us off? Typical American directors' shit. Also, you have these people in Africa watching, who are starving. The last thing they want to see is some well-fed American girl's tits."
Throughout the day Geldof's mood ping-ponged between exuberance and disgust — a situation that was not helped by a sprained back Geldof had suffered the night before. All day at Wembley he stalked the backstage area slightly hunched, sublimating the pain with work and ultimately exhaustion. "He hasn't slept in weeks," said Boomtown Rats drummer Simon Crowe. "Paula [Yates, Geldof's girlfriend] said that he would just lie in bed in a cold sweat."
The Last Laugh
In the days following the Live Aid concerts, high-level officials of three countries — England, Ireland and Norway — nominated Geldof for the Nobel Peace Prize. Geldof, however, had no grand plans for the future. "I'm going to go home and sleep," he told a BBC newsman. "And then I'm going to make a record with the Boomtown Rats — who were probably the best band of the day anyway."
This article included reports from David Fricke and Fred Schruers in London, Merle Ginsberg in Philadelphia and Erik Hedegaard in New York.
This is a story from the August 15, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.
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