The Live Aid Tribute at Houston’s premiere Continental Club was a smashing success, but not just for the obvious reasons. Yes, attendance surpassed expectations. (Reserved seating sold out.) Yes, the bands performed at peak level. Yes, the fans of classic rock & pop had an uproariously good time. But the real reason it was a success…well, I’ll tell you at the end of this write-up.
Music goers lined up outside before 8pm—a sign it was going to be a good night. Doors opened and bodies dashed in. The energy was so palpable, you could cut it with a knife. Rock hits from the 70s and 80s pulsated out of the sound system, preparing attendees for a night of music and fun.
The concert kicked off before 8:00 with the energetic Madonna tribute, Into the Groove. Sally Vee is perhaps the most underrated singer in Houston! She is solid, passionate and a joy to hear. Madonna’s brand of pop is known as free-spirited, danceable, unshackled by the cares of life, all qualities Sally embodied during the performance. Into the Groove possessed the most unique line-up with two keyboards, drums, and guitar, setting it apart from the other tributes. The performance of “Borderline” was perhaps the highlight. Sally, given over to occasional stand-up comedy, had the audience in stitches before a certain song when she proclaimed, “This is dedicated to the two virgins in the audience.” Perhaps noticeable was that Into the Groove was the night’s only offering of a lady-led band. (Hint, hint for any future Live Aid events?)
Radio Duran took the stage with their high-powered rendition of MTV 80s pop-rock, kicking it off with the mystical James Bond theme, View to a Kill. (And singer Victor Fricke didn’t crack on high notes as Simon LeBon was known for doing in the original Live Aid.) Radio Duran’s set was a recreation of the original four songs Duran Duran performed in the ‘85 Live Aid with the addition of the MTV staples, Hungry Like the Wolf and Rio. Sally Vee joined the band for the Rio finale, and the crowd went wild!
Blood Red Sky, a tribute to Ireland’s U2, added an ethereal, spiritual component to the evening. Alby Vara epitomized the essence of U2 singer Bono’s vocals with powerful, thundering highs, growling ominous lows, and a stage presence that made an emotional impact. Blood Red Sky was a little more serious than the previous two bands, but a reminder that we were there for a higher purpose. A highlight was the band’s cover of “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday.” Though a somber song, it was a reminder that “tonight, we can be as one.”
‘Lectric Eye, the David Bowie tribute, took the stage and, WOW, what an impact. The night belonged to lead singers, and Michael Villegas was no exception. His strength in recreating Bowie was in his confidence of being an artist who makes the music his own. Villegas had a professional career earlier in life, and so he presented Bowie’s songs through his own personal lens and talent while still being wholly true to Bowie. Every song was a hit out of the park.
1985’s Live Aid belonged to Queen, a fact we were reminded of by last year’s cinematic experience. Live Aid – The Tribute was no exception. Queen Legacy, new to the tribute scene, owned the evening! They hit the stage running with front man Kyle Cousins on piano executing the melancholy intro to Bohemian Rhapsody. Unique was this set being a recreation of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance. Cousins, in the same wardrobe and famous moustache, recreated Freddie Mercury’s 1985 performance as not only a capable lead singer but an actor. He replicated the moves, the comments to the audience in a working-class British accent, and even led us in the famous “aaaay-oh” call and response between singer and audience. It was as if Freddie Mercury was there among us! The band performed Queen’s original Live Aid set list, ending with a spirited rendition of “We Are the Champions.” Audience participation by this point was at full throttle. Kyle hardly had to sing some passages for the fact that the audience was singing at the top of its lungs.
After Queen Legacy, all the bands hopped on stage and sang “Do They Know It’s Christmas” from 1984’s Band Aid. Chills must have zipped up and down everyone’s spines when all sang—crowd and performers—with one voice, “Feed the world, oh-oh, let them know it’s Christmas time again…”
But wait, the night wasn’t over! The heavies were still to come. They hit the audience with a sledge hammer. “It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled…” When it was announced Von Hindenburg would perform their electric blues tribute to Led Zeppelin as part of Continental’s Live Aid, some may have thought that was an odd way to end the night, especially since the original Zeppelin is thought to have performed badly at the ‘85 event. There was nothing under-achieving about Von Hindenburg! Singer Gene Nunn expertly wailed Robert Plant’s vocals. Von H possessed the elder statesmen of the night in that two of its members—guitar and bass—are over 60. Nothing elderly about it, though; maturity makes for raucous rock! The band proved that classic rock is alive and well. Stairway to Heaven was a highlight, drawing the crowd into a vibrant sing-along. Von H broke ranks with the pure tribute sets in that they included a song by another ‘85 Live Aid band, Black Sabbath. “War Pigs.” On the surface, it was a strange selection. In actuality, it was a home run. The crowd loved it, as they did the whole event!
Kudos to two people in particular: Luba Dvorak on sound who brought it all together with professional quality mixing and sound, and Harold Espendez who played keys for Madonna and Queen. This Live Aid event was his brain child. And though he went through some personal challenges and setbacks in bringing the event to fruition, he did it! Future Live Aid events of a larger magnitude are in the works.
And so, I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up that there was a higher value to Continental Club’s Live Aid–The Tribute that went far above energetic music performances, smashing crowd attendance, and a fun-night-for-all.
It was the charity aspect.
You see, half of the proceeds were promised to the Houston Food Bank. Continental Club goers can be proud to say that nearly $2000 is going to the Houston Food Bank. It may be a drop in the bucket to feeding needy Houstonians, but combined with donations at this time of year, we can proudly say we did our part to bless a hungry community.
And that’s what the theme of Continental Club’s Live Aid – The Tribute was all about. In a self-focused, me-first world, we were reminded: It’s not just about me! When we come together for a cause to help others and take our eyes off ourselves, life has meaning and purpose.
And isn’t that what Christmas—and the original Live Aid—is all about?