Global concert: Yes, very cool

July 9, 2007


Twenty-four hours, seven continents, 150 bands and 2 billion viewers.

Global warming is a big problem that needs big solutions. Live Earth was the big concert intended to raise awareness. But is pop music really a solution?

Skeptics doubt it. Said one: "Everybody's known about that problem for years. ... I would only organize this if I could get onstage and announce concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates, Congress or major corporations. They haven't got those guarantees. So it's just an enormous pop concert."

The source of that quote: Bob Geldof, organizer of Live Aid and Live 8. Perhaps Sir Bob has realized the futility of big concerts solving the world's ills; millions are still starving in Africa, after all. But it's more likely he's just jealous.

The patron saint of Live Earth was Al Gore, whose frequent pleas for us to "answer the call" found him vying to be the new Geldof or, better yet, Bono -- though Gore may be willing to settle for a less important job. Pushed by Ann Curry for a simple "yes or no" answer during NBC's special coverage Saturday night, Gore was downright oily in refusing to say that he won't be running for president in 2008.

For fans with a sense of history, it was ironic to see Al and his wife Tipper presenting these shows. In the mid-'80s, the Gores were first catapulted to fame as forces behind the censorious Parents Music Resource Center. Back then, Tipper attacked rock and rap for "infecting the youth of the world with messages they cannot handle."

Live Earth was designed to spread a message kids can handle, but its effectiveness was debatable. Sure, there were short films and brief speeches about the environment peppered throughout, in between the regular commercials. But most acts just played their greatest hits or newest singles, viewing the concerts as just another promotional opportunity.

As a result, there weren't many truly memorable moments, even though I watched all 22 hours of the broadcast coverage on cable (and thanks to the folks who invented the 4x fast-forward on my DVR!). Here are some notes on what I saw.

     Playing London's Wembley Stadium, Genesis deflated this fan's hopes for their fall reunion tour by shunning their progressive-rock past and playing only lame pop tunes from the '80s and '90s. C'mon, fellas: "Watchers of the Sky" woulda been perfect!

     Both Madonna and Roger Waters trotted out children's choirs to add a sense of gravitas about the future. Madonna's kids were inexplicably dressed in Catholic school uniforms, while Waters' were upstaged by the famous Pink Floyd pig, marked on this occasion with "S.O.S. -- Save Our Sausages."

     The talentless Pussycat Dolls vamped like strippers, apparently believing that going without underwear somehow helps the environment.

     Nunatak, a band formed by five scientists at the Rothera Research Station in Antarctica, performed outside in the snow and 15-below-zero chill. They didn't seem to be lip-syncing, but there were no amps or P.A., and you couldn't hear their teeth chattering.

     Alicia Keys and Keith Urban duetted on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" ("Ooh, see the fire is sweepin'/Our very street today"), while John Legend joined Corinne Bailey Rae for Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)": ("Oil wasted on the ocean/And upon our seas, fish full of mercury").

     Nu-metal bozos Linkin Park dripped buckets of sweat, illustrating one effect of global warming, while past-their-prime gasbags Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and Bon Jovi just spewed more CO2 into the atmosphere.

     Three Chicago superstar acts took part, but none was in top form. Fall Out Boy tried to catch the spirit, but the Smashing Pumpkins just played nostalgic alternative-era oldies, and Kanye West looked like a hyperactive idiot as he joined the Police and John Mayer to close the New Jersey concert with "Message in a Bottle."

     Finally, Spinal Tap -- yes, Spinal Tap -- confirmed the grandiose absurdity of it all by playing their immortal pomp-rock spoof, "Stonehenge," at Wembley.

Baby boomers like Gore and Geldof are fond of saying that the music of the '60s inspired a generation to end the war in Vietnam. But historians and sociologists who've studied the anti-war movement maintain that fewer youths were motivated by political conviction than joined the cause because it seemed like the "cool" thing to do, with groovy sounds and good times for all.

So, in the end, can pop music really save the world?

If I didn't believe that it could, I couldn't do this job. Great music can certainly change individuals' minds, prompting them to act for the betterment of society. But in order for that to happen with the environmental movement, we're going to need much, much better music than Live Earth gave us.