EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Live Earth, the confederacy of musicians who performed Saturday on all seven continents to highlight the issues of global climate change, featured superstars such as Madonna and the Police entertaining crowds in packed stadiums, but also parka-wearing scientists at an Antarctic research station whose audience included wandering penguins.
Live Earth used the now-familiar template of concerts-for-causes that was shaped largely by Live Aid, the 1985 famine relief shows. But the 24 hours of music circling the globe used the Internet and high-definition camera technologies to create a 21st-century event.
Leading up to the event, though, Live Earth was also criticized by some for being too vague in its cause or for being a promotional tool for its co-founder, environmental activist Al Gore, the former vice president.
The politician was given a rock star’s welcome at Giants Stadium in New Jersey where he was introduced by Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and, in London, the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am premiered a new pro-Earth song that he said he recorded after an inspirational encounter with Gore at the Grammy Awards in February. One of the song’s lines: “We got a new terror threat: The weather.”
The other Live Earth concerts Saturday were in Hamburg, Germany; Sydney, Australia; Tokyo; Shanghai, China; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Johannesburg, South Africa, while many “unofficial” events borrowed the name and cause of the day, such as the Viva Earth show, an R&B and hip-hop concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Live Earth organizers also registered viewing parties and assorted tie-in events in a reported 131 countries.
“This is unprecedented, and we believe it has the chance to become a real tipping point in the consciousness of the world, the beginning a focused effort to deal with the very real dangers of climate change,” said Kevin Wall, the other Live Earth co-founder who also was a key figure in the Live 8 concerts last year that addressed global poverty.
Wall and Gore have come under fire, though, by critics such as British musician Bob Geldof, the key architect of the Live Aid and Live 8 shows, who said this latest concert-for-a-cause was unfocused and unwieldy. Other rock stars, including Roger Daltrey of The Who and Matthew Bellamy of Muse, have mocked the show for its hazy mission or for using celebrities who travel in private jets and perform with huge amplifiers to educate the world about reasonable energy consumption.
On Saturday, though, the concerts aired on NBC in a three-hour highlights package while versions of the shows either abridged or in whole aired on Bravo, the Sundance Channel, XM and Sirius satellite radio, and several other outlets. The shows were documented intensely online via MSN’s Web site. Organizers said they hope to reach 2 billion people through the assorted media, but some observers considered that number a hyperbolic notion.
The main focus was, not surprisingly, onstage at the big shows, especially in London and New Jersey. The U.K. show featured a reunion of Genesis and performances by Madonna, Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, the Black Eyed Peas, the Foo Fighters and others. Between acts, short video clips featuring Hollywood talent such as Jennifer Garner and Penelope Cruz urged concertgoers to do their part at home by buying reusable coffee filters and lowering their thermostat by a degree.
Stateside, it was the Police, the Dave Matthews Band, Kelly Clarkson, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Bon Jovi and Ludacris at the top of the New Jersey bill. Event organizers had converted the stadium into a big eco-friendly bubble, with recycling centers every few feet and tents made from recycled billboards. People bought pretzels and hot dogs packaged in biodegradable wrappers. Companies set up in corners to advertise energy-saving light bulbs and organic foods.
Gore, appearing onstage several times in New Jersey in jeans and short-sleeved shirt, praised the artists for “standing on stage and also taking a stand” on the environment.
He told reporters during the day that he had no plans to be a candidate for the White House, as some have speculated; and he rebuffed criticism of Live Earth, saying it was the opening salvo in an intense three-year campaign to change government policy and personal practices to avert a worsening global climate crisis.
Stadium concerts in the Garden State are hardly exotic, but Live Earth did have some far-flung sites, none more remote than Antarctica’s Rothera Research Station. Five scientists clambered out into the snow and gave their first public performance as an indie-rock band called Nunatak. That Live Earth show had the smallest local audience – just a few colleagues and penguins – while the biggest was in Brazil.