EmptyGiants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Saturday, July 7
The North American edition of the seven-continent Live Earth concert series, designed to publicize the issue of climate change, was a little like Al Gore, the man who helped conceive it. Smartly organized, highly efficient and with its heart in the right place, it was also just a little bit dull.
Partly, that's the inevitable result of the benefit concert fatigue that has begun to set in, with this one arriving a mere two years after the Live 8 extravaganza. But it's also because, despite the plethora of big-name acts on the bill, there was a mechanical quality to the proceedings that detracted from its impact.
The show began appropriately in the blazing heat of the afternoon, with singer Kenna delivering his song "Out of Control." It ended more than seven hours later with the reunited Police, helped by Kanye West and John Mayer, singing about "sending out an SOS" in their classic "Message in the Bottle."
In between was the usual procession of radio-friendly acts of varying (but closely similar) genres. There was a little bit of rap (Ludacris, West), a little bit of country (Keith Urban), a little bit of R&B (Akon, Alicia Keys), a little bit of pop (Kelly Clarkson, KT Tunstall), a little bit of rock (Dave Matthews Band, Mayer) and a little bit of emo (Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy).
But truly resonant musical moments were few and far between. Most of the artists, allotted only 20 or so minutes, dutifully trotted out a few of their hits. A scant few dared to be different, such as AFI, with their trippy cover of "Ziggy Stardust," or Urban, who brought out a Tina Turner-channeling Keys for a galvanizing duet on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."
The audience was first truly brought to attention by Melissa Etheridge, the first performer who seemed to realize that the day was supposed to be about something. Delivering such numbers as "Imagine That" and her theme song from Gore's Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," she lectured the crowd with the impassioned cadences of a preacher, repeatedly asking, "America, what happened to us?"
Hometown boys Bon Jovi raised the energy significantly with well-honed, stadium-friendly rock, garnering frenzied crowd reactions for their hits "It's My Life," "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Livin' on a Prayer." Dave Matthews Band similarly impressed with an ominous rendition of "Don't Drink the Water." The new lineup of Smashing Pumpkins didn't pander for the event, delivering an intense set that was marred only by Billy Corgan weaving "The Star-Spangled Banner" into a guitar solo, apparently not realizing that what was once an homage to Jimi Hendrix has now become a cliche.
Although the Police (performing in New Jersey for the first time in two decades) were clearly the star attraction, their closing set never really caught fire. It was Roger Waters, delivering such Pink Floyd classics as "Money" and "Another Brick in the Wall" and bringing out his giant flying pig balloon, who provided the evening with the epochal quality it deserved.
The procession of celebrity presenters included Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Bacon, anthropologist Jane Goodall and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., among many others. And of course there was Gore himself, who made numerous onstage appearances to rabid cheering. As if to remind us that the issue of climate change is not necessarily settled, buzzing over the stadium were two airplanes bearing the dueling banners "Draftgore.com" and "Don't believe Al Gore: Demanddebate.com."