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A drumbeat for action on warming

concertreviewicon.jpgJuly 8th, 2007

By Dan DeLuca
Inquirer Music Critic
TIM LARSEN / Associated Press
 
c070807.jpgPerformers around the world united in song yesterday to help take the heat off the planet. Live Earth, a series of concerts designed to raise awareness of global warming, kicked off its U.S. segment at Giants Stadium in N.J., where Keith Urban and Alicia Keys performed. A2.
 
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Outside on the New Jersey Turnpike, cars were spewing the CO2 emissions that Live Earth pied piper Al Gore calls "the exhalation of the industrial age."

But inside Giants Stadium yesterday at the principal American location of a global event that included climate-change consciousness-raising concerts on all seven continents - if you can call a band of scientists called Nunatak performing on an Antarctic ice floe a concert - the gospel of green was in full effect.

On a day that celebrated Gore as a prophet and his Oscar winning film An Inconvenient Truth as a holy text, an impressive array of stadium-sized acts including the Police, Dave Matthews Band, Bon Jovi and Roger Waters did their best to make recycling, using energy-efficient lightbulbs, and turning the heat down seem cool.

The assembled crowd of 52,000 was cheerfully "infotained" over the course of an eight-hour show with public service announcements starring Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz and Naomi Campbell, while also being diverted by performances from the other Live Earth locales such as London and Tokyo, as well as getting to hear septuagenarian primatologist Jane Goodall imitate a chimpanzee.

The reunited Police - who play Citizens Bank Park on July 19 - closed the show on a stage decorated with recycled tires, opening with a rubbery version of their 1980 hit "Driven to Tears" (first line: "How can you say that you're not responsible?"), before giving the people what they wanted with "Roxanne."

Though actor Alec Baldwin seemed to be enjoying himself singing along when shown on the video screen, that indelibly catchy song, too, was stretched out in an arrangement that lost its satisfying snap.

The bouncy "Can't Stand Losing You" was more effective, but the band didn't sound fully energized until John Mayer (who had earlier called the trio "our Beatles") joined them for "Message in a Bottle."

He was soon followed by Kanye West, who added rhymes about "We need a new tomorrow" and "We need new leaders to follow," to the grand finale while Sting sang the "Sending out an SOS" line that meshes perfectly with the Live Earth motto: Save Our Selves.

Waters came on next to last (after the Smashing Pumpkins, who in someone's misguided estimation were worthy of third-from-the-top billing). The mastermind behind Pink Floyd's '70s classic rock triumphs slowly built up grandiose versions of "Money" and "Another Brick In The Wall, Part II," the latter with the assistance of an African American children's chorus from Trenton.

The acts that went over best at the concert - where tickets went for as much as $348 and whose proceeds go to the Alliance for Climate Protection - were the ones whose songs worked as shout-along chants or hip-hop call-and-response conversations suited to the oversized setting.

At the top of that list would be hometown hero Jon Bon Jovi, a New Jerseyite who never met a string of cliches he couldn't turn into a fist-pumping anthem. His 25-minute set - no one played longer than that - was full of crowd-pleasers, from the title cut of his new CD Lost Highway to "Wanted Dead or Alive," which he unaccountably introduced as "the national anthem." (Maybe in Ocean County.)

Many acts sought to make connections to the cause, with Matthews including the consumerism-criticizing "Too Much" in his jammy set, and British songstress KT Tunstall, who wore a Save the Future shirt and skin-tight gold pants, stressing the interconnectedness of all things on "Other Side of the World."

Early on, Ludacris got a hip-hop party started, observing that with concerts in Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai, Live Earth was clearly "Pimpin' All Over the World." And American Idol alum Kelly Clarkson had the youngish crowd on her side as she powered out the industrial-strength "Since U Been Gone."

But the event didn't turn up the heat until Leonardo DiCaprio introduced Gore. The biggest rock star of the day, who later led the crowd in a seven-point "Live Earth Pledge" to among other things, "plant trees" and "work for a dramatic increase in energy efficiency," came on while a plane circled overhead with a "Don't Believe Al Gore" banner.

Gore then announced that Australian country rocker Keith Urban, who had launched into the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," was going to be joined for a duet. Who could it be? Mick Jagger? Nicole Kidman? Al Gore?

Turned out to be Alicia Keys, who tore into the song with fervor.

Keys' set was another highlight. She opened with a medley of socially conscious R&B classics, including the O'Jays "For the Love of Money," Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City," and Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)," then moved to the grand piano for a tender new ballad, "That's the Thing About Love."