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Live Earth's embrace circles the globe

concertreviewicon.jpgJuly 8th, 2007

By Erika Hayasaki and Alicia Lozano, Times Staff Writers

Critics say the concerts' goal is unfocused. Stars took the stage anyway, including Madonna, the Police and, of course, Al Gore.
 
dmbliveearth.jpgEAST 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 shaped largely by Live Aid, the 1985 famine relief shows. But the 24 hours of music circling the globe Saturday used the Internet and high-definition camera technologies to create a uniquely 21st century event.

Leading up to Saturday, though, Live Earth was also criticized by some for being too vague in its cause or for being a promotional tool for its cofounder, 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. 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 lines: "We got a new terror threat: the weather."

The other Live Earth concerts Saturday were in Hamburg, Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg. Many "unofficial" events borrowed the name and cause, such as the Viva Earth show, an R&B and hip-hop concert Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Live Earth organizers also registered viewing parties and 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 cofounder who also was a key figure in last year's Live 8 concerts addressing global poverty.

Wall and Gore have come under fire, though, by critics such as British rock star Bob Geldolf, 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.

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, KLOS-FM (95.5) in Los Angeles, and several other outlets. The shows were documented intensely online via MSN's website. Organizers said they hoped to reach 2 billion people through the assorted media.

The main focus Saturday was, not surprisingly, onstage, 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, 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 adjusting 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. Pretzels and hot dogs came packaged in biodegradable wrappers. Companies set up in corners to advertise energy-saving lightbulbs and organic foods.

At one recycling center, volunteer Martha Parks, 53, helped people sort bottles, trash and biodegradable containers into three bins. Most seemed confused over which bin they were supposed to use.

On the stage below — its backdrop adorned with dozens of recycled tires — an announcer yelled: "You guys realize you are part of history right now? Change! We all have the power to make a change."

The message did not reach everyone, much to Parks' frustration. Behind her, a man threw a beer bottle in the trash without glancing at the recycling signs. Parks rolled her eyes, pulled it out and swore at him. "Then we have the [expletives] who don't even care," she snapped. "They just want to see the stars."

David Naczycz, 34, of New York conceded, "It's a concert. Live Aid, when they did that, it helped a little. But it's obviously not going to fix the problem."

Gore, appearing onstage several times in New Jersey in jeans and short-sleeved shirt, praised the artists for "standing onstage and also taking a stand" on the environment.

He told reporters he had no plans to run 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 global climate crisis.

"I've been trying to deliver this message for 30 years, and I know that it doesn't take in just one delivery," he told the Associated Press. "You've got to keep going."

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 — a few colleagues and penguins — while the biggest was in Brazil.

In the land of samba, Lenny Kravitz and Macy Gray led the bill at the show set up on Copacabana beach. Original projections put the draw at 1 million; on Saturday, concert organizers estimated the crowd at 200,000, and the military police reckoned it was about 100,000.

It was a dramatic turnaround from earlier in the week, when fears arose that the show might not go on in Brazil. Just two days before, a judge reversed an earlier decision to cancel the only free Live Earth concert. Organizers had been concerned that a thinly stretched police force wouldn't be able to secure the large, open-air venue.

There were signs that Live Earth had caught the imagination of others in Brazil, a leading producer of ethanol-based alternative fuel.

"I think it's wonderful," said Carlos Cae, a gym instructor in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city. "I don't know what the music will do for the environment, but it's a start."