Maybe Bob Geldof was right after all about Live Earth.
Perhaps you read comments the rocker-turned-humanitarian made two months ago, when Al Gore and Geldof’s Live Aid and Live 8 co-organizer Kevin Wall were still hammering out details for their worldwide series of “concerts for a climate in crisis,” held from Rio de Janeiro to Shanghai this past weekend.
“I would only organize it if I could go on stage and announce concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates, Congress or major corporations,” he said. Gore and the Live Earth team “haven’t got those guarantees, so it’s just an enormous pop concert.”
An impressive and at times inspired enormous pop concert, as it turns out, but Geldof makes a good point. Much as I hate to give fuel to those who consider global warming a hoax - the sort who likely branded Live Earth a joke and might view the event’s call to alter energy-consumption habits as unnecessary - I can’t help but wonder if this massive undertaking really accomplished anything.
It’s impossible to gauge any effects just yet, and it may remain so as Gore’s planned multiyear campaign to combat climate change (of which Live Earth was the launch) rolls on. For this event to be exalted as a turning point - the moment when people started swapping out incandescent bulbs for eco-smart ones en masse - wouldn’t there have to be some evidence in the next six months, say, that any collective efforts to change the world could be traced back to Live Earth for showing us the way?
The idealist in me wants that to happen; he kids me into thinking that if even a few thousand viewers of Saturday’s round-the-clock coverage came away deeply transformed about the environment, then something useful will have been achieved. But the realist in me knows that’s hardly enough.
To offset the energy (human and otherwise) expended on Live Earth alone, a hefty portion of the 2 billion people organizers ludicrously claimed to have reached will need to have been greatly affected. Plus, truly radical change has to start from on high - those governments and corporations Geldof spoke of - if we are really going to stave off further damage to our ecosystem.
Whereas Live Aid and Live 8 had direct aims - the former raised money to fight African famine, the latter effectively lobbied the 2005 G8 summit - after a while Live Earth began to play less like the largest global event in history, as an omnipresent Gore deemed it by night’s end, and more like the world’s largest infomercial for the green movement.
A worthy cause, if you ask me, but its urgency didn’t always come through in the performances. At Live Aid you could see the gravity of the event’s impetus on even the lowliest performer’s face. At Live Earth, though there were many potent performances - and a few standout moments that actually addressed the topic at hand - all too often these 10 shows across seven continents delivered meaningless entertainment.
Keith Urban and a fired-up Alicia Keys tearing through the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” at Giants Stadium in Rutherford, N.J., or John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae pouring their hearts into Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” at Wembley Stadium (Keys did likewise over here), or Crowded House and the rest of the Australian lineup singing “Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you” amid on-stage darkness in Sydney, or Cat Stevens reviving “Wild World” and “Peace Train” in Hamburg - these are clips I won’t soon forget.
To watch NBC’s solid three-hour prime-time wrap-up you’d guess the day teemed with such sloganeering highlights. Having slogged through all 22 hours of coverage, however - best seen on Universal HD or Sundance, with a DVR a must in helping you hurry past artfully conceived short-film messages that were nonetheless hammered home within hours - I can attest that such iconic turns were few and far between.
Let’s not bother picking on the Pussycat Dolls or Akon or Rhianna or Shakira or any other pop trifle for having nothing profound to say in the first place. Look instead at the names we expect to speak out in song - Kanye West, for instance, terrifically worked-up but bringing little more to this occasion than what he’s delivered at other festivals. How about the Police? “Driven to Tears” was a fitting opener, but to follow it with “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You” - and not include the more thematically appropriate “Walking in Your Footsteps” - made little sense.
Those were just two of many spoiled opportunities, or at the very least muted offerings. Genesis dusting off “Land of Confusion,” John Mayer swaying through “Waitin’ on the World to Change” and Roger Waters performing Side 2 of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” for example, didn’t rouse interest so much as fill space in the larger selling of Gore and his platform. Even most of my favorite bits - roaring sets from Wolfmother and Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews growling through “Don’t Drink the Water,” the return of the mighty Metallica - barely provided the level of inspiration a group like U2 oozes just by stepping on stage.
That’s who was sorely missed here: Bono. In my book the only performances that rose to his gold standard of activist-pop were Keys’ robust turn (kicked off by the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money”) and Madonna’s dramatic set, deftly balancing no-nonsense statements (like her new song “Hey You”) with multi-culti playfulness (her revamp of “La Isla Bonita” with help from the gypsies of Gogol Bordello).
That the nonstop, no-host coverage on Sundance and smart, unblemished packages on NBC, Bravo and CNBC trounced the meager, spotty handling of Live 8 now seems almost a waste. All those resources - and for what? For millions of people to run their televisions all day long and make idle online pledges to alter their habits? (How many of those promises, I wonder, will be kept?)
I’ve come away from it plenty entertained and more informed, sure, and I’m hoping it will trigger action in people. So why can’t I shake the feeling that Live Earth really hasn’t changed a thing?