Anyone who watched Live Earth on TV yesterday knows it was nearly impossible to catch any one city’s lineup in its entirety, so here’s a close-up look at who played and who was chatting it up backstage at Giants Stadium:
At 10:30 PM in Giants Stadium — more than twenty-four hours after Jack Johnson kicked off the Live Earth extravaganza in Sydney — Al Gore took to the recyclable-confetti-strewn stage. “Take all this energy in your heart and help us solve the climate crisis,” the former vice president said, straining to be heard above a rapturous packed house.
It remains to be seen whether Live Earth will go down in history as an important milestone in environmental awareness or an over-hyped, self-important spectacle, but for the 52,000 at the sold-out stadium last night, it was at least a pretty solid rock show.
(Who used a teleprompter during their set? Who was the most scantily clad presenter? Read on for a full report of what went down at Live Earth New York onstage and behind the scenes.)
The eight-hour gig began under the hot July sun with Ethiopian-born singer Kenna playing to the early arrivers, many of whom could be seen mouthing “Who is this?” KT Tunstall came onstage to proffer her sunny pop wearing a “Save the Future” T-shirt and some gold spandex leggings she could have saved for the future. The first significant highlight came mid-afternoon, when country star Keith Urban brought out Alicia Keys for a searing cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
“It was really spontaneous,” Keys said backstage, adding that she and Urban rehearsed the song for the first time just hours before the show. “The most important thing about it was the way that two people from seemingly different worlds came together to sing what this day is all about.” Later, Keys spotted Mayer backstage, and yelled “Shorty!” The singer-guitarist gave her a big affectionate hug and said the “Shelter” duet “kicked ass.” Ludacris, AFI, Fall Out Boy, Akon, John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, Alicia Keys with her own band, Dave Matthews Band and Kelly Clarkson followed, each playing set of about 30 minutes, broken up by short films about the environment, clips from other Live Earth shows around the world and presentations from people like Kevin Bacon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, as well as scientists like Jane Goodall (who gave a seemingly spot-on greeting in chimp-speak) and activists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Backstage, Bacon admitted he’s been a serious Police fan for years. “When you go back and look at old pictures of me you can see me constantly trying to rock my hair like Sing and not always succeeding,” he laughed. “I’ve been an environmentalist for a really, really long time. I remember standing on the steps of the Capitol building waving around a cloth diaper when my son was just born, and he’s eighteen now.” Speaking of diapers, Live Earth’s seven pledges were posted all over the backstage area, but the most prominent set were located right by the port-a-potties at the stage’s entrance.
AFI’s Davey Havok spoke about being a vegan from the stage and told us with urgency, “I think that the situation is very, very scary. The changes in weather that we’re seeing, the seasons blending into nothing — that shows that we don’t have very much time left.” Fall Out Boy had more to say about the heat onstage: “To be able to say one day we opened for the Police and Smashing Pumpkins and John Mayer and Kanye West and Alicia Keys — this is going to look really good on our bio,” said Pete Wentz.
Dave Matthews cooled himself down with a few beverages and complained to Sting, “It’s always the same at these things — my guitar went to shit” (it totally gave out during his first song and a roadie had to come up to give him a replacement). A smiling Kelly Clarkson generously took pictures with and talked to the dozens of fans who approached her backstage. “It’s all about bringing your fans here and everybody having a good time and being educated,” she said. “The worst thing I do in my life is touring because it’s basically the worst thing you can do to the planet. So I’ve been learning from other bands to use bio-diesel and select people to tour with who are committed to recycling.”
DiCaprio and Diaz were the two presenters who weren’t readily available to hang backstage, though everyone behind the scenes got a little too much access to James Blunt’s ex, model Petra Nemcova, who tromped around in a scandalously short skirt with Lukas Haas. The most popular star by far, though, seemed to be Little Miss Sunshine actress Abigail Breslin. Both Alec Baldwin and Rachel Weisz introduced themselves to Breslin, with Baldwin repeating “Oh my God” like a star-struck fan. Elsewhere behind the scenes, Rosario Dawson said she’d move to the moon if Earth became uninhabitable: “It’d be like Burning Man … sorta.”
Things didn’t really heat up again onstage until Kanye West played his typically high-energy set under the fading sun. He did his new single “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'” and classics like “Jesus Walks” and “Touch the Sky,” during which he broke into an all-out sprint from one side of the enormous stage to the other, rapping in time.
New Jersey’s own Bon Jovi played a hits-heavy set that elated the locals, and the Smashing Pumpkins performed their first stadium show since reforming for a new album. Playing old hits like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Today,” as well as their new single “Tarantula,” Corgan, with amazing original drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and two new members rocked as hard as ever, though the singer’s shilling for the new album and chastising illegal downloaders was a buzz-kill, given the setting.
Up next, Roger Waters ran through a collage of appropriate Pink Floyd hits, including “Money,” “Us and Them,” and “Brain Damage/Eclipse,” before creating another highlight during “Another Brick in the Wall.” A dozen kids ran onstage as the song started, wearing T-shirts that said “Together We Stand,” and just as the song got going, a giant inflatable pig soared above the crowd, with “S.O.S. Save Our Sausages” tagged on the side. It was a play on Live Earth’s mantra: S.O.S.: Save Ourselves — and it wouldn’t be the last of the night.
The Police came out to play their headlining set, quizzically noodling along to “Driven to Tears,” “Roxanne,” and “Can’t Stand Losing You.” The biggest shocker: The band used a teleprompter to help them remember the lyrics, even to some of their biggest-ever hits. For the finale, they introduced John Mayer as a guest guitarist and tore into “Message in a Bottle.” Suddenly, the song — with its “sending out an S.O.S” refrain — and the band seemed the obvious closer to this effort to reach out and touch billions of people around the globe. As the song approached fever pitch, Kanye West bounded onstage, freestyling some awkward rhymes (“Sting, you the only Police that’s good in the ‘hood”), before breaking into a frenzied refrain, “We can save the world!” And for a second, the critics and cynics were shoved to the side and it seemed like maybe he was right.
Additional Reporting by Elizabeth Goodman