How much of the ozone layer would you give up to never hear Billy Corgan sing again? Wouldn’t you sacrifice a polar icecap or two? It’s a tough question, but these are tough times, and Live Earth proved we need to combat global warming, because Enrique Iglesias would never lie about a thing like that. The whole day was full of TV mindfucks: Pauly Shore going onstage in Johannesberg to introduce Baaba Maal? Kanye West rapping, “Sting, you the only Police good in the hood”? Madonna teaming up with gypsy-punk Gogol Bordello to do “La Isla Bonita”?
Madonna’s new theme song “Hey You” was unfortunately not a rewritten Pink Floyd song (“hey you, drivin’ SUVs / Dumping toxins in the breeze, can you hear me?”) But Roger Waters did show up to sing “Another Brick in the Wall,” yet skipped the temptation to have his confused-looking children’s choir chant, “We don’t need no carbon emissions.”
In terms of music, Live Earth was short on the two things that usually make superstar benefit concerts fun: strange duets and dead-band reunions. They could have used some more heavy hitters. The best duet, as everybody agreed, was Keith Urban and Alicia Keys doing “Gimme Shelter”; the best reunion was Japanese electro-prog pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, who inexplicably (yet excellently) got the final ten minutes of NBC’s highlight special to themselves, playing the Kyoto Temple. Some of the music bits were fun (Snoop, Lenny Kravitz, Beastie Boys), others weren’t (Melissa Etheridge). Duran Duran? They were GREAT. So where was Andy Taylor? No matter: I loved it when Simon Le Bon told the crowd, “Just coming here is not enough to get what’s got to be done, done — BUT — If we all sing “We might just make a stand, right here!” And the song he picked to save the planet with? “Girls On Film.” Simon, you have answered the call of awesome.
Metallica wheezed amiably through “Enter Sandman,” with James Hetfield’s beard providing much-needed comic relief, as did his huff-and-puff ad libs at the end: “Can I get some love out there? That’s niiiice!” Joss Stone was six kinds of terrible. Genesis looked a little lost, with Mike Rutherford wearing a black scarf, as if to symbolize the chilling–yet invisible–touch of environmental disaster. Phil Collins kept his eyes closed to sing “It’s no fun, bein’ a greenhouse emission.” (Well, no, he sang “Land of Confusion.” Okaaaay. Why?) Carson Daly chatted up stars like Ludacris (“I’m lending my celebrity to what’s going on today”) and Kevin Bacon (“We’ve been talking about stars making the switch from tour buses to biodiesel fuel,” a topic that no doubt keeps Kev and Carson bantering into the wee hours). Ann Curry did eye-rollingly puffy interviews with heavier hard-news types like Al Gore, even telling him, “You look like you’re having fun,” such a bizarre claim that even Dead Al had to chuckle at it. Al wouldn’t look like he was having fun if he was getting blown in the front row at a W.A.S.P. show.
There were highlights from Sydney (Wolfmother’s all-too-brief snippet of “Woman”) and Rio (Xuxa, you still got it), plus lowlights from Hamburg (Enrique Iglesias lurching into the crowd to sing “Bailamos”). There was penguin-core from Anarctica’s Nunatak, one of the day’s unequivocal musical finds, redefining the indie-rock parka. There were endless idiotic montages of creepy children. And Bon Jovi cheesed it up in high style, riding their biodiesel steel horse through “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” I loved Richie Sambora’s defiantly unbuttoned shirt, letting his voluptuous man-rack flap ominously in the wind. (Denise Richards, you let all that get away? You really DO give love a bad name!) Jane Goodall gave a speech in ape language — chimpin’ all over the world! Everybody went overboard trying to depoliticize the event; nobody mentioned the war, understandably. But you had to notice how many of the ads came from defense contractors, and wonder how citizens are supposed to slow global warming by wearing tank-tops while defense contractors run amok. Meanwhile, Jessica Alba didn’t show up at all, which was tragic.
The Police got stuck with the thankless job of closing Giant Stadium; it was an inevitable letdown, as the hotly anticipated “surprise secret guests” turned out to be just two guys who’d already played: John Mayer (making my-guitar-hurts faces, like it’s really hard to play “Message in a Bottle”) and Kanye West (shades of Puffy and Sting doing “Every Breath You Take” on MTV). The Police did their old teen-romance novelty “Can’t Stand Losing You,” a strange choice, if not as strange as Stewart’s glasses. But they sounded great. Sting subliminally reminded us all to recycle bottles, and encouraged French prostitutes to save energy by putting out the red light. Thanks, Sting!