All Together Now

By J. Freedom du Lac and Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 8, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., July 7 So this is what it sounds like when a rock star among environmental crusaders cranks it up to 11.

Al Gore tried his hand at concert promoting Saturday, hoping to get the world to hear him loud and clear (but especially loud). The former vice president's message, repeated over and over by artists at Live Earth concerts here and on every other continent around the world? The climate is in a state of emergency! Act now! Rock and ROLL!! !

Or, as hip-hop singer Akon yelped from the Giants Stadium stage: "Support global warming, baby!" (Oops. But point taken.) Thus did art and message mix, and sometimes collide, at the U.S. leg of the worldwide concert series, which drew headliners from across the spectrum of contemporary music.

Other shows took place in London, Sydney, Tokyo, Kyoto, Shanghai, Hamburg, Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro, all intended to raise awareness of global warming. And, just so it could be said that all continents were represented, a little band of scientists boogied at a research station in Antarctica and sent their tunes to the world via satellite.

As for Washington, it was represented by a brief -- but mighty rare nowadays -- appearance by retired country star Garth Brooks, who dropped in to sing a song with his wife, Trisha Yearwood, at a previously scheduled event on the Mall.

Plenty of scoffers have questioned whether a bunch of musicians can change popular behavior by running through a short set and shouting a few slogans. In fact, a bunch of musicians have questioned it, let alone the people who doubt the existence of global warming, or who doubt that humankind can do much to reverse it.

But those folks were not much in evidence Saturday at Giants Stadium, where the spirit of recycling extended all the way to the napkin dispensers on the concourse. "Giants Stadium is doing its part to make Live Earth a greener place by using EcoLogo certified napkins," posted signs read.

There was recycling on the set lists, too. Goth-punk band AFI did an appropriately glammy cover of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust." Country guitar-slinger Keith Urban performed a fiery version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" with the young soulstress Alicia Keys. (The surprise duet, a rather unlikely pairing, was meant to make the special event a little more so, though Keys sounded somewhat flat.) Performing her own set later, Keys -- in a slinky, fuchsia cocktail dress that could cause global warming -- tore into a spirited medley of soul classics: The O'Jays' "For the Love of Money," Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City," Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me."

The Smashing Pumpkins were among the few acts to push their own product, with Billy Corgan pointing out the recently reunited alternative-rock band has a new album coming out on Tuesday. Corgan then joked about whether people were more likely to buy the album or illegally download it. (Contrast that with Roger Waters, who barely addressed the crowd during his Pink Floyd-heavy set of soaring prog-rock that concluded with "The Wall" -- complete with a children's chorus and, of course, an inflatable pig that flew across the stadium.)

The concert began under a broiling sun at 2:15, and while the event was sold out -- 52,000 tickets, according to the local promoter, Live Nation -- the stadium wasn't even one-third full as the first act took the stage. Perhaps that was because so many people were seeking refuge on the shaded concourse or in the cool tunnels leading to the stadium floor -- which, organizers proudly pointed out, was covered with environmentally friendly Bravo Mats instead of plywood.

Artists took dramatically different approaches to addressing the issue of the day. AFI's Davey Havok urged people to act on a personal level and noted that his band is vegetarian. Taking Back Sunday frontman Adam Lazzara suggested picking up some reading material on global warming. And then there was Ludacris. After being introduced with a bad pun about "environmental ludicrousness," the rap star asked the audience to answer his own call (and response): "When I say, 'Luda,' you say, 'Cris!' " he barked. (He also sent a shout-out to "all the independent ladies.")

There was no real unifying artistic thread tying the New Jersey lineup together. Just popularity. In trying to reach as many eyes and ears as possible, the talent booker aimed big and wound up with a who's-who of the Billboard Top 40, not to mention some of the biggest touring artists on the circuit. How else to explain Akon and Fall Out Boy sharing the stage with the Police and the Dave Matthews Band? Artists performed truncated sets, usually 20 minutes each.

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