Live Earth London's Glacial Pacing
Mixing Music and a Serious Message Gives Concert a Clunky Rhythm

By Glenda Cooper
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 8, 2007

LONDON, July 7 -- "If you want to save the planet, I want you to start jumping up and down!" Thus Madonna revealed her plan to combat global warming. Clad in a black satin leotard, she gyrated with dancers and simulated sex with an amplifier and a guitar. Along with the Foo Fighters, the 48-year-old Queen of Pop transformed a Live Earth concert that at times had seemed earnest and slow.

Security was tight Saturday at the Wembley Stadium event, which fell on the second anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on London's mass transit system and only a week after a plot to set off car bombs in the capital failed. The weather -- which in recent weeks has driven thousands from their homes because of flooding -- stayed fair for the afternoon.

The interspersing of musical numbers with lectures on climate change gave much of the show a staccato feel. The Black Eyed Peas were the first band to really get the crowd dancing; other early big draws were Metallica, Keane, Duran Duran and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as the crowd awaited the appearance of the headliner, Madonna.

It's an inconvenient truth, but mixing rock with recycling is awkward. In a TV interview earlier this week, Matt Bellamy of the band Muse mocked the event as "private jets for climate change."

John Buckley of Carbon Footprint, an organization that helps companies reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, said Saturday that Live Earth will produce about 74,500 tons of the gas.

"We would have to plant 100,000 trees to offset the effect of Live Earth," he said, speaking by telephone. But, he added, "if you can reach 2 billion people and raise awareness, that's pretty fantastic."

Certainly, on the way into the show, some of the 65,000 people who'd spent $110 on a ticket appeared unaware of the seven-point pledge that Al Gore, the event's chief impresario, had asked all spectators to make. Asked about it, they offered blank looks and said they were there for Madonna (whose annual carbon footprint, according to Buckley, is 1,018 tons -- about 92 times the 11 tons an average person uses per year).

"I'm not even sure who Gore is," said Georgie Simpson, 35, from Ipswich, in eastern England. "I saw Gore on TV," added Sue Bourner, 38, a health service manager from Hampshire. "But frankly, I think it's cheeky of Americans to come over here and lecture us. They are the worst polluters."

The organizers were determined that the crowd not go away ignorant, however. Big banners asking people to "answer the call" surrounded the stage. And a series of public information films featuring celebrities such as Penelope Cruz urged people to turn thermostats down and carpool while, in between, montages of happy animals were contrasted with pollution-belching power stations.

Occasionally there was a surreal experience of, for example, listening to the reunited, veteran rock group Genesis sing "Turn It On Again" while the video images appeared to suggest it was time to Turn It Off. And singer-songwriters Damien Rice and David Gray promised everyone to make a difference -- before singing that anthem to predestination, "Que Sera Sera."

Will the event make a difference after the last burger in biodegradable packaging is eaten and the stage made of recycled oil drums is packed away? Steve Howard, CEO of the Climate Group, a partner in Live Earth, said that it would.

"I think that this will be very inspiring and show people that you can put on concerts and tours in a much greener way," he said. "I understand concerns about Madonna's carbon footprint. But nobody's perfect, and at least we are now having an interesting debate about it, which will change behavior."

Lining up at the stalls selling $40 organic cotton T-shirts proclaiming "Green Is the New Black," Andrea Covic, 26, was also optimistic. "I've come because I'm sympathetic to the message," she said. "Of course I want to see the Beastie Boys. But I do think this is a good way of getting people and the media to take climate change seriously."

But Andrew Turner, 29, who had come to see his favorite band, the Foo Fighters, was not convinced. "I already recycle and wash my clothes at 30 degrees [centigrade, about 86 degrees Fahrenheit] and turn off lights and computers," he said. "So I have a suspicion that those who are coming today are those already interested in the message. I don't know how many more it will convince."

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