by Rick Rockwell
Former Vice President Al Gore has made his statement, entertaining an estimated two billion people via television, radio, and the internet with the Live Earth concert series. Certainly, there will be debate about the message of global warming, the pledge, the politics, the ratings, and a variety of angles. But how did the nine concerts on six continents* hold up as a musical event?
Here’s the review in three words: pop, pap, poof.
The event was so light as to float away, but perhaps that is the type of musical programming that connects with the masses. This reviewer consumed the day’s events live and on tape-delay via internet, radio and finally in the evening via television by switching between NBC, CNBC, and Bravo. But in more than six hours of sampling, few musical moments stood out. The disappointments outweighed the surprises.
First, to the highlights:
The biggest surprise was a scorching duet between Alicia Keys and Keith Urban on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” Who knew either could rock so hard? Keys tore into the vocals with abandon while Urban shredded his guitar.
In London, the Red Hot Chili Peppers burned down the house with “Dani California.” In New Jersey, the Dave Matthews Band cooked through “Too Much,” and it was just that. Back to London for Duran Duran with a very punchy “Girls on Film.” (With this performance and their work on the Amnesty International Darfur charity album, Instant Karma, Duran Duran are rehabilitating themselves from their teen crush image of the 1980s.) Also, in London, Metallica stomped through “Enter Sandman.” (Although you would have never known it if you watched any of the NBC evening feeds.) Lenny Kravitz ran into the crowd in Brazil while delivering an energetic version of “Let Love Rule.” In Australia, Crowded House led a rousing sing-along with “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
And there were some amusing moments too: Christopher Guest getting the satirical Spinal Tap crew together for a few numbers in London and the band of scientists called Nunatak playing a song in Antarctica.
That really wasn’t enough for all that sifting through hours of concerts. The major disappointment was The Police lamely trying to resurrect themselves. Their extended version of “Roxanne” was dull. Ironically, Sting (Gordon Sumner) seemed to lose his voice or strained through much of “Can’t Stand Losing You.” Even asking for the assistance of John Mayer and Kanye West (why those two?) during “Message in a Bottle” fell flat.
Another disappointment was NBC’s coverage. Just like NBC’s Olympic coverage, the global event was reduced to the view from New York with occasional medleys of songs from elsewhere with the exception of healthy doses of material from London. (NBC cut Wolfmother’s heavy metal set to just a third of a song, for instance.) Plus, NBC gave us not one but two extended samples from Madonna’s set in London. This is just an example of how pop ruled. (We won’t even go into the Japanese and Chinese pop idols streaming on the ‘net.) Over on CNBC, it seemed the cable network showed Madonna’s entire set, including her embarrassing attempts to play a guitar a la Jimi Hendrix.
Finally, it is obvious that NBC had to use Carson Daly in its coverage; they do have him under contract after stealing him from MTV, after all (although Today's Ann Curry, his co-host was far superior). But Daly proved once again that he is all about self-promotion (who cares if he parties with these musicians?) and asking insipid questions. Although NBC’s overall coverage on the network and various cable channels was a step above what MTV offered of the Live 8 concerts, that isn’t saying much, considering MTV’s abysmal performance in 2005. Both efforts suffered from too much blather from commentators and too many commercials.
In the end, when the inevitable concert disc arrives, likely the producers will be hard pressed to find even 45 minutes of great performances.
*Nunatak's one-song performance in Antarctica really doesn't qualify as a concert. A great idea would have been to give the Arctic Monkeys a gig playing to a select group of 100 fans in Antarctica, except the Arctic Monkeys came out against the concert series.
(The promotional poster of the Live Earth concert in Shanghai, China is from MSN. Various Metallica videos have occupied the space below, but keep getting pulled by YouTube. Here's a PG-rated version of "Enter Sandman" from Metallica's Wembley Stadium London set, for a return engagement.)
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by Rick Rockwell