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Tom Chaplin of the British rock group Keane performed at the Live Earth concert yesterday at Wembley Stadium in London, one of a series of concerts in nine cities across the world, including East Rutherford, N.J., and Washington, D.C., intended to raise awareness about global warming and other environmental issues.
Tom Chaplin of the British rock group Keane performed at the Live Earth concert yesterday at Wembley Stadium in London, one of a series of concerts in nine cities across the world, including East Rutherford, N.J., and Washington, D.C., intended to raise awareness about global warming and other environmental issues. (Matt Candy/ Getty Images)

Rocking and rapping for the Earth

All-star lineup on 7 continents sounds the call

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Police, Roger Waters, Kanye West, and the Smashing Pumpkins led an all-star lineup of environmentally conscious rockers and rappers at yesterday's Live Earth concert at Giants Stadium, performing for a sold-out crowd of 52,000.

But that was just the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

During a series of concerts that lasted 24 hours and featured more than 150 musical artists performing in nine cities on seven continents, almost-president-turned-environmental evangelist Al Gore delivered an urgent message about what he called a climate in crisis to a global audience during Live Earth. Broadcast on network and cable television, satellite radio, and online, Live Earth was expected to reach an audience of more than 2 billion people.

Or, as Ludacris said, Live Earth is "pimpin' all over the world."

At Giants Stadium, with a New Jersey-appropriate backdrop of the world, done in vehicle tires painted red and white, actor Kevin Bacon kicked off the show with the big looming question: "Are you ready to answer the call?" While he was answered with resounding cheers, some wonder if that enthusiasm would last past the concert's final notes.

If rock music has a chance of changing the world, Keith Urban and Alicia Keys's fiery duet on "Gimme Shelter" may have infected concertgoers with the sort of passion required to tackle the climate problem. Unlike 1985's Live Aid, which raised funds for Ethiopian famine relief, and 2005's Live 8, created to pressure leading industrialized nations into providing debt relief to African countries, Live Earth is intended as the launching event for activism of extended duration, a multiyear campaign of education and action.

To that end, Gore and his Live Earth partner Kevin Wall, a veteran live event producer who also worked on Live Aid and Live 8, asked concertgoers and the global audience to take a seven-point pledge vowing to take personal action in the fight against global warming. (The pledge is available at liveearth.org.)

Said Scottish singer KT Tunstall, who wore a "Save the Future" T-shirt during her buoyant set: "Making small choices in your life can make a big difference in the world."

Gore also wants Live Earth viewers to pressure leaders to sign a treaty by 2009 that would cut global warming pollution by 90 percent in rich nations and more than half worldwide by 2050. No doubt eco-conscious celebrities Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who also showed up at Giants Stadium to lend their voices to the cause, have signed on the dotted line.

"We can't afford to fail," said DiCaprio, calling the moment "a tipping point in history" before introducing Gore, who in the first of several appearances thanked the performers for "taking the stage and taking a stand."

Not all the artists were burning with conviction, though. Akon, who performed a smooth R&B and hip-hop set, confessed during a backstage press conference that "I just realized today what the meaning of 'green' is."

The audience watched short films offering tips about energy conservation and greener living, shown between sets by hometown heroes Bon Jovi (greeted as if they were the actual saviors of the planet), Melissa Etheridge, John Mayer, Fall Out Boy, and the Dave Matthews Band, among others.

The concert ended with a galvanizing performance of "Message in a Bottle" by the Police, joined by John Mayer and West.

After kicking off in Sydney, where Aboriginal leaders performed a traditional welcome ceremony, Live Earth migrated westward to Tokyo, Shanghai, Hamburg, Johannesburg, London, and the United States. A concert in Washington, D.C., a last-minute addition featuring Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, and the Giants Stadium show concluded the marathon event, along with a show on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach late in the evening.

In London, the drummers from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters, and Queen jump-started the concert with a heavy percussion soundtrack -- performed against a map of the world made of the painted tops of oil barrels and accompanied by images of landfills, endangered animals, wind farms, and photos of the Earth taken from space.

There was also footage from Antarctica, where the previously unknown band Nunatak recorded a short set. The show in front of 17 fellow researchers allowed Gore to keep his promise to hold concerts on seven continents on the date 7/7/7.

Musical highlights in new York included a razor-sharp performance from the Smashing Pumpkins, back after a seven-year hiatus, and Kanye West's classy set with a female orchestra and a DJ.

Live Earth organizers have come under fire for creating an event that consumes huge amounts of energy and generates massive quantities of trash.

But concert officials maintain that the shows are as green as they can be, keeping environmental impact to a minimum by using alternative fuels where possible and renewable-source electricity. Staff and artist air travel is being offset through carbon credits, such as planting trees, they said. At Giants Stadium, concessionaires used recyclable paper products, and organic waste was composted.

And uncertainty about a final goal was addressed by a pair of powerful speakers. One was an incendiary Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who defied the event's one-small-step mentality by arguing that getting involved in the political process -- "getting rid of rotten politicians" -- was more important than using compact fluorescent bulbs or buying a fuel-efficient car.

The other was Jane Goodall, who brought the crowd to its feet with her version of a chimp's greeting and sent them home with her own poetic take on the question at hand: "What will it take to melt the human heart? We must hear the plea of the natural world, and we must obey."

Proceeds from Live Earth will go to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit organization founded by Gore.

Joan Anderman can be reached at anderman@globe.com. For more on music visit boston.com/ae/music/blog. Material from Reuters was included in this report.

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