EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — "You all came to this concert," Melissa Etheridge opined midway through a smoldering evening set at the Live Earth concert in Jersey, "because you are Americans."
(Check out behind-the-scenes footage, on-the-ground coverage, fan reactions, videos and more on MTV's new You R Here blog; watch Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, John Mayer and more chat with John Norris at the NJ concert; and see performance pics of Rihanna, Linkin Park, Jack Johnson and more.)
That's one way of looking at it. You could probably also argue that plenty of the 60,000 or so people who made their way out to Giants Stadium on Saturday (July 7) were concerned citizens of the world, plunking down their hard-earned cash to make a statement that the real fight against global warming begins today (though this is probably wishful thinking).
Or perhaps everyone was just here to have a good time, to watch a bunch of bands, get sunburned, throw back some adult beverages and chuck footballs around the parking lot (this is probably reality).
Because, really, for all the pre-show discourse (from both sides of the aisle) about just what the point of Al Gore's Live Earth concert series was, the biggest surprise on this Saturday in the Meadowlands was that no one — not the fans, the bands — seemed to know either (see "A Globe Divided? Reaction To Live Earth Is Decidedly Mixed").
Sure, there were plenty of enthusiastic speeches from the musicians (the aforementioned Etheridge, Alicia Keys, etc.) and the assembled celebs, scientists and politicians, but there was also a whole lot of silence, particularly from some of the marquee acts. Kanye West — usually not one to keep quiet about anything — said nothing about climate change; local gods Bon Jovi seemed pissed that they were limited to a 20-minute set; and the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan only spoke to plug his band's new album.
Still, the speeches that were made were greeted with a bizarre level of enthusiasm from the crowd (Live Earth no doubt marked the first time in history that 60,000 people in New Jersey gave famed primate expert Jane Goodall a standing ovation), and the entire upper deck was teeming with pro-environment banners and T-shirts. Then again, it was also teeming with shirtless, passed-out dudes and their bikini-clad better halves.
It was a little bit surreal, a little bit inspiring and a little bit awesome. Part Woodstock, part Wango Tango, Live Earth certainly didn't feel like a once-in-a-generation event. But, then again, with an anticipated audience of 2 billion worldwide, and concerts on all seven continents, maybe it was.
So for those who cared about ending global warming, about being part of something greater than themselves, and about seeing Kevin Bacon or Cameron Diaz making speeches, there was plenty to be happy about. And for those who came just to see a lineup that rivaled any rock-radio fest, there was a whole lot (a whole, whole lot) to get pumped about, too.
Like KT Tunstall, who made the most of her early-afternoon set and led the crowd in an honest-to-goodness wave before rattling off her hit "Suddenly I See." Or Alicia Keys and Keith Urban's raw take on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."
Fall Out Boy bounded about with glee, Akon — truly the hitmaker's hitmaker these days — packed just about everything into his set (and didn't body-slam a single fan). The crowd bugged out when he took his shirt off, and there was an even funnier moment during his set when fans kept chanting the dirty version of "I Wanna Love You," even though he was trying to sing the clean version. And Etheridge, whose set consisted of only one long jam, managed to bring the fire and brimstone with her condemnations of President Bush.
Alicia Keys was soulful and sexy, putting a whole lot of heart into songs like "If I Ain't Got You." Kelly Clarkson rocked hard, and Kanye wheeled out a full string section (dressed in silver space suits, no less) to fancy up his set.
Then there was Bon Jovi, who could've broke wind in a bag and the hometown crowd woulda eaten it up (case in point, they even cheered the band's country-tinged new stuff, which sounds like bad John Mellencamp). To see the band rock NJ is akin to witnessing the pope give a mass in the Vatican.
The Smashing Pumpkins brought sheer volume (and that album plug), former Pink Floyd mastermind Roger Waters brought the hits (and an inflatable pig), and the Police — aided by a fiery cameo by West, who broke from his earlier silence and spat verses about finding "new leaders to follow" and changing the world — brought the house down.
But as 60K filed out, you had to wonder: Did any of this make a difference? Were any minds and hearts changed? And does that even matter?
Well, on a day in which so many spoke so loudly about those very concerns, perhaps the best answer of all was provided by Fall Out Boy's eternally silent drummer, Andy Hurley, who, when asked by MTV News' John Norris if Live Earth mattered, stopped, then cracked a smile.
"I don't know, man. I mean, I got into politics because of Rage Against the Machine," he said. "So music can change people's minds. We'll see what happens."
Guess we will.
Wish you had been there? We have Live Earth covered: Watch the show, see reports from the scene, submit your concert photos and video, make a pledge to stop the climate crisis and more at MTV's Live Earth site.