Wednesday, July 11, 2007

today : Live Earth: The Inconvenient Truth

Live Earth was rather a squib and great example of the law of diminishing returns. In that way it is like football. In the seventies Cup Final day was so exciting because it was the only live match of the season. Now you can see live matches every day of the year, and worthy day-long concerts every week of the summer. And inasmuch as sometimes even a mid-table clash between Grimsby Town and Wrexham can be a transcendental experience, there is also a high probability that it will be a low scoring head-tennis extravaganza played out on a lumpy pitch in the rain. At half time in an obvious nil-nil between Middlesborough and Fulham the pundits and presenters will always implore us to stay with it because the second half might be a 4-4 draw and not a pointless stalemate. At Live Earth we were kept waiting for the deadlock to be broken almost all day. The game desperately needed a goal.

Eventually, the Foo Fighters knocked one in. It was a ricochet; a regulation penalty. They rocked, but they always rock. Scarcity is a great commodity and the reason I know they always rock is that I've seen them live many times - always on TV.

One of the problems that deflated the event as a TV spectacle was the sound. It might be Wembley's fault but Damien Rice described it as 'boomy': he was right. So poor that the Black Eyed Peas came over as sloppy and out of time. This is the equivalent of Lauren Bacall coming over as ugly and unsophisticated, seeing as The BEPs generate their excitement by being one of the tightest, best drilled bands in the world.

In the days of Live Aid sound didn't matter at all. But we are more used to crystal clarity now. I for one have more speakers in one room than I have rooms in the rest of the house (imagine all the energy needed to run them!). None of these counted for anything when all that came from them was atmosphere-free aural sludge.

And then there were the bands themselves. One of the main effects of celebrity culture is that the hierarchy of fame is flattened out. Literally anyone can be number one on the Daily Ten. There seem to be fewer and fewer monstrous untouchable behemoths, bestriding the world with their talent and fame. When you got to see Zeppelin or Michael Jackson or Sinatra or Queen, you were part of a privileged few who witnessed these special people with your own eyes. Even with bands like Radiohead or (whisper it) U2, if you are there at a particular show it leaves you memories to take away. But where are the bands and performers who inspire awe? In her own way Madonna is very very good, but her mystique has diminished through the years, beginning with her publishing a book made up mainly from photographs of her tuppence.

But because everyone gets equal headlines and pages in the celeb magazines, few people are really special and possess the mystique of a true star. The flipside of this is that one hit song means that you can fill a stadium and minor, pretty unoriginal bands like Snow Patrol (who have a couple of terrific songs) and Razorlight (who don't) are top of the bill when they have neither the star power or catalogue to justify it.

The consequence of this is that these really huge shows are peopled by whoever is touring at the moment, a load of relatively minor acts and the odd reformed baldies. It's as if nobody was a true headliner: everyone was Stillwater.

But the thing that really did for Live Earth was the pervading sense of cynicism surrounding the whole thing. In England especially, there is little need to spread the message that Global Warming is BAD. We signed up for Kyoto; we recycle. But even then the attitude of the musicians was pretty jaded. The TV presentation had guests on the sofa, many of whom spent a lot of time admitting that they didn't really do much about reducing their giant celebrity carbon footprints. Event he organisers admitted that the concert itself would cause a mass of unnecessary fossil fuel powered travel.

The BBC tried to temper any over-enthusiasm for the cause by having a middle aged and sensible environmental correspondent on hand armed with facts - one of which was that some people are sceptical of the whole global warming idea. And therein lay the problem: the concert was raising awareness of an issue that inspires scepticism in many people. For Live Aid there was no denying that people were starving to death. For the Diana tribute there was little doubt that Diana had, in fact, perished a decade earlier and for Live8 there was no denying that the G8 was happening in the same week (even if the message for Live8 was pretty fuzzily presented).

It's hard to promote the idea of not doing something rather than doing something. And reducing your carbon footprint is still about 'effort'. Power saving light bulbs are pretty expensive compared to traditional bulbs, a Toyota Prius is a premium model of car, and the truly inconvenient truth is that had Al Gore ever been Prez he would surely have been stymied by a congress fatally addicted to corporate lobbying.

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