Live Earth London has drawn to a close with a spectacular headline set from Madonna. The queen of pop, an adopted Londoner, turned each song into a show-stopper in a vintage performance. She was backed by a choir for “Hey You” (written especially for Live Earth), rocked out on guitar with robotic dancers for “Ray of Light” and was joined by members of gypsy punks Gogol Bordello for a crazed hoedown version of “La Isla Bonita.”
She also took time to thank Live Earth organizers Al Gore and Kevin Wall “for giving the world the wake-up call it so badly needs.” The set closed with her U.K. No. 1 “Hung Up,” turning a packed Wembley Stadium into the world’s biggest disco, before Madonna handed over to New York to carry on the festivities.
It was a fitting conclusion to a day that managed to combine plenty of great music with the central message of raising awareness of climate change. This was illustrated to dramatic effect just before Madonna’s set, when actor Terence Stamp led a ceremonial turning off of all Wembley’s “non-essential lighting.”
But while Madonna topped the bill, it was the alternative and heavy rock bands that proved the biggest hits, with the Foo Fighters threatening to steal the show. Their blistering set included “Best of You,” “All My Life” and “Times Like These,” dedicated to Gore. The Foos’ set finished with Dave Grohl alone on a walkway in the midst of the crowd for an emotive “Everlong.”
For much of the evening, Live Earth became Loud Earth with the Foos, as well as metal legends Metallica and comedy act Spinal Tap all rocking Wembley Stadium to its new foundations.
Metallica, which headlines the stadium tomorrow, warmed up with a blistering set including “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters.” Some of the band members also joined Spinal Tap on stage for its rendition of “Big Bottom.” The latter band greeted the crowd with a cheery “Hello Wimbledon!” and also recreated its classic “Stonehenge” routine with a mini-model of the English landmark.
There was more unintentional comedy as organizers chose to follow the two loudest bands of the day with Brit crooner James Blunt, who ignored his hit “You’re Beautiful” in favor of a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.”
But equilibrium was restored as the Beastie Boys, clad in snazzy suits in an appropriate shade of green, launched into a frantic set that included “So Whatcha’ Want,” “Intergalactic” and “Sabotage.”
It was all in stark contrast to the lazy afternoon section, when artists like Corinne Bailey Rae and Terra Naomi captured the mellow mood perfectly. Rae’s set included a duet with John Legend on Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” and a summery version of her hit single, “Put Your Records On.”
She was followed on stage by singer/songwriter/YouTube star Terra Naomi, facing the biggest crowd of her career with only an acoustic guitar for company. Keane singer Tom Chaplin dressed all in black for the occasion and led his band through the huge sing-a-longs “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Bedshaped.”
The huge venue seems to be posing few problems for the new breed of British guitar bands. Earlier, Bloc Party thrived in a surprisingly high slot on the bill, with singer Kele Okereke leading the crowd in “Mexican waves” and demanding, “Are we going to have some fun tonight?”
Before that, veteran acts had their moment in the spotlight. Red Hot Chili Peppers played a heavy-hitting set that saw the best crowd reaction of the day so far. Introduced by comedian Chris Rock as “the baddest band in the land,” the Chilis initially baffled the crowd with a slow jam, before wrestling back the momentum with pumped up versions of “Can’t Stop,” “Dani Califonia,” “So Much I” and a fast and furious “By the Way”.
“I have something to say,” quipped Flea at one point. “It’s probably the most important thing you’ll ever hear … but I can’t remember it. Maybe next time!”
Duran Duran was also in humorous mood as it brought some old school pop charm to the London event, which aims to raise awareness of climate change. Introduced on stage by Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, Simon Le Bon began by declaring, “Everybody who didn’t arrive by private jet, put your hands in the air.” Le Bon then defiantly raised his hands, before charging through hits including “Planet Earth,” “Ordinary World” and “Girls on Film.”
And one other Legend took the stage: soul singer John Legend, who silenced the Wembley crowd with an emotive version of “Ordinary People,” played alone at the piano.
Earlier, guitars were very much the order of the day as others from the new wave of British alternative rock talent dominated proceedings. Kasabian singer Tom Meighan, swigging lager and clad in a Union Jack shirt, brought some bad boy swagger to proceedings, but also became the first artist to directly mention today’s climate change cause.
“I want to address the whole world,” he declared, “Save your energy!”
Other performers have provided mellower attractions. Scottish singer/songwriter Paolo Nutini played a simple-but-effective cover of “Wonderful World,” made famous by Louis Armstrong, while Damien Rice and David Gray teamed up for an acoustic set that included a version of “Que Sera Sera,” traditionally sung by English soccer fans as their team progresses to the Football Association Cup Final, held at Wembley Stadium.
Black Eyed Peas were the first American act of the day to perform, offering up an energetic, hit-packed set. Earlier, Razorlight and Snow Patrol both seized the opportunity to appear on the big stage, prompting big crowd sing-a-longs for “America” and “Chasing Cars,” respectively.
The concert began just after 1.30 p.m. U.K. time today (July 7) when a voice announced “The greatest show on planet earth, for planet earth” to a still-filling-up Wembley Stadium.
The first act on stage in London was not a pop megastar, however, but a drumming troupe dubbed the SOS Allstars featuring Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith and Queen’s Roger Taylor amongst dozens of unknowns. As images of global warming flashed on the big screens, the band launched into the beat of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” prompting memories of Live Aid in the old Wembley Stadium more than 20 years ago.
Next up in the completely rebuilt stadium was national top 40 station Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles, who greeted the crowd with a traditional holler of “Hello Wembley!” before introducing the reformed Genesis.
The crowd atmosphere moved up several notches with a spirited run through “Turn It on Again” before Phil Collins, back at the helm of his old band, introduced “Land of Confusion” as “Mildly appropriate for today.” The band then ended with “Invisible Touch” to wild applause, immediately followed by Moyles apologizing for Collins’ profanity during the set.
Coverage from Live Earth concerts around the world continues throughout the day at Billboard.com. For more on Live Earth and the greening initiatives driving the music industry, visit Billboard’s Going Green microsite.