Tuesday, January 28, 2014


A big box of six DVD's, this is a look back on some groundbreaking tours and concerts held for Amnesty International.  A long time back, the charity discovered the power of connecting major stars and good music to their cause,   We watch how that got started in England, as explained in documentary features of the DVD's, learn the history and cause, and of course focus on some major concert footage along the way.

There are four concert events presented here, spread over the set.  The first is the all-day A Conspiracy Of Hope broadcast from 1986, from Giants Stadium.  The second is a multi-venue look at the Human Rights Now! tour of 1988 that lasted six weeks and visited cities around the world.  In 1990, much of the same cast reunited in Chile for a celebration show after the end of the dictatorship there.  And finally, 1998 saw a one-off concert to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Giants Stadium 1986 was a big deal, back when these televised concerts were still a novelty.  It was the year after Live Aid, so much excitement had built up for the show, which featured a slew of stars.  Headlining were The Police, reunited for the first time since Synchronicity, Sting having become a solo star.  U2 were becoming the hottest band on the planet, and Peter Gabriel had just come off his smash Sledgehammer.  Bryan Adams was hauling in the mainstream pop fans, and Joni Mitchell and Lou Reed were rock royalty.  Of course, there were plenty more acts on the undercard to fill up the day.  The trouble with this lengthy double-disc look at the show is that disc one is hit-and-miss, depending on the talent on hand.  Jackson Browne and Joan Armatrading, yay. The Hooters and Third World, unremarkable.  And at every one of these events, you can count on some bizarre performances.  This time, Joan Baez singing Tears For Fears' Shout takes the prize.  Neither Yoko Ono or Miles Davis was suited to the outdoors stadium, but their inclusion was mostly honorary.  Poor Little Steven, trying to eek out a solo career away from E Street, was just god-awful.  Perhaps it was because his two best songs were grabbed by others, I Am A Patriot (performed by Browne) and Sun City (U2).  It's still a big kick watching these vintage moments, and watching American kids starting to catch on to problems such as Apartheid.

1988's event saw a different plan, with the touring lineup set in place:  Sting and Gabriel were the backbone, Tracy Chapman the new star with a conscious, Youssou N'Dour brought in the Third World, and Bruce Springsteen was the heavy hitter brought in to make sure the shows would be huge.  The DVD, instead of presenting one night, is done in a documentary style, travelling the world with the cast, and showing us everything from in-flight footage to press conferences to artists testimonials.  We also get partial sets from all. Gabriel, awkward in '86, has now figured out how to play to stadiums, and the power of Biko is perhaps the highlight of the set.  Springsteen is captured in wild, end-of-set abandon, the audience frenzy as huge as his stage presence on closer Twist And Shout/La Bamba.  Above all, we get the sense that these core artists were totally committed to the cause, and willing to stick their necks out every day on the tour.

1990's one day concert was meant to celebrate the liberation of Chile, and better human rights for the area.  Sting and Gabriel were back, this time joined by Browne again, newbies Sinead O'Connor, Wynton Marsalis, and Ruben Blades.  Oh, and New Kids On The Block.  Guess who were most popular?  Just goes to show you can bring all the high-minded ideals you want, but what really causes excitement is a boy band.

The 1998 Paris show was pretty much a cast reunion of the 1988 world tour, with only Sting unable to make it. Springsteen didn't have the band together, but instead did three acoustic songs, and it's always good to see him stripped back, it lets the songs come through.   Gabriel and N'Dour (a much bigger star in Paris than elsewhere) do a wonderful job on In You Eyes, obviously thrilled to be together again.  The rest of the show welcomes new blood to the Amnesty cause, stars of that period, and newcomers of note.  Shania Twain appears nervous and out of place, but good on her for standing up and being counted.  Alanis Morissette was still awfully big back then, but the songs haven't aged well.  Radiohead really came off well, Paranoid Android a good one.  As for extra star wattage, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were perhaps more interesting in that group than much of the Zeppelin time.

There is a lot of music here, most of it interesting.  There's also a lot of talk.  Not just in the concert documentaries, but as special features, mini-docs and messages spread all over the set.  It's highly repetitive, often repeating the same testimonials from the celebs.  Of course, you don't have to watch it all, and in one long stretch as I did.  It's an important message though, so it's good to let some in during the first viewing at least.  The music is what will draw you though, and this is a very generous look at these landmark concerts.

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