BY JOHN B. MOORE
When Conservatives piss and moan about liberal rock stars climbing up on soapboxes to preach politics to the public, they’re likely thinking back to the Amnesty International tours of the mid-to-late-‘80s, where Sting, Bruce and Bono were rallying the uninformed on the issues of Human Rights.
Red Staters will likely burst a blood vessel or two, then, over A massive six-disc collection from Shout Factory!, compiling more than 1,000 hours of live shows, interviews and mini documentaries on this stellar collection. While Live Aid may be credited with ushering in the star-studded concert as worldwide fundraiser, Amnesty International obviously snagged the better lineups in its attempt to educate, rather than raise funds. It didn’t have a reunited Led Zeppelin (which played a pretty lackluster set at Live Aid), but did host the first Police reunion in 1986 (a blistering set for three guys who were likely still raw from the break up at the time of the show) and a powerful set by U2. That 1986 show also included Lou Reed, in top form, Bob Geldof (doing a weak, weak cover of “Redemption Song”), Reuben Blades, The Neville Brothers, Third World, Miles Davis and others. The 1980s pop world was also represented with a surprisingly solid set by The Hooters and numbers by Bryan Adams and Howard Jones. And man, were there some magnificent mullets on stage that night!
Highlights from the 1988 show including tour mainstays like Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman, but Springsteen, a relative newbie to political causes at the time, owned the show with “Born in the USA,” “I’m on Fire” and “The River.” The 1990 show is probably the weakest with so-so sets by Wynton Marsalis and Brown and New Kids on the Block (seriously?), but a great performance by Sinead O’Connor.
The final show in 1998 (who knew they were still going in the late ‘90s?) is highlighted with exciting sets by Radiohead, before they grew boring, (tearing through “Karma Police,” “Bones” and “Paranoid Android”) Jimmy Page & Robert Plant and the old workhorses of the tour (Springsteen, Gabriel, Sting and Chapman). There are also some very dated sets by Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette, but all six DVDs are still worth watching from beginning to end.
Though the tours may have been mocked by some for their naiveté and seemingly ambitious goal (to bring awareness to the work of Amnesty International and celebrate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the shows managed to do both. At a time when start-studded benefits concerts seem to pop up at least once a year, there is still something remarkably impressive about what these Human Rights Concerts were able to pull off nearly three decades ago.