The sheer amount of entertainment contained in the six-DVD set, Released, The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998, and its two-CD sister, produced by Amnesty International, could be enough of an argument for full support of Amnesty’s cause. After nearly 17 hours of four concerts, interviews, home video, and extras featuring some of the industry’s biggest, namely U2, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, and Lou Reed, it’s just as possible to suspect the message might get lost in the music. Perhaps this was a thought of the collection’s producers as the songs chosen by the artists and the performances culled from the shows repeat the sentiment again and again, making certain that raising awareness of and action for prisoners of conscience are the driving motivations for all those involved.
This is as much a pledge for Amnesty International now as it was over 25 years ago when the first of these concerts occurred, with most of these never-before-seen-on-DVD appearances by artists whose legends have grown in the interim. To have them all compiled and presented here is an extraordinary feat, and does not disappoint. Playing with passionate intent, it’s difficult to single-out any over the rest as each has its own appeal. Gabriel is especially moving, with his world music vibe, sharing the moment with Youussou N’Dour on “In Your Eyes.” Newly minted star Radiohead burns up a set featuring OK Computer cuts, with older masters Jimmy Page and Robert Plant equal to the task in their own right. Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” reacquaints viewers with the provocative presence and unequalled voice she possesses. Springsteen and Sting seem to appear most frequently resulting in some very special collaborations, and yet these are but a fraction of what’s here.
Events in recent history, mainly those of natural disasters and international conflict, have prompted mega-concerts, fundraisers collecting the top artists and entertainers to pitch for aid. These have been almost exclusively one-offs that follow the headlines, and while emotional and productive, don’t seem to have the same lasting impact as the Amnesty tours. That’s not to say the Human Rights concerts are more or less important, or that the artists care more about one than another, but Amnesty’s fight is still a present one, and the solutions still elusive and necessary. It is evident over the breadth of this set that the power of art to inspire change is real, and that the performances derived from such inspiration, like Amnesty’s candle, continue to burn brightly as they are passed on to another generation in hopes of resolution.