Released! The Human Rights Concerts, 1986-1998 (CD/DVD Review)
Although it’s a daunting task to sort through Amnesty International’s 16 hour epic documentation of their concerts from ’86-’98 to raise money and awareness for their cause, it’s a journey you’ll find yourself drawn back to again and again. Some of the segments haven’t been available for quite a while or only previously existed in VHS format or fuzzy downloads. until Shout Factory remastered and cleaned up the material on this 6 DVD, one CD set.
1988’s offering from Buenos Aries is the standout. Youssou N’Dour, Tracey Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Sting and Springsteen just tear the joint up. Even though he looks a bit strange in a shaggy mullet and a ton of mascara, Peter Gabriel’s performance is riveting. His interpretation of his hit “Sledgehammer” is a bit off-putting until you realize he’s trying to replicate the stop motion animation of the original video and MTV staple in the early ’80s. But it’s on duets with Youssou N’Dour that he really shines, matching N’dour’s soulful crooning.
Springsteen’s set is mesmerizing, a snapshot of the artist at the top of his game. His turns with the E-Streeters here are some of the best ever captured on film. Decked out like a gunfighter, all in black with a velvet tux jacket with the sleeves hacked off, slinging spit and sweat, Springsteen looks and sounds dangerous, roaring through “Born In the USA,” screaming like James Brown at the finish. A very healthy, happy Clarence Clemmons looks on, sartorially slick with a beret perched jauntily on the side of his head, voluminous leather overcoat billowing around him, swaying back and forth till the end when he cuts loose with a mighty roar. “Raise You Hand” saps Springsteen’s superhuman energy, leaving him prostrate on the stage after a sweaty set with Branford Marsalis on sax and other members of Sting’s touring band helping the E Streeters raise r&b hell. Counting off “Twist and Shout” in Spanish, Springsteen weaves in and out of “La Bamba, vogueing like Madonna when he figures out nobody in Buenos Aries knows how to twist, so he’ll just strike rock god poses to keep ’em whipped up, working the crowd like a camp meeting evangelist. Everybody on the bill joins him onstage, but its still Broooce in the lead all the way, finally collapsing in a sweaty heap to be resurrected like James Brown at the end of “Please Please Please.” Propped up by Sting and Peter Gabriel, he’s quickly brought back to life and goes off doing somersaults across the stage as Sting, Youssou N’dour and Gabriel roll off after him.
The June 1986 concert at Giants Stadium in NYC is also a gem, a crazy mix of the Hooters, Peter Paul, and Mary, Miles Davis, Yoko Ono and Jackson Browne on the same stage. But its the Miles Davis segment that makes it all worth while. Miles of course is the main attraction, back turned to the audience, sticking out his tongue at the cameraman brave enough to stalk him as he utters his unearthly tweets. But guitarist Robben Ford nearly steals the spotlight with his blistering solos, leaving Carlos Santana looking flustered, fumbling to come up with something to match Ford’s intensity and virtuosity.
Fans of zouk will appreciate Kassav’s set on the ’98 show from Paris. The uplifting sounds the band calls Guadeloupean carnival music are similar to the music Paul Simon adapted for Graceland bolstered by Ray Phiri’s guitar work. And once again, Youssoui N.Dour shines with Peter Gabriel on “Shaking the Tree.”
There’s even a volume of post-Human Rights Concerts with contributions from a wildly diverse group including Ozzy Osborne(2010’s“How,”) Mumford and Sons ( ’12’s“Little Lion Man,”) and Seal and Jeff Beck collaborating on “Like A Rolling Stone” in 2012.
The only thing that could have made it better would have been including detailed liner notes with the members of each band listed . You can scroll through the discs and find ’em, but it’d be nice to have it at your fingertips while you watch and listen. It’s a great collection, a bit overwhelming, but well worth the investment in time and money to see a collection of world class acts give their all for the noblest cause of all.