Friday, November 22, 2013

Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 (2013) DVD Review

Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 is a six-disc box set of music from four different concerts between 1986 and 1998 featuring performances by Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, U2, The Police, Bruce Springsteen and many other excellent artists. The net proceeds from sales of this box set benefit Amnesty International. In addition to the six discs (with an incredible amount of bonus material), there is a forty-page booklet including background information and photos.

“A Conspiracy Of Hope” (featuring Lou Reed, Bryan Adams, The Police)

The first two discs of the set feature selections from an all-day concert held at Giants Stadium in New Jersey on June 15, 1986. This concert was, as a voice over at the beginning tells us, in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Amnesty International, and it includes performances by Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams and The Police. These two discs give us more than five hours of concert footage. There are lots of shots of the audience too. And dig those 1980s fashions.

It begins with Bob Geldof and Steven Van Zandt covering Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Bob Geldof, of course, was a major force behind Live Aid. He comes out later to do a song with Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul. There are no pauses between bands, and we’re treated to a couple of songs from The Hooters. God, I played the hell out of that Hooters album when it first came out, and these songs totally hold up for me – “Day By Day” (with a nice extended ending) and “And We Danced” (one of my favorites). I never saw this band in concert, and it’s a joy to see this footage.

Peter, Paul & Mary do what they did best – an energetic rendition of “If I Had A Hammer” and the still pertinent, still moving “Blowin’ In The Wind.” During the latter, Mary says, “Let the world hear your voice.”

One of the highlights is Joan Armatrading doing an acoustic version of “Steppin’ Out.” She then does an electric version of “Love And Affection,” with some help on saxophone. I also dig the Jackson Browne set. We’re treated to several of his tunes, including “Lives In The Balance” and “For America.” I’m also glad that the DVD includes his introduction to “I Am A Patriot.”

There is also one tune from Yoko Ono, and yeah, she does that odd dolphin-in-pain type scream, but I kind of dig it. This is also a cool set by Miles Davis, who is doing a kind of funk thing with a somewhat large band. It’s weird watching Miles switch to the keyboard at one point in the first tune. But of course, anything Miles does is worth paying attention to (even when he sticks his tongue out at the camera). I’m personally much more excited by “Tutu.” Watch him guiding Robben Ford, the guitarist – a really cool moment. And then Carlos Santana joins him.

Joan Baez does an acappella rendition of “The Times They Are A-Changing,” and then does the Tears For Fears song, “Shout.” Weird. I never cared for that song. She follows that with Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” backed by The Neville Brothers. Then Joan Baez and Aaron Neville perform “Amazing Grace.”

I do wish there was less crowd noise in the sound mix. That’s my only complaint about the first disc.

The second disc opens with Lou Reed. It’s excellent to see him, and of course right now I appreciate this footage even more. He starts with a great version of “Rock And Roll.” I dig the saxophone. Then he follows it with a fun rendition of “I Love You, Suzanne,” and then “No Money Down” (a song I love) and “Turn To Me.” After the line, “And your apartment’s got no heat,” he tells the summer audience, “I wrote this song in the winter.” The crowd then understandable goes nuts when he starts “Walk On The Wild Side.” After that, he does “Video Violence.” Lou Reed later joins U2 for “Sun City.”

The second disc also features a set from Peter Gabriel, though I have to admit I never liked “Shock The Monkey” or “Sledgehammer.” Oddly, there’s some voice over interrupting “Sledgehammer.” Why couldn’t they edit that out? Anyway, I love “Biko,” which is the final song of his set.

Bryan Adams also performs. Man, I played those early cassettes of his over and over, particularly the song “Summer of ’69.” When I was a kid, for a while I made my own top ten list, and that song was at the top for several weeks. He performs that song, as well as several other popular tunes from that time – “Run To You,” “It’s Only Love,” “Straight From The Heart.” He really milks those built-in pauses, particularly in “Straight From The Heart.” And wow, the whole audience seems to know the lyrics to “Summer of ’69,” and Bryan Adams lets them carry it for the first several lines. It’s so great revisiting this song, and he follows it with another favorite of mine, “Somebody.”

For some reason, the footage at the very beginning of Joni Mitchell’s first song looks like shit. But it’s quickly corrected. Following two songs by Joni Mitchell, we get a set from U2, and this is back when that band was still cool. “MLK” goes right into a wonderfully energetic version of “Pride.” They follow that with the fantastic “Bad” and then “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” During “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Bono gets the audience shouting “No more.” Their set is an obvious highlight of this DVD box. This band really had everything going right back then. They immediately connected with the audience, and you’ll feel it too in your house in front of your television. It is that powerful. They then cover Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” mixing in a bit of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey,” and it’s fucking fantastic. The band also does a somewhat slow version of “Help!”

As cool as the U2 set is, I enjoyed the footage of The Police even more. They open with a cookin’ version of “Message In A Bottle.” The audience sings along with “King Of Pain.” (Synchronicity is a very important album of my childhood.) They follow that with a very cool version of “Driven To Tears,” and “Every Breath You Take,” before launching into “Roxanne.” I love this band, and this is a great little set if music. Bono joins them on vocals partway through “Invisible Sun.”

Bono then tells the crowd they have eighteen special guests, people who have been released because of Amnesty International. And all of the performers come back on stage for “I Shall Be Released.” It’s pretty amazing, and as the credits roll, Bill Graham speaks.

“Human Rights Now!” (featuring Peter Gabriel, Sting, Bruce Springsteen)

The second concert film (on the third disc) isn’t just a concert film. It actually begins with some of the performers speaking at press conferences regarding Amnesty International. And throughout the film, there are interviews with some of the performers, including Tracy Chapman and Sting, who speak directly to the camera, as well as more footage of them at press conferences.

The concert took place in Argentina on October 15, 1988, and Youssou N’Dor is the first performer we see. This short set features a great percussion segment. I love the small talking drum. After that performance, we see footage shot in England, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Hungary before returning to the main concert.

Tracy Chapman performs a solo acoustic set. She speaks in Spanish after her second song, apologizing that her Spanish isn’t that good. She says the concert is for the audience, but especially for those who couldn’t be there, that the Declaration of Human Rights is for everyone. She then performs “Freedom Now,” and “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution.” Then, in an interview, she talks about how she became aware of Amnesty International.

Peter Gabriel again does “Sledgehammer,” and follows it with a nice, long rendition of “In Your Eyes,” and then a twelve-minute version of “Biko,” ending with band members leaving the stage one at a time. The following section includes a short interview with Bill Graham.

Sting begins with that updated, different version of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.” (I always preferred the earlier version.) The pace picks up toward the end. He then sings “They Dance Alone” in Spanish. Bruce Springsteen joins him on vocals for “Every Breath You Take.”

There is some footage of Bruce Springsteen in concert in Zimbabwe, speaking between songs about Vietnam and the monument in Washington, D.C.  He then goes into “War” (the Edwin Starr song), but we get just a bit of that before returning to the main concert for the set by Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band. This set is definitely the major highlight of the disc. Bruce kicks it off with “Born In The U.S.A.” The energy is palpable. The audience is jumping in unison. It’s beautiful. It’s like the final number of a kick-ass show, except this band is just getting started. They follow it with “I’m On Fire.” Then String joins the band on vocals for “The River,” which Bruce starts off on harmonica. There is also a rousing rendition of “Raise Your Hand,” and a tremendously fun version of “Twist And Shout,” which leads into “La Bamba” (but without any of the verses), and then back into “Twist And Shout.” Toward the end, Bruce asks the crowd if they’re tired.

Then the other artists join Bruce for “Chimes Of Freedom” and “Get Up Stand Up.”

“An Embrace Of Hope”

The third concert of this box set was performed on October 13, 1990 in Chile. It opens with Inti-Illimani performing a great instrumental tune, “Bailando Bailando.” They follow that with “El Equipage del Destierro,” joined by the singing children of Vina del Mar.

There are short snippets from interviews and press conferences from most of the artists between songs. For example, before Wynton Marsalis plays, he talks about the optimism of the blues. By the way, Wynton Marsalis’ “Jungle Blues” is, for me, the highlight of the concert. And check out the crowd’s response. Wonderful.

The film then goes from its best moment to its worst, with New Kids On The Block. The film also includes performances by Sinead O’Connor, Ruben Blades, Jackson Browne (doing a really good version of “Lives In The Balance”) and Peter Gabriel (once again doing “Biko,” which he introduces in Spanish).

It ends with Sting performing a couple of songs in Spanish – “Little Wing” and “They Dance Alone.” For the latter, the other artists join him on stage. Also joining him are women whose sons or husbands have disappeared. That song features a cool percussion section at the end.

This is the shortest of the concert films, at only 72 minutes.

“The Struggle Continues”

The fourth concert took place on December 10, 1998, exactly fifty years after the United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in Paris, the city where it was signed in 1948. We get approximately two and a half hours of this show, and it’s presented just as concert footage, without interviews or footage from press conferences.

The concert opens with Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’Dour performing “Get Up, Stand Up.” Peter Gabriel performs “Signal To Noise” and a really nice, long version of “In Your Eyes,” with help on vocals by Youssou N’Dour. This might be the best version of “In Your Eyes” I’ve ever heard.

I’m not all that keen on Alanis Morissette (her voice makes me want to hurl kittens from rooftops) or Asian Dub Foundation (they’re just not good). But we are treated to a good set by Tracy Chapman. She does a nice version of “New Beginning,” following that with “Fast Car” (that song still totally works for me) and a sweet rendition of “Baby, Can I Hold You?”

Of course, a highlight of this concert is the set by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. They open with “When The World Was Young.” They follow it with “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” the crowd going nuts at the first notes played by Page. And it’s a fairly long version, ending with a little “Stairway To Heaven” tease. Jimmy Page pulls out the double guitar for a fantastic version of “Gallows Pole.” And then they do the fun “Rock And Roll,” with a short drum solo at the end.

The other major highlight is Bruce Springsteen performing a solo acoustic set, starting with “No Surrender.” It’s seriously awesome. I saw Bruce perform solo once in the mid-1990s, and it was one of the best concerts I ever attended. So this was a real treat for me, being able to have another taste of that. One thing I remember clearly from that night was an amazing bluesy rendition of “Born In The U.S.A.,” and he does that here. It’s worth owning this box set just for that footage. He follows that with “Working On The Highway.”

Anything after that is anticlimactic for me, but that being said, Radiohead does a good set. I particularly like “Karma Police.” Youssou N’Dour and Peter Gabriel perform “Shaking The Tree.” Then Tracy Chapman and Jocelyn Beroard join them for “7 Seconds.”

Bonus Material

There is a large amount of bonus material in this box set, split onto two discs – the third and sixth. Much of the bonus material is arranged by year, the first section dealing with the 1986 concert, including a short bit with Elliott Gould and Richard Belzer, and a bit with Pat Benatar interviewing Bill Graham and other folks. Some well-known actors introduce the musical acts, and we get footage of that. Several folks (including Michael J. Fox) mention The Secret Policeman’s Ball. There is also a series of messages from actors and musicians (including Sam Waterston, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Robin Williams).

There is a montage from Peter Gabriel’s home movies of the 1986 tour, including shots on the plane and backstage. And even better is the footage of the jam session at a hotel lounge from June 10, 1986, with Bono, who plays piano for a moment during “Satisfaction.” It’s so great that some of this footage survives – approximately eleven minutes worth. It was shot by Peter Gabriel. Fuzzbee Morse and Larry Klein then recount the events of that night.

There is also a bit of The Today Show from June 16, 1986, with Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bill Graham and Jack Healey.

Then, from 1988, we get some footage of the Los Angeles show, with Bruce Springsteen performing “Chimes Of Freedom.” He is joined by Tracy Chapman, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Youssou N’Dour and Joan Baez. We also get a bit of footage from the Montreal show, with the artists performing “Get Up Stand Up.”

The bonus material also includes The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, an animated short film illustrating the thirty articles and narrated by Jeff Bridges and Debra Winger. From 1998, there are bits of interviews with Robert Plant, Alanis Morissette, Peter Gabriel and others regarding the Declaration of Human Rights on the fiftieth anniversary of its signing.

Light A Candle! The Story Behind The Human Rights Concerts is a 38-minute film directed by Peter Shelton featuring interviews with Pete Townsend, Martin Lewis, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen, as well as footage from press conferences. They talk about how the 1990 concert in Chile was held in the same stadium where people had been tortured.

There are two excellent new interviews. The first is with Bruce Springsteen. He says, “The news conferences, which if I had known I had to do, I might not have done the tour, because they were the most harrowing parts of the entire six weeks.” The second is with Sting, who talks a bit about playing with The Police again in 1986, about the song “They Dance Alone,” and about stealing Bruce Springsteen’s spare costumes and donning them with Peter Gabriel during Bruce’s set on the tour’s last stop, mimicking him on stage.

There is footage of Pete Townsend and John Williams performing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in 1979, and Sting performing “I Shall Be Released” in 1981, backed by folks like Phil Collins, Bob Geldof and Eric Clapton.

The bonus material includes several other musical performances from the years since the 1998 show, including songs by Bono with Damien Rice, Coldplay, David Byrne, and Mumford & Sons. There are also some music videos, including Ozzy Osbourne’s rendition of John Lennon’s “How?” and Pete Seeger’s version of “Forever Young.”

Released! The Human Rights Concerts (1986-1998) was released on DVD on November 5, 2013 through Shout! Factory. Also released on that date was a two-disc CD set, with performances from all four shows.

(Note: I also posted a slightly shorter version of this review on Pop Culture Beast.)

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