Shout Factory in conjunction with Amnesty International has issued Released!: The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998, a six-DVD set featuring video of four concerts “between 1986 and 1998 to raise consciousness and funds for the worldwide struggle for human rights.” It’s a compelling collection beyond the music as it spotlights issues around the world that still plague many countries.
Commemorating Amnesty International’s 25th anniversary in June 1986, the ten-day tour of the U.S. concluded with a daylong performance of an expanded roster at Giants Stadium. “A Conspiracy of Hope” presents over five hours of highlights over two discs. Accompanied by Steven Van Zandt, Bob Geldof starts things off with Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Marley is covered a lot throughout the collection, as is Bob Dylan, because their songs speak about humanity and equality. Pete, Paul & Mary are seen performing “Blowin’ the Wind.”
In between songs, Jackson Browne draws attention to Honduras and jailed Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Ruben Blades sings in Spanish and the lyrics sound beautiful even if you don’t know the language. Carlos Santana joins him on “Muevete” and also appears during sets by Miles Davis, who it’s awesome to see in attendance, and the Neville Brothers. Joan Baez’s set is all covers. She sings an acapella version of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and is joined by a band for Tears for Fears’ “Shout”, by Aaron and another Neville for “No Woman No Cry”, and just Aaron for “Amazing Grace.”
The second disc brings out the big stars like Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, and Bryan Adams, and shows more of their sets. It would have been better if someone sang Tina Turner’s part on “It’s Only Love” and with all the people there it’s a surprise he didn’t. Peter Gabriel plays the appropriate choice of “Biko,” which he will during every appearance in the set. U2 plays a mix of hits and covers including Little Steven’s “Sun City,” which find Steven and others joining in. During the final song of the Police’s set, Bono sings a verse on “Invisible Sun,” a passing of the torch as the Police would disband the next year and U2 would take the mantel of biggest band in the world. The night closed with 18 political prisoners released because of Amnesty International joining an all-star performance of “I Shall Be Released.”
In 1988, the “Human Rights Now!” tour was held to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A three-hour film was created around a performance in Argentina, which is available of Disc Three. The touring line-up was Youssou N’Dour, Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Sting and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Chapman is brave to face the crowd with just her acoustic guitar but she won them over. Gabriel only plays three songs with the only new one from previous set is “In Your Eyes.” After his set, the film offers a segment where the artists appear in interviews and clips highlighting the people and issues that have driven them to take part in the tour. Sting makes a bizarre choice to include “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” but “They Dance Alone” is quite powerful as we see the women he sings about, those who have had family members disappear by the government, take the stage. He speaks in Spanish to the crowd and it would have been nice if the Spanish had been translated into captions. Gabriel joins in on this song, and Springsteen supports Sting on “Every Breath You Take.”
More clips about the tour are shown, and Springsteen is shown in stage in Zimbabwe. He goes on political rant about young men having to fight in Vietnam, about apartheid in South Africa, and about what he sees as the economic apartheid in the U.S. People surprised by his liberal politics and when he campaigned for Kerry almost 20 years later must not have seen this clip (or paid attention to his lyrics). It’s absolutely crazy to hear the Argentine audience loudly singing “Born in the USA.” Sting returns the favor by singing on the “The River.” The crowd seems at its most energetic when they play “Twist & Shout” and “La Bamba.” Sting, Gabriel, and N’Dour join in the silliness. Chapman then comes out to join them for “Chimes of Freedom” and “Get Up Stand Up.”
Disc Four features “An Embrace of Hope” a 1990 concert from Chile held when Pinochet’s dictatorship came to an end. The 72-minute concert finds familiar faces like Gabriel and Sting joined by a diverse group of artists like Wynton Marsalis and New Kinds on the Block. During “Biko,” Sting plays bass, and later he sings Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” in Spanish and the audience. During “They Dance Alone,” Chileans who have lost loved ones to their government join him and the gesture continues to be heartbreaking.
On the remainder of Disc Four and all of Disc Five are nearly five hours of extras related to the Amnesty Concerts included in the set and beyond. “Meet the Conspirators” is a 14-minute blur of snippets from MTV’s star-studded coverage of the 1986 concert. Special Messages (12 min) are a series of AI PSAs with celebrities. The greatest discovery might be “Peach Jam.” Shot by Peter Gabriel, Bono is caught singing at the Atlanta Ramada Inn about midnight on 6/10/86. “Grainy Night” (9 min) finds Fuzzbee Morse, Lou Reed’s guitarist, and Larry Klein, Gabriel bassist, telling how Peach Jam occurred. The Morning After…(8 min) finds some of the musicians on NBC’s Today talking about the event. There are new interviews with by Springsteen, Sting, and an entire documentary called “Light A Candle!” Also included are performances from many other Amnesty performances as far back as 1979 with Pete Townshend playing at The Secret Policeman’s Ball to performances in 2012 by Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, and Pete Seeger to name three.
The final disc in the set features “The Struggle Continues…” from “Paris in December 1998 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Over two and half hours, an eclectic roster of international musicians joins Amnesty veterans Springsteen (who plays an acoustic set), Gabriel, N’Dour and Chapman in celebration. From Canadian singers Alanis Morrissette and Shania Twain to French band Kassav’ and even a couple of British acts people might recognize (Jimmy Page & Robert Plant and Radiohead), these artists play in support of Amnesty International.
Released!: The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 has historical significance beyond the music that contributes to it being a welcome addition to one’s video library. In addition to the historic DVD set, there’s a two-disc companion CD of the same name featuring 30 songs taken from all four concerts in the collection. Net proceeds from sales of the DVD set and CDs benefit Amnesty International.