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If Music was the Message, Amnesty Got its Across Loud and Clear

The Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1986
By: Lynn Van Matre, Pop Music critic

 

The traveling all-star musical marathon billed as "A Conspiracy of Hope" rolled into the Rosemont Horizon Friday night with a twofold purpose: to make people aware of Amnesty International, a human rights organization which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and to make some good rock and roll.

It's hard to know just how much consciousness-raising was accomplished Friday, but the quality (and quantity) of the music was never in doubt. Nearly five hours of rock and roll produced several standout performances and a couple of surprises.

Sting, for instance, was billed as a solo act, but when he took the stage to close out the evening's entertainment lineup, he was accompanied by his old Police mates, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. Lou Reed, who had done a set of his own earlier in the show, returned to the stage during U2's set to be joined by Bono and the rest of the band in the anti-apartheid song, "Sun City." And comedian Robin Williams turned up unexpectedly to do a number of manic jokes (none of them particularly funny) about dictators, TV evangelists and giving birth.

Dick Gregory also stopped by to offer a few words about the work of Amnesty International, and a dozen or so other celebs did their bit via videos which were shown during set changes. It's hard to argue with most of the group's goals: to work to free those who have been persecuted and imprisoned for their beliefs ("prisoners of conscience," as Amnesty International refers to them). But according to one of the celebs on video, Amnesty International also opposes the death penalty anytime, anywhere, a philosophical stand that plenty of people might have serious problems accepting.

The music, however, sometimes spoke as loud or louder than the messages Friday night. One of the concert's most memorable moments came when singer Peter Gabriel ended his set with "Biko," a haunting tribute to slain South African poet and activist Steven Biko.

The show, featuring Sting, U2, Gabriel, Reed, Bryan Adams, Joan Baez and the Neville Brothers (with concert producer Bill Graham as master of ceremonies), opened with a brief, two-song set by the Nevilles. The New Orleans group is currently trying to widen the audience for their musical gumbo of funk, blues, jazz and Mardi Gras sounds, but there wasn't much opportunity for them to strut their stuff in the limited time alloted them. Next up was Joan Baez, who performed "The Times They Are A-Changin' " a cappella and talked about torture chambers, then teamed up with the Nevilles for a few numbers including "Amazing Grace."

With Baez, the obligatory "do-gooder," out of the way, the crowd was happy to move on to some rock and roll ably provided by Lou Reed. One of rock's genuine originals, Reed and his band performed "I Love You, Suzanne," "Turn to Me," and "Walk on the Wild Side" to the crowd's appreciative cries of "Loooooooo."

Reed was followed by Gabriel, whose synth-driven rock sound has recently reached the mainstream via his current hit single, "Sledgehammer." That song and "Shock the Monkey" were crowd pleasers Friday, but Gabriel's somber "Biko" was what brought down the house. A short intermission followed Gabriel's set, with the second half of the concert consisting of Adams, U2 and Sting. Adams reprised his Top 40 hits, includng "Straight from the Heart" and "Summer of '69," and drew a particularly strong response from the crowd. But the biggest reception of the evening was accorded U2, featuring lead vocalist Bono and a guitarist known as The Edge. The band's anthemic sound has never sounded better, and Bono was in particularly good spirits.

© 1986 The Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

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