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"This image of 'the unforgettable fire' applied not only to the nuclear winterscape of 'A Sort of Homecoming,' but also the unforgettable fire of a man like Martin Luther King, or the consuming fire which is heroin." — Bono


- June 16, 1986

by Barbara Jaeger

The music was the message.

And the message couldn't have been delivered more forcefully than when Paul "Bono" Hewson of U2 led the crowd in a chant of "no more" during the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

U2, the Irish band, was one of more than a dozen and a half acts that took part in yesterday's Amnesty International benefit concert at Giants Stadium.

The 11-hour show was the culmination of a six-city tour to celebrate the human rights organization's 25th anniversary and to educate free people, particularly Americans, about the plight of people who are not free because of their political or religious beliefs.

Although Amnesty International won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, its officials say the organization has a low profile in the United States.

Amnesty could have found no more powerful musical messengers to seek the end of human rights abuses than the outstanding international lineup that took the stage before the audience of 55,000 people, most of them young. Representing the worlds of rock, rhythm-and-blues, jazz, folk, reggae, and salsa were the likes of Miles Davis, Jackson Browne, the Neville Brothers, Joan Baez, the Hooters, Ruben Blades, Third World, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Several of the key performers turned in truly inspirational performances.

Not surprisingly, U2 was one such act.

The four-man group, which is at its best live, produced a blistering six-song set. While the musicians played with a hard-driving sense of urgency, lead vocalist Bono began "Pride (In the Name of Love)" in a reserved style. It didn't take him long, however, to let loose, vocally and physically, during the song dedicated to the courage and accomplishments of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.. Bono became a man possessed as he ripped from "Pride" to"Bad" to "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a song about the strife in Northern Ireland.

Bono hit full stride, though, during Bob Dylan's classic "Maggie's Farm."

Stripping off his fringed buckskin jacket, the charismatic front man forged a cementlike bond with the audience as he crouched at the edge of the stage, turned a spotlight on the crowd, and urged the audience to once again take up the chant, "No more."

From the forceful thrust of "Maggie's Farm," Bono switched gears for a delicate rendition of the Beatles' song "Help." In Bono's grasp, the former upbeat pop tune became a soulful cry for assistance.

U2 concluded its set with "Sun City." For the antiapartheid anthem, the band was joined by the song's composer, Steve Van Zandt, as well as Ruben Blades, Lou Reed, and Dollette McDonald (backup singer during Sting's recent solo tour).

Van Zandt, formerly of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, had performed earlier. Turning in one of the more politically oriented sets, Van Zandt focused on those who have "disappeared" in South America and those held in South African jails.

Referring to the recent honor bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II on Bob Geldof, Van Zandt introduced the organizer of last year's Live Aid concerts by saying, "One of my favorite days to introduce one of my favorite knights." The two then teamed for a couple of songs, including "Redemption Song,"originally done by the reggae great Bob Marley.

No less inspiring than U2's performance was Peter Gabriel's stirring six-song set.

The former lead singer of Genesis sparked an emotional rush with such songs as "Red Rain," "San Jacinto," and "Biko." The set also included the lightweight, synthesizer-dominated "Sledgehammer." Gabriel's rendition of "Biko,", a tribute to Steve Biko, a black South African leader who died in prison in 1977, sent shivers up the spine. Against a haunting instrumental, heavy on percussion, Gabriel began the song standing rigid at center stage, his hands clasped around the microphone. As he began to move about the stage, the song picked up in intensity. And when Gabriel made his exit, the band continued playing while the audience picked up the hypnotic refrain.

The day was all not quite so somber. Several bands, particularly the Hooters, Lou Reed, and Bryan Adams, delivered solid, up-tempo rock-and-roll sets that got the crowd dancing and singing along.

John Eddie, a New Jersey native son, kicked off the show with an energetic set. For his brief set, Eddie, an up-and-coming rocker, was backed by an outstanding band whose members included the E Street Band's drummer, Max Weinberg, and guitarist G. E. Smith from the Hall & Oates Band.

And like last year's Live Aid concerts, yesterday's shows featured a number fo performers sitting in to help others. Carlos Santana sat in with Ruben Blades, as did Fela, the Nigerian pop singer, an ex-inmate of a Lagos jail. (Fela said Saturday that because of his 18-month stay in prsion, he was unable to perform as a solo.) And the Neville Brothers band backed Joan Baez.

The message of the day was never far off. And, in light of stories like that from Juan Carlos Rodriquez, a former prisoner of conscience who, accused of subversive activity, was taken at gunpoint from his home, tortured, and held in an Argentinian jail for eight years, while his wife, Marisa, was imprisoned for five, many of the performers' songs took on new meanings.

It was hard not to think of all the people imprisoned for their beliefs when Sting, backed by his Police band mates, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers, sang "I don't want to be another statistic on a government chart" during "Invisible Sun." Or of all the people wanting to be heard, when he sang "sending out an SOS" during "Message in a Bottle."

Amnesty's symbol of a candle encircled by barbed wire was brought to mind as Gabriel in "Biko" sang, "You can blow out a candle/But you can't blow out a fire."

While the concertgoers might not have taken the time to read Amnesty's pamphlets, the power of the lyrics will, one hopes, be something they will hold onto for a long time.


© 1986 The Record. All Rights Reserved.

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