06.11.1986 - ATLANTA, GA: Omni Auditorium
Rockers raise the roof for a good cause...
A reunited Police, Joan Baez singing a Tears for Fears song - with a Tears member, no less - and pop stars from four countries singing anthems of freedom and hope together at the end of the evening.
Ah, the things that happen for a good cause.
In this case, the cause is Amnesty International, the human rights group currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The event is "A Conspiracy of Hope", a two week, six city concert tour - which played the Omni Arena here Wednesday night and is that Chicago's Rosemont Horizon tonight - featuring U2, Sting, Bryan Adams, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Baez and the Neville Brothers in every city, plus selected guests at each stop.
The biggest show on the tour will be Sunday's 11-hour MTV broadcast concert-telethon at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford NJ, where the touring troupe will be joined by such luminaries as former Who leader Pete Townshend, Jackson Browne, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana and, rumour has it, Bob Dylan, who appeared at the opening shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The goal of the tour is to raise public consciousness rather than money, according to Amnesty International director Jack Healey. As U2 singer Bono Vox said at a press conference, "This is a birthday party... it's not a charity ball, it's not a lecture tour."
Still, there was plenty of pitching for Amnesty's goals - freeing political prisoners around the world, stopping torture and bringing about an end to capital punishment - at Wednesday's show. Most of the acts made short speeches: Baez called for social responsibility; Gabriel spoke against the death penalty; Reed recommended membership in Amnesty; and Adams urged fans to fill out postcards, at booths on the Omni concourses, that would be sent to countries holding political prisoners.
Healey made a stirring speech from the stage between acts, and public service announcements featuring stars like Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, Duran Duran's John Taylor and others were aired for the crowd on video screens above and at the sides of the stage.
And Amnesty expects to score a bit of cash from its moving musical birthday bash. Adding together revenues from ticket sales ( per), souvenirs and Sunday's telethon, Healey estimates Amnesty will receive about million.
It may be a difficult goal to reach. So far, the Amnesty tour hasn't reached the media hype level of such other charity drives as Live Aid or Farm Aid. In fact, the Atlanta show drew 13,000 people - 4,000 shy of the capacity - while Sunday's concert in Denver played to just 9,500 people. (It sold out everywhere else.)
Part of the reason may be the organisation's political nature - its opposition of capital punishment is particularly controversial - and part may be the lack of household names on the bill.
That's too bad, since, judging from the 3.5 hour-long Omni show, "A Conspiracy of Hope" is a solid musical event. moving the acts efficiently through hit-filled half hour sets that built to a moving finale - all the performers uniting onstage for a long rendition of Bob Dylan's anthem of hope, 'I Shall Be Released'.
After the concert, the performers were calling the Atlanta show the best so far, crediting the development of camaraderie among the performers. "Everyone's getting used to the situation," Canadian rocker Adams said at the Ramada Renaissance hotel bar. "It's turned into a real caravan. What you saw tonight was everyone suddenly feeling comfortable up there."
Indeed, on Monday and Tuesday the performers warmed up for the Omni show by taking over the hotel bar's stage from a local band and jamming on favourite tunes until the wee hours. Everyone was back in the bar Wednesday as well, with the Neville Brothers onstage, Baez on the dance floor and everyone else cheering from tables.
The Police were the story of the night at the Omni, however. It was the first time in two and a half years that Sting (who performed the first three shows of the tour with his solo touring band), Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland played together, and after tight renditions of 'Spirits In The Material World' and 'King Of Pain', the trio (bolstered by keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and two female singers) loosened up for strong versions of 'Wrapped Around Your Finger', 'Every Breath You Take', 'Roxanne' and 'Message In A Bottle.'
The reunion will reportedly lead to a new album and tour, but band members were evasive after the show. "We never broke up officially," Copeland said. "This was just an indication of that fact."
Despite the Police reunion, the night really belonged to U2. The Irish quartet retained its ability to whip up a crowd with its mere presence, offering a spirit of commitment almost tangible enough to touch, and the crowd was up as soon as the group walked onstage.
U2 made good on that faith. Bono pulled a woman out of the crowd to dance during 'New Year's Day' and then offered a harrowing version of 'Maggie's Farm', another Dylan song that included bits of 'Old McDonald Had A Farm' and John Lennon's 'Cold Turkey'. After that it was a hymn-like rendition of the Beatles' 'Help', then into the hypnotic 'Bad' and a stirring rendition of the ant-apartheid song 'Sun City'.
It was a good night for Adams as well. After reminding the crowd that "Tonight is a rock'n'roll concert, so have a really good time," he was able to hush up on songs like 'Straight To The Heart' and 'Summer of '69' and listen to the audience sing every word of those songs.
Other memorable musical moments included Gabriel's soul-shaking delivery of 'Biko', his ode to the late South African freedom fighter Stephen Biko; Baez, backed by the Neville Brothers, turning Tears for Fears hit 'Shout' into a protest song and welcoming Tear's Curt Smith onstage for the final verse; Baez and Aaron Neville dueting on 'Amazing Grace'; and a hard rocking set by Reed.
They all met the approval of the crowd, a group of overwhelmingly white, suburban teenagers, though there were some travelers from Florida, North Carolina and as far away as Boston. Most admitted they were there more for the music than the cause, and that their knowledge of Amnesty International had come mostly through MTVs recent support.
Even the organisation's Southern program co-ordinator guessed that only "about 50 percent" of the crowd were really aware of what Amnesty was all about.
And for those who didn't, there was a bright side to the hefty ticket price.
"Even though I don't agree with the politics, I am gonna take a tax deduction for the ticket," a 24-year-old from a nearby suburb said. "Uncle Sam's going to pay for 40 percent of this concert."
© The Detroit Free Press by Gary Graff