BROOKLYN, NY—Politics and music joined forces at the Amnesty International show at the Barclays Center, which featured Lauryn Hill, Cake, Bob Geldof, Blondie, Flaming Lips, Yoko Ono and members of Pussy Riot, who were recently released from prison in Russia and introduced by Madonna. Artists played short sets and activists held court at the first big Amnesty concert since 1988, which featured U2, Springsteen, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel and Sting, who addressed the crowd via video screen with a virtual passing of the torch to the next generation of musicians playing for Amnesty.
The lone throwback from the old days was Live Aid founder and former Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof, who played three songs including “I Don’t Like Mondays” and a traditional Irish barroom number that had the crowd reeling and rocking by song’s end. The night was a mash-up of sights and sounds of nice guy rock from The Fray, Imagine Dragons and Cake, who added a snaky twinkle in their short set, while Tegan And Sara popped out their user-friendly harmonies.
Blondie’s discofied grind took us back to the ’70s. Debbie Harry worked the stage like a diva up there, adding a campy vibe to the otherwise serious affair. The Flaming Lips and Yoko Ono started things up for the grand finale with some high-pitched cackling, then morphed into The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Delivered from high atop an alter like a podium from the Pope of Wayne Coyne, the band turned it into a slow, dirge-like piece that brooded and moved slowly, then molted into the melancholia of “Do You Realize?”
Sean Lennon jumpstarted the grand finale along with the artists and activists united on stage for a rousing rendition of “I Shall Be Released” as The Flaming Lips’ bombastic swirl and shards of silver-toned confetti was blasted stage side before falling earthbound into the crowd, ending Dylan’s battle cry to justice served.