To raise awareness of human rights issues and to honor the 25th anniversary of Amnesty International, an impressive roster of musicians banded together in June of 1986. Billed as "A Conspiracy Of Hope," the tour hit six American cities and through press conferences, media events and the actual concerts, the artists directly engaged listeners on the issues of human dignity and human rights, inviting a new generation to take action to free prisoners of conscience throughout the world. The tour featured Sting, U2 (presented here), and Bryan Adams headlining the bill, with Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, The Neville Brothers and Joan Baez in the supporting slots.
The final concert of the tour took place at Giants stadium before a sold-out audience of 70,000 and greatly expanded the performing lineup. This event became a 12 hour marathon running from noon until nearly midnight and would be simulcast globally on MTV and the Westwood One radio network. For this major media event, celebrities and leaders of the entertainment industry joined the musicians, appearing on camera in public service announcements and several, including Bill Graham, Darryl Hannah, Robert DeNiro, Bill Bradley, Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox, and Muhammed Ali all appeared on stage to announce the performers. In addition to the aforementioned headliners and support acts, for this final concert, additional performers included John Eddie with Max Weinberg, Third World, The Hooters, Peter Paul & Mary, Little Steven with Bob Geldof, Stanley Jordan, Joan Armatrading, Jackson Browne, Rubén Blades, Yoko Ono, Howard Jones, Miles Davis, and Joni Mitchell. Carlos Santana also sat in on several sets (including The Neville Brothers, Ruben Blades and Miles Davis' sets) and the night was capped off with a highly anticipated reunion set by The Police.
Presented here are highlights of U2's performance that night, a group that many of the attendees, television and radio listeners most wanted to hear. Although not so obvious at the time, this night was a pivotol moment in the group's career. The Police, arguably the world's most popular group at the time, were essentially ending their career (until the reunion tour two decades later) and passing the torch on to U2. At the time, U2 were in the beginning stages of musical maturation, having released their fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire, an equally moody and explosive work that conveyed a group coming of age. Although a dramatic change and far more experimental than any of their previous work, The Unforgettable Fire contained haunting music that was not only an artistic leap, but a clear precursor to the creative stature more fully realized on their next album, The Joshua Tree.
The recording begins with MLK into Pride (In the Name of Love), then moves onto "Bad" from The Unforgettable Fire album, a song about the struggles of heroin addiction and one of U2's most harrowing songs. With its hypnotic, pulse-driven beat and slow increasing build of dynamics, this performance is far more compelling than the studio recording and inspires Bono toward new levels of emotional passion. "Sunday Bloody Sunday," the politically charged lead off track from the group's 1983 War album follows. Propelled by drummer Larry Mullen's military drum beat and containing lyrics that describe the horror of observing the Derry, Ireland incident known as Bloody Sunday (where British troops shot and killed unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders), this song played a major role in increasing the group's stature. A performance that conveys the visceral sound of early U2 at their best and a band unabashedly confronting social and political issues, this performance is a prime example of what attracted listeners to U2 in the first place.
The set takes an unusual turn next with the band performing a sparse penetrating cover of Bob Dylan's "Maggies Farm." With The Edge contributing a unique slide guitar and Mullen driving the rhythm on just his floor tom, U2 turn one of Dylan's first full-fledged rockers into a dark countrified blues, hinting at the bands fascination with the American West, which would fully manifest itself on their next album, The Joshua Tree. An impromptu bit of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey," which addressed Lennon's own battle with heroin addiction, is also included, serving as a prelude to an equally sparse cover of The Beatles' "Help." Essentially a duet between The Edge and Bono, "Help" compels the massive audience to sing along. Earlier in the day, Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, had declared that John was "here in spirit" and perhaps aware of the fact that Lennon had gone on record stating that he wished he recorded "Help" at a much slower tempo, The Edge and Bono do exactly that, giving added weight to the lyrics in the process.
The recording ends with a somewhat disjointed performance of the protest song, "Sun City," with Lou Reed, Ruben Blades, Nona Hendryx and its composer, Little Steven Van Zandt, joining U2 on stage. Written by Van Zant, the "Sun City" single had been released the previous October to convey a united opposition to the South African policy of apartheid and featured a wide range of high profile artists contributing, including Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Bruce Springsteen.
Relaying their convictions and raising awareness remain strong elements of U2s performances. It was likely this tour and this high profile concert in particular that convinced the band that they were ready to headline the bigger arenas and stadiums, which they continue to do right up to the present day. Despite being a short set, this is an important performance in the remarkable legacy of this band conveying a sense of a band evolving toward greatness.
(Note: These U2 performances are also available for viewing here in the Video Vault.)