What hoped to be a night of activist engagement was a lukewarm and overdrawn passing of the torch at Amnesty International’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert. With a lineup that spanned generations of talent, including honorees Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina—the two women who served 21 months for staging a guerrilla performance with their group, Pussy Riot, at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior—in theory, the event beamed with promise.
First up was Cold War Kids who performed three songs to a half-empty venue. Next to follow: Colbie Caillat, but not before a 20-minute break to swap sets—a break, the audience learned, would follow every performance that night. Eyes rolled during The Fray’s “How to Save a Life”—perhaps too apropos for the hip Brooklyn crowd. Thank the music Gods for Deborah Harry who bought all to their feet with “One Way or Another.” Cake followed but not before yet another 20-minute interlude. Despite filtering notable speakers between acts—speakers who struggled to read the teleprompter when the teleprompter was actually functioning—the crowd sunk into the doldrums of sleepiness as the event pressed past 11pm.
But then, cane and all, Madonna appeared adorned in leather drawstrings and a bedazzled “fuckdown” beanie. The crowd erupted when she introduced the night’s honorees. Through their translator, Pussy Riot incited the chant, “Russia will be free” for what was probably the most relevant and formidable part of the evening.
What followed was an exodus through Barclays’ exits. Those who stayed might have enjoyed Lauryn Hill’s throwback to “Ready or Not” or the percussion-infused “Radioactive” from Imagine Dragons. Bless the heart of Bob Geldof who, sans teleprompter, castrated the American media before dedicating his protest songs to the late, Pete Seeger. Poor Tegan & Sara rushed through their performance before relinquishing the stage to a caped Wayne Coyne who closed the night asking if we realized everyone we know will someday die… At 1am on a Wednesday, I nearly did.
– Rebecca Dolber