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Pussy Riot, Flaming Lips surprise at Amnesty International concert

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips performs at

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips performs at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo

Amnesty International’s “Bringing Human Rights Home” concert at Barclays Center ended as the watchdog group’s shows traditionally have, with the artists gathering onstage for Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

This time, though, it featured The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne atop what looked like a 12-foot tall angel’s gown with flashing neon lights, waving the massive silver fringe wings attached to his arms. Like much of the five-hour marathon concert that reached into early Thursday morning, it was tradition with a new-millennium twist.

The first public American appearance for Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, since their release from a Russian prison for protesting against Russian President Vladimir Putin, wasn’t the usual measured appearance of political prisoners. It was loud and raw, as the duo often screamed emotionally in Russian about the need for action to free their country from Putin’s rule. They also pledged to work to free others imprisoned for their beliefs.

“It is our duty to give a voice to those who are still behind bars in the dark,” said Tolokonnikova, adding, “We will not forgive and we will not forget what the regime is doing to our fellow citizens.”

Madonna’s introduction of Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova was also unusual, filled with her personal experience with death threats and threats of imprisonment in Russia for supporting Pussy Riot and for what the government called “promoting homosexuality” – “which I have been known to do,” she said.

“I did not change one moment, one second of my show,” Madonna said, adding that she was sued for the content of her show and saw 87 members of her audience arrested for “promoting homosexuality.”

Madonna punctuated many of her statements with calls for boos or cheers, matching the jumble of emotions for a concert that was meant to celebrate as well as inform the crowd of human rights abuses.

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“Bringing Human Rights Home” marked the 25th anniversary of Amnesty International’s groundbreaking concerts, featuring U2 and Sting that raised awareness of rights abuses around the world and doubled the group’s membership.

But the Barclays Center show belonged to a new generation of artists, including Imagine Dragons, Tegan and Sara and The Fray, as well as veterans like Lauryn Hill, Blondie and The Flaming Lips.

“Everyone on this bill is ready and willing to take up the fight,” said Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds, before the band's emotional set, which included “Tiptoe,” “Amsterdam” and their smash “Radioactive.”

Lauryn Hill, who bills herself as “Ms. Lauryn Hill” these days, showed her impressive range, slipping easily from “Ready or Not” to the rapid-fire rap of “Final Hour.” And The Fray offered early highlights with their current single “Love Don’t Die” and a thunderous, extended “How to Save a Life.”

“Bringing Human Rights Home” organizers say the concert was recorded and will be broadcast in March on a still-undisclosed network.

SETLIST: COLD WAR KIDS – Miracle Mile / Hospital Beds // COLBIE CAILLAT – Realize / Hold On / Brighter Than the Sun // THE FRAY – You Found Me / How to Save a Life / Love Don’t Die // BLONDIE – One Way or Another / A Rose by Any Name / Call Me // CAKE – Sick of You / Never There / Short Skirt, Long Jacket // IMAGINE DRAGONS – Tiptoe / Amsterdam / Radioactive // MS. LAURYN HILL – Ready or Not / Final Hour / Black Rage / King Without a Crown / Zimbabwe // BOB GELDOF – I Don’t Like Mondays / Systematic 6-Pack / The Great Song of Indifference // TEGAN AND SARA – Closer / Now I’m All Messed Up / Drove Me Wild // FLAMING LIPS – It’s Alright (w/YOKO ONO) / Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds / Do You Realize? / I Shall Be Released (w/SEAN LENNON and the night’s performers)

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