Pussy Riot Inspire Brooklyn at Amnesty International Concert

Flaming Lips, Blondie, Tegan and Sara perform at Bring Human Rights Home show

Maria Alyokhina Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Pussy Riot  Amnesty International Concert
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for CBGB
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot speak during the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center in New York City.
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Brooklyn's Barclays Center has hosted everything from boxing matches to pop concerts, but until last night, the venue's premises hadn't been used as a recruitment station for the Revolutionary Communist Party. The unique occasion was Amnesty International's Bring Human Rights Home Concert, the Jingle Ball of charitable giving, a show hyped in the States for its very special guest stars: two of the formerly jailed members of Pussy Riot.

See photos of Pussy Riot's trial

The concert itself, however, didn't launch with a ton of revolutionary energy. The first hour's highlights only included Colbie Caillat's performance of "Brighter Than the Sun" and the Fray's extended take on — but of course — "How to Save a Life."

After an introduction from once-jailed Iranian blogger Kianoosh Sanjari, Blondie finally made the concert feel like one, keeping the crowd on its feet even through their 2013 track "A Rose By Any Name." Before "Call Me" ended the set, Debbie Harry announced the determined message of "One Way or Another" was "especially appropriate for this event."

If Blondie managed to unite all the disparate fans in the arena, Cake could barely bring together the Cake fans in the building. Fortunately, their set was followed by the most anticipated portion of the night, when Madonna (black coat, Grammys cane, Comme des Fuckdown beanie) introduced recently freed Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, recalling how the Russian leg of her latest tour was threatened for encouraging of "gay behavior" before Nadya and Maria themselves addressed the crowd.

Speaking through a translator, the duo opened with the sort of truisms we had been hearing all night – "We have to remember that freedom is not a given," for instance – before offering the sort of specific, goal-oriented call-to-action that had heretofore been missing, reading closing statements of trials for political prisoners currently awaiting sentencing. "This is our last chance to say something to them before they are locked up for five or six years," they explained. And though many had hoped for a performance of some sort, what we received instead was undoubtedly more appropriate, a nod to Amnesty, a "thank you for the support" and an account of ongoing struggles back home. As another member of the collective had told Vice nearly two years ago, "We'll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space."

The crowd's chants of "Russia will be free" seemed like a perfect cap for the night, but instead marked only the halfway point of the show, and Imagine Dragons began to make their way toward the stage. If Pussy Riot envision rock & roll as a way to disrupt and even change society, Imagine Dragons use it to slowly chip away at the world's surplus of drum sticks. Lead singer Dan Reynolds snapped the first one midway through their opening song, and by the time they got to the end of "Radioactive," four of the five band members — everyone but the bassist — was hitting some sort of percussion.

Next up, Lauryn Hill used her time onstage to play a single song suite, one that began with "Ready or Not" and concluded with some liberationist reggae, providing the only performance that seemed truly revolutionary. Bob Geldof nearly spoke for longer than Cold War Kids had played, then continued to play three songs that left the arena emptier than it had been since that band's opening set.

Tegan and Sara were short and sweet, giving those remaining the first refreshing dance songs that had been heard in hours, and the Flaming Lips closed with Wayne Coyne dressed in a tinsel cape, standing on a small tower of amps and asking if we realize that everyone we know someday will die. With Pussy Riot — who've bravely suffered at the mercy of the Russian legal system — in the building, the sentiment was more bittersweet and tangible than anyone might have realized.

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