Article 1988-09-19 Philadelphia, PA

Raising Consciousness, Not Money

With sing-alongs and signatures, tributes and telegrams, Amnesty International has perfected the concert-for-a-cause that matches rock's fervor and drawing power with a clear, insistent message. On its way around the world, the Human Rights Now Tour brought Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N'Dour (a superstar in Senegal and West Africa) to John F. Kennedy Stadium here on Monday.

They have performed for half a million people since the tour began Sept. 2 in London. It will go to Asia, Africa, Greece and South America, and the organizers have petitioned the Soviet Union for the opportunity to appear in Moscow. (Home Box Office will present highlights from the concerts Dec. 10, and there will be a live radio broadcast of the concert's final show on Oct. 15 in Buenos Aires.) The first of the tour's three United States shows - the others are Wednesday in Los Angeles and Friday, minus Sting, in Oakland - generated not just roars of applause from the crowd of 75,000 people but also more than 60,000 signatures on a petition to have the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted around the world; the General Assembly approved it on Dec. 10, 1948.

Telegrams (for which concertgoers paid $1 each) and petitions on behalf of individual political prisoners were also well subscribed. The tour's purpose is to raise awareness, not money; while concert tickets in North America and Europe have been priced at around $35, admission in Budapest and in Costa Rica, for instance, has been under $5. Reebok, the athletic-shoe manufacturer, is to make up the deficits.

The tour brings together four of the most earnest performers in English-speaking rock; Mr. N'Dour sings in French and Wolof, a Senegalese language. Yet Sting's pop charisma, Mr. Gabriel's theatricality, Mr. Springsteen's rock-and-roll exuberance and all the performers' guest spots in one another's sets gave the concert a vitality far beyond dutiful altruism. Each performer also had songs that directly addressed the declaration's concerns about the dignity of the individual, narrowing the division between entertainment and activism. Some of the concert's best moments - especially the stadium-wide sing-along on Mr. Gabriel's ''Biko,'' an elegy to the South African activist -were virtual reruns from Amnesty International's 1986 Conspiracy of Hope tour of the United States, but they were moving nonetheless.

Monday's concert began a few minutes early with an all-star version of the Wailers' ''Get Up, Stand Up'' and concluded, more than seven and a half hours later, with the same song. Joan Baez, who joined the tour for the United States concerts, sang a spiritual, ''Oh, Freedom,'' and tried to lead the crowd in John Lennon's ''Imagine,'' but the audience members were more concerned with getting to their seats.

Mr. N'Dour led his band in songs that mixed African and British-American rock, but in troubling proportions. Where he used to send his voice soaring above rolling, chattering Senegalese rhythms, he now tops Americanized, heavy-on-the-downbeat funk with bits of African percussion and melody, punctuating the rhythm with vocal phrases that barely hint at what he can do. He'd be better off singing English lyrics to the Senegalese rhythms and melodies that make him distinctive.

Accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, Tracy Chapman sang the hardest-hitting songs from her debut album - about poverty, brutality, riots, revolution. In a voice that seemed even deeper and more melancholy than it does on record, she held the audience rapt with ''Fast Car.'' But a new song, ''Freedom Now,'' was unmemorable on a first hearing.

Sting, with his brilliant jazz-funk band featuring Branford Marsalis on saxophone and Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, played the concert's best set - dance songs, ballads, pop songs, message songs, all in a smooth arc. He dedicated ''Set Them Free'' to Nelson Mandela and ''all the children in the jails of South Africa''; although the song's verses are about possessive lovers, the chorus connects with Amnesty International's work. Two ballads, ''Fragile'' and ''They Dance Alone'' (about ''disappeared'' prisoners in Chile), were pristine and touching; ''One World'' and ''Fortress Around Your Heart'' were jubilant. Mr. Springsteen joined Sting for ''Every Breath You Take,'' which at this concert seemed appropriate to Amnesty's role in monitoring human rights abuses.

Mr. Gabriel's set was darker and more ominous. With an internationalist band including an Indian violinist, L. Shankar, and Mr. N'Dour as guest vocalist, Mr. Gabriel started with a new instrumental, ''Of These, Hope,'' then turned to his catalogue, performing punchy, incisive versions of ''Shock the Monkey,'' ''Games Without Frontiers,'' ''Sledgehammer'' and an extended ''In Your Eyes'' that finally unleashed Mr. N'Dour's voice. The set's gentle peak came in ''Don't Give Up,'' when Ms. Chapman sang the title's advice with genuine warmth.

But the audience, with a large New Jersey contingent, had been awaiting Bruce Springsteen, who opened his set with a stomping version of ''Born in the U.S.A.'' that would have been a finale for any other performer. Avoiding songs from his current album, ''Tunnel of Love,'' Mr. Springsteen started out with bleak slices of life such as ''Cover Me'' and ''My Hometown,'' then moved into his hyper-romantic epics from the mid-1970's: ''Jungleland,'' ''Thunder Road'' and ''Born to Run.'' Sting joined him to sing the first verses of ''The River.''

Mr. Springsteen's voice and band were as muscular as his ballooning biceps; he threw his whole body into every note, even during harmonica solos. And just when he was verging on bombast, he'd shift to the humor of ''Cadillac Ranch'' or ''Glory Days.'' The audience sang just about every word with him. For the finale, the E Street Band accompanied all the headliners in Bob Dylan's ''Chimes of Freedom'' and a reprise of ''Get Up, Stand Up.'' With a minimum of rhetoric, the concert had made its point.

By Jon Pareles via The New York Times.
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