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THE WEEKEND MUSIC TOUR | POP MUSIC

Unleashing Power and Passion for Tibet

June 09, 1997|LETTA TAYLER | NEWSDAY

NEW YORK — Proof that performers at the Tibetan Freedom Concert here on Saturday were devoted to ending oppression in Tibet was evident hours before the benefit began: Artists including rapper Chuck D, Ed O'Brien of Radiohead and all three members of A Tribe Called Quest actually made it to a news conference at the unholy hour of 10 a.m. to denounce China's occupation of the Himalayan nation.

Proof that many performers were just as passionate about using the benefit for self-promotion was evident in the backstage media feeding frenzy, where artists from Porno for Pyros to U2 and the Foo Fighters answered questions about their latest album, video or tour with the same gusto as they decried the torture of Tibetan monks.

If the issue of ulterior motives was as thorny as ever, the first day of the two-day Tibetan Freedom Concert at Downing Stadium on Randall's Island still delivered over seven hours some of the best rock and rap to be had this outdoor season. It also gave young listeners a cursory knowledge of the Tibetans' nearly half-century, nonviolent independence struggle.

Saturday's attendance topped 20,000--about three-fourths of capacity at Downing Stadium but far short of the 50,000 tickets sold both days of the first Tibetan Freedom Concert last year in San Francisco. However, co-organizer Adam Yauch, the Beastie Boys' punk-rapper-cum-Buddhist, said the benefit will still raise tens of thousands of dollars for Tibetan causes. Performers played 30- to 40-minute sets that alternated on two adjacent stages.

U2, unshackled from the massive props of its "PopMart" tour, enraptured with a spontaneous "One" and an eloquent "Mysterious Ways." Prancing and pleading, Bono injected a poignancy into the new ballads "Please" and "Gone" that are missing from the recorded versions.

Ignoring the kinder, gentler side of their new album, the Foo Fighters delivered only firepower, blasting through eight deafening tunes, including "I'll Stick Around" and "Monkey Wrench." Fervent drumming from new band member Taylor Hawkins added to the exhilarating, if somewhat one-dimensional, sound.

No alcohol was sold at the benefit--except in VIP areas. But Porno for Pyros intoxicated anyway with a bacchanal set complete with exotic dancers and swirling, atmospheric songs including "Porpoise Head" and "Dogs They Rule the Night."

Radiohead blanketed the stadium in exquisite melancholy as it expertly crafted blasts of dissonance into piercing melodies. A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-One picked up the mood with rousing raps and appeals for peace from Tibet to the South Bronx. Biz Markie alternated hilarious gags with a human beat-box routine in which he got half the crowd shouting "Free" while the other half shouted "Tibet."

Punk priestess Patti Smith opened young eyes wide between snarling songs by hurling invectives at the media and corporate America, and blasting concert organizers for keeping listeners "behind the barricades" that cordoned off the stage.

Attracting almost as much attention as the performers were exiled Tibetan monks who wandered through the crowd or droned inside a tent decorated like a Buddhist monastery. One monk, Palden Gyatso, briefly took the stage to detail the torture he endured during his 33-year imprisonment by Chinese authorities. Listeners' respectful silence suggested they found Gyatso's speech almost as interesting as the din produced by the Foo Fighters.

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