Alla Pugachova, first lady of Soviet pop rock, strode onto the stage of a Moscow sports arena tonight to lead off a concert to help the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Dressed in a gold tunic and tight, shiny black pants, the 37-year-old star took the microphone, and -- before belting out a new hit called "20th Century" -- gave a short speech noting that tonight's "unusual" concert was being given with "all our hearts."
"Chernobyl, we are with you," she sang later, adding new lines to her second song of the night.
For three hours, a series of widely divergent groups filled the huge Olympic stadium on Prospect Mira with the sounds of progressive rock, new wave, heavy metal, ballads, even poetry. Before the evening's finale, a collective singing of "We Need Peace," the names of people who died in Chernobyl were read out loud.
The "Nuke Aid" concert, as it was dubbed by western correspondents, was in some ways a Soviet version of last summer's gigantic Live Aid concert to benefit the hungry in Africa. But in other ways, it was wholly different and very Soviet.
Unlike the Live Aid crowds, for instance, tonight's audience of 30,000 stayed calmly in their seats, applauding politely at the end of each act and giving the warmest welcome to one of the evening's most staid performances. The setting itself kept the performers at a distance from their audience, across the bright green artificial turf laid out for soccer.
There was little advance notice locally, just a small advertisement in Moscow's evening newspaper. Most of the tickets were sold through factories, institutes and other work places, not through ordinary kiosks.
But word of mouth takes care of a lot of business in Moscow, and in this case, it filled the house, bringing people to listen to a collection of rock groups, many of which have never performed together.
After a balladeer in dark glasses droned on in 1960s style, the punklike star of Kruiz, Moscow's heavy metal group, gyrated across the stage in tube pants and red shoes.
Avtograph, a progressive rock group, played in the second spot. The band had been the only Soviet representative at the Live Aid concert, although neither its performance nor the concert itself were ever shown here. Other groups included Bravo, a young new-wave group that was only recently officially recognized.
To the extent that it was at all comparable with a western rock concert -- with big names, flashy performances and a sense of drama -- tonight's concert for Bank Account No. 904 was a rarity here, a relatively spontaneous event prompted by an extraordinary emergency.
The proceeds, estimated at $40,000, were dedicated to the Chernobyl aid fund. The concert was broadcast by a television station in Kiev, where workers from the contaminated zone around the stricken reactor sat solemnly and listened to the transmissions from Moscow. And the performances were interspersed with appeals and expressions of sympathy for the people suffering because of the April 26 accident, which has so far cost the lives of 23 people.
The red-headed, expansive Pugachova put the most feeling into her pitch. Apparently it was she -- along with her friend Artyom Troitsky, a rock music critic -- who first came up with the idea May 13.
The two were at Pugachova's Moscow apartment watching the news from Chernobyl and drinking tea, Troitsky said, when the thought came to them. "In one voice, we asked ourselves what we could do to help these people," said Pugachova in an interview before the concert.
Two weeks later, the stage was set -- a feat regarded with some awe by a Moscow music world used to the dead hand of bureaucracy and the tepid attitude, at best, of officials toward rock music.
Pugachova and Troitsky said they had tried to get participation from western artists -- optimistically rattling off names like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits -- but noted that time had been short. Pugachova mentioned the possibility of another concert in August.
While "Nuke Aid" lacked the hype, the glitz and the audience response of Live Aid, Pugachova said she thought the efforts were comparable. "Artists are always very quick to react to a need ," she said. Onstage and in the interview, she called the performance typical of the Russian character. "When it is holiday time, we can quarrel with each other about music, about what is music, but when something bad happens, we are all together."
If plans for a record and a video cassette of the concert work out, Pugachova hopes to see proceeds reach $1.4 million or more.
Since the accident, all Soviet citizens have been urged to respond to Chernobyl. Practically every working person has given a day's pay, either to Account No. 904 in the central bank in Kiev, or to Account No. 700624 in Moscow.
Total sums collected have not been reported in the newspapers, but there have been individual accounts of generosity: Workers at a construction concern giving 38,000 rubles ($53,000), sanitary engineers giving 20,000 ($28,000), the Progress publishing house turning over an 11,250-ruble ($15,750) bonus it received this year.
Tonight, at the stadium, "Account No. 904" repeatedly flashed on the electronic screens on either side of a huge green sign with the same message.
Pugachova is probably one of the few Soviet music stars who could have pulled off such an event. Although some say her popularity is on the wane, she still outdraws her competitors. When Soviet television puts on an extravaganza -- on Easter eve, for instance, as competition for Easter services -- it calls in Pugachova.
Her style is distinctly Russian and difficult to compare to those of western artists, although Troitsky described it as something "between Bette Midler and Tina Turner." Sophisticated Soviet musicians tend to scorn her, but their children watch her. "Socially, she is very influential," said Troitsky, "artistically, not so much -- but she is very popular, and more courageous than many of our singers."
Judging from tonight's response, Pugachova was the big draw. Balladeer Alexandr Gradsky drew big applause for a pale performance, but Kruiz -- with its thumping beat and punk haircuts -- seemed to leave many in the crowd cold.
"I wonder what factory workers in Chernobyl are going to think about this," said one man in the audience to another.