Blue Turtles
San francisco, USCow Palace

Freedom Rockers Deliver a Message of Heart & Soul...

The house lights went down and a spotlight went up on promoter Bill Graham. ''Welcome to 'A conspiracy of Hope,' '' he said. ''We are here to support Amnesty International.''

From the very start, the idea was to take the human-rights message and mission of Amnesty International to the vast American public via the power of rock 'n' roll.

Wednesday night, that idea became a reality as ''A Conspiracy of Hope'' began its six-city tour across the country with a star-studded show at the Cow Palace in Daly City.

Over the course of three and a half hours, the Amnesty message was slammed home with the music of U2, Sting, Bryan Adams, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed and the Neville Brothers. There were also video-taped appearances by Phil Collins, Pete Townshend and Sting at the Secret Policeman's Other Ball, another rock benefit for the organization held in London in 1981. To its very great credit, ''Conspiracy'' was a show with a message but also simply a show. Overt calls for support were relatively few, with the artists allowing the power of their music to speak volumes about the values of freedom. Thus it was that Browne delivered a stunning version of 'Lives In The Balance', accompanied by a guitarist from Costa Rica and a musician from Chile who played a curious, lovely wooden flute. At the end of the song, Browne remarked that the flutist had once been put in jail in his country simply for playing the flute.

Similarly, Gabriel romped and cavorted about the stage with the best moves since the Talking Heads' David Byrne, bringing the crowd of 15,000 repeatedly to its feet. He then quietly offered a ''small effort,'' a moving piece dedicated to the late black South African activist Steven Biko.

Reed didn't say anything about politics at all, opting for an impassioned rendering of his droning, maniacal rock 'n' roll. But again, the message was very clear - freedom begats free spirits such as Reed.

There were slow moments in the show, notably a stale opening segment by the Neville Brothers and a shrill rendition of the Beatles' 'Let It Be' and John Lennon's 'Imagine' by Baez. The crowd was polite, as was fitting, for Baez has supported Amnesty International for decades, long before it became fashionable. Adams was also something of a letdown with derivative rock that was energetic but also dismissible. Not dismissible was the simple fact that he was there to give his support.

Support was really what the show was all about. When introducing the artists, Graham made note of their contributions to the human-rights movement, referring to Browne as ''a committed human being.'' It might have sounded hokey and contrived, but in the circumstances, it was a suitable accolade.

Not mentioned but equally the ''stars'' of the show were six ''prisoners of conscience'' who were chosen to represent thousands of political prisoners around the world. Distributed to each of the concertgoers was a ballot of sorts, which called upon the leaders of the respective governments to reconsider the cases of these six and release them. Ballot boxes were scattered about the lobby of the Cow Palace.

The real stars of the show were U2 and Sting. It was U2 that spearheaded the idea for the rock ''caravan'' to support Amnesty International and U2 was the musical force that attracted all the others.

Sting was the next to join the caravan and his appearance on the tapes from the Secret Policeman's Ball emphasized his continuing efforts for the organization.

Finally, that is what ''A Conspiracy of Hope'' came down to, rock 'n' rollers taking time to add their voices and names to a cause in which they believed.

In the 1970s, rock was reduced to a selfish, self-obsessed triviality, no good to anyone including itself. Now, it still has some of the same bad qualities but they are offset by concerts such as ''A Conspiracy of Hope,'' events that offer as much hope for rock as for the causes they serve.

(c) San Jose Mercury News by Harry Sumrall