Moscow--A Michael Jackson energetic and erotic as ever kept a cold, wet Moscow crowd clapping and dancing through two hours of sparkling fireworks and brilliant laser lights last night.
Russians -- who came from all over the country and paid what for them is an enormous sum for tickets -- exulted in their good fortune.
"At last we have a show like this," said Vadim Artemyev, a 24-year-old soldier. "Now we're like the rest of the world."
"We're thankful that he's come," said Oleg Lapin, 17, "and that he remembered us."
As far as most Russians are concerned, the scandalous rumors about Michael Jackson are just that.
Though the papers have reported the sexual abuse allegations against him, people here have become inured to mudslinging.
"Someone wants to make money by saying those things," said Lena Riachenseva, 20, who works in a souvenir factory.
"We sympathize with him very much," said her friend, Antonina Maya, 18, a student. "When it's proven false, we'll both breathe much easier."
Neither young woman cared that a cold rain fell throughout last night's concert, sometimes only throwing a mist over the big outdoor stadium and other times turning into a steady dousing.
Nor did Michael Jackson appear troubled. He danced and strutted and glided across the stage with enormous vigor and confidence, even though the rain made it so slick the stage resembled an ice rink.
It was about 40 degrees yesterday, so cold you could see the singer's breath on the giant video screens that monitored his performance. By the end of the show, the thermometer was climbing toward 47, as if Mr. Jackson had heated up all of Moscow.
He went on with the show as if he had never heard the nasty talk about him. He sang "Will You Be There" (the "Free Willy" song), and draped his arm around a small boy. He led a line of children across the stage, holding hands with them.
He was unrestrained in his trademark eroticism, exploding onto the stage wearing tight black pants with a close-fitting gold leotard over them.
The heat and passion and general razzmatazz was tempered only slightly by the six to eight burly men who spent the evening crawling back and forth across the stage on their hands and knees, trying to wipe up the falling rain. Mr. Jackson managed to swirl athletically around them, without stepping on any of them and -- more impressively -- without falling. Twice he snagged a towel with his foot and wiped right along with them.
Luzhniki Stadium -- formerly known as Lenin Stadium -- was far from full.
Just over 50,000 of the 75,000 tickets were sold. Though prices ranging from $18 for standing room to $120 were set lower than for other stops on Jackson's "Dangerous" world tour, even the cheapest would set the average Russian back a week's pay.
"It was worth anything," said Oleg Goncharuk, a 17-year-old who traveled 300 miles from southern Russia for the concert. "I love Michael Jackson. I like him for his talent and for his goodness."
Miss Maya said she was studying to be a teacher because of Mr. Jackson's influence. "He's like a father," she said. "I learn from him how to live."
"We consider ourselves to be his children," Miss Riachenseva said.
Mr. Artemyev, the soldier, had come about 5,000 miles from Kamchatka in the Russian Far East to get to the concert. It took him nearly four days -- and that was by plane.
The crowd last night was enthusiastic but respectful. The 3,000 policemen, --ing in their long flowing rain capes, had little business. Neither did the black-leather jacketed riot troops known as OMON.
The concert began with recordings of Beatles music -- "Back in the U.S.S.R." among them. The Beatles could be heard quite clearly, but the loud amplification reduced most of Jackson's words to powerful, body-thumping sound.
No matter -- few in the crowd could understand English, and the music and spectacular showmanship provided deep satisfaction.
"We'll always remember this show," said Mr. Artemyev, "and so will he. Who could forget this rain?"