With President Fidel Castro sitting in front of them and a vast Cuban flag behind, British rockers the Manic Street Preachers played a historic gig in Havana, becoming the biggest such Western group to play on the communist-ruled island.
Castro fulfilled a personal ambition of the band's three Welsh musicians by meeting them backstage before taking his place with 5,000 mainly young fans for the free but invitation-only show Saturday at Havana's Karl Marx theater, frequently a venue for political rallies.
After one song titled "Baby Elian," in reference to Havana's seven-month-long fight last year to have shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez returned from the United States, Castro stood and applauded, presumably in recognition of the Manic Street Preachers' sympathy with the Cuban cause.
Members of the avowedly anti-American hard rock band had said that their presence in Cuba, to launch a new album titled "Know Your Enemy," was a "gesture of solidarity" with the island and that if Castro came to the concert, it would be "the greatest honor" of their lives.
Castro's government frowned on Western music as a "decadent" influence in the decades after his 1959 Cuban Revolution, and many Cubans recall being harassed for wearing long hair or listening to rock and pop music from Europe or the United States.
But Castro has lately been at pains to show that times have changed, first by appearing at an homage to slain Beatles star John Lennon late last year and then by attending Saturday's concert.
Castro was accompanied by Cuba's long-haired Culture Minister Abel Prieto, a poet.
"That the president of the island comes to this concert is truly a revolution," said Gil Pla, a singer with local rock group Joker, who was at the concert.
After a politicized news conference before their concert_in which they slammed global cultural "Americanization" and praised Cuba's resistance to U.S. pressures, including a 4-decade-old economic embargo_the Manic Street Preachers avoided any speeches at the gig.
But the lyrics of various songs underlined their sympathy with Cuba, notably "Baby Elian," which refers to the United States as "the devil's playground" and, in a nod to radicals like Castro, says at one point, "You don't just sit in your rocking chair if you want to build a revolution."
By playing Havana, the Manic Street Preachers became the first major Western pop musicians to play in Cuba since U.S. singer-songwriter Billy Joel in 1979.
The Cuban audience_reveling in a rare chance to hear such music live_danced, head-banged and cheered enthusiastically.
"It was really good," Michel Hernandez, 20, said. "I hope this means more groups will come, like Oasis maybe."