The Tibet House is dedicated to preserving Tibet's rich and unique culture here in the United States. This is especially important because up to 95% of Tibet's material culture on its home soil has been lost or destroyed. The Tibet House U.S. was founded in 1987, by the Dalai Lama, the living symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet. Since that time, a yearly concert to raise awareness for Tibet House and the plight of the people of Tibet (who fled when their country was invaded by the Chinese in the 1950s) is held at New York's Carnegie Hall. The concert, curated by composer and vice president of Tibet House, Philip Glass, always features a diverse and amazing group of performers who thrill the crowd with one-of-a-kind collaborations between top-shelf performers and musical royalty. Past performers include a who's who of musical royalty that includes: David Bowie, Debbie Harry, the Roots, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, the Flaming Lips, R.E.M., Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Trey Anastasio, Gogol Bordello and Shawn Colvin. The 2017 benefit concert celebrated both the 30th Anniversary of the Tibet House and Glass' 80th birthday.
The concert, held on March 16th, featured Glass; Iggy Pop performing with New Order members Bernard Sumner, Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman; Patti Smith and her Band and Laurie Anderson. The Tibetan Monks; Alabama Shakes; Sufjan Stevens; Ben Harper; Tenzin Choegyal and Jesse Paris Smith; the Scorchio Quartet and Lavinia Meijer also performed.
Following the evening's first performance by the Tibetan Monks and opening remarks by Tibet House U.S. President Robert Thurman and Glass, Laurie Anderson was introduced. Anderson enraptured the audience with her performance of "Don't Go Back to Sea," featuring political commentary and personal revelations about missing her husband, the late Lou Reed. After stating that she missed his touch and kiss, the piece segued back into political commentary with a line from Reed's "Dirty Blvd," when she recited the lines:
"Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor
I'll piss on 'em
That's what the Statue of Bigotry says."
Glass then joined her to perform a special version of his "Etude no. 10" which normally is a solo piano piece. On this evening, in addition to Anderson, Glass was joined by Mick Rossi on percussion and the Scorchio Quartet on strings. When the once-in-a- lifetime version came to a close, the crowd erupted, rose and gave the musicians a standing ovation.
Immediately following the acoustic performance on guitar by Glass' son Zack (accompanied by a percussionist) of "Southern Skies," Alabama Shakes took the stage. Blessed with a powerful voice and guitar skills that make even the most jaded guitar aficionados take notice, Brittany Howard is a force to be reckoned with. Her performances are awe-inspiring. The venue's superb acoustics made her band's performance even more spine-chilling. Featuring Glass on piano (for two songs) along with Meijer on harp and the Scorchio Quartet on strings, the band's three songs, all from its latest CD, Sound & Color (ATO Records, 2015) rocked the house.
Tenzin Choegyal and Jesse Paris Smith (daughter of Patti and Fred "Sonic" Smith) on piano were backed by Meijer and the Scorchio Quartet performed "Elemental Prayer" from The Tibetan Book of the Dead and "Snow Lion," the celestial animal of Tibet that symbolizes symbolize power, strength, fearlessness and joy. Choegyal would first sing and/or speak the prose followed by the translation recited by Smith. The music was haunting, thought-provoking and beautiful. Ben Harper, who brought his teenage daughter, Harris, with him to join on acoustic guitar and vocals, was the next act on stage. Though their set was brief, it was memorable. Ben Harper's guitar skills are exemplary and Harris Harper has a beautiful voice.
One of the Tibet House benefit concert's all-time highlights came in 2014, when Iggy Pop joined the members of New Order to perform Joy Division's "Transmission" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart." It has been said that Pop sounded very much like the late Ian Curtis. Needless to say, the 2017 crowd was giddy with anticipation wondering what songs this magnificent collaboration would offer this time around. The group's set began with "Stray Dog," a song from New Order's Music Complete CD (Mute Records, 2015). The original studio version of the song also featured Pop. The next song was a bit of an obscurity; Pop and Sumner shared the vocals on "Shades" originally recorded for Pop's 1987 album Blah-Blah-Blah (A&M Records). Sumner then announced that he picked Pop's "Shades" as one of the songs to perform and that the next song was Pop's selection. The one-off supergroup ended its set with Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" with Pop handling most of the vocals.
Sufjan Stevens and Cat Martino then appeared and backed by Thomas Bartlett on piano, Meijer on harp and the Scorchio Quartet on strings, sang their rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Stevens' fans will recognize this as a staple of his live performances. Backed by the Patti Smith Band (Andy York on guitar, Tony Shanahan on bass, Lenny Kaye on guitar and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty), Stevens ended his set with "Happy Birthday Song" which he dedicated to Glass.
The evening ended with Patti Smith and her band (and her son Jackson Smith on guitar) delivering a powerful 1-2-3 knockout combination. Smith, first, made an announcement. She said, "I was brought into the fold 20 years ago by Allen Ginsberg." After musing about the late Beat Generation and the counterculture icon and the Tibet House cause, Smith finished by simply stating, "On these nights I can't help think of Allen..." She then led the band through her interpretation of Bob Dylan's "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." Smith and the band revved things up a bit with, a song that due to the current political climate and the plight of the Tibetan people seemed appropriate on many levels, "Citizen Ship," from her 1979 Arista Records album Wave. The show came to a close with the knockout punch performance of "People Have the Power" delivered by all the night's performers joining together to reaffirm the fact that it can be a life-changing and empowering moment when people work together to effect change. Smith again took centerstage, this time along with the monks whose performance set the evening's festivities in motion. She reminded the audience that it must use all of its energy to educate, speak out, vote and bring about change. Smith summed it up with her final statement when she stepped forward and announced, "Joy is one of our greatest fucking weapons!" Soon after the song came to a close, the performers took their bows, the lights came up and the amazed audience departed the fabled concert hall.
As the audience members began to stream into the aisles and make their way toward the exits, many could be seen gawking at the celebrities in the crowd and some were discussing attending the after-party. The majority, however, were in deep conversation discussing the performance and need for social and political change.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon]